Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays from Sensible Soccer and your friends around world football! Here are some players showing that holiday spirit:

Gennaro Ivan Gattuso aka Santa Stud

Michael Bradley aka Lex Luther

Edinson Cavani aka Scary Claus

Alessandro Del Piero aka Babbo Natale

Lionel Messi aka Santa Child

Cristiano Ronaldo aka Santa Creeper

Cesc Fabregas aka DUDE WTF

Francesco Totti aka the real Santa Claus upon retirement

Rio Ferdinand aka Sir Santa Claus Britain IV

Zlatan Ibrahimovic aka as close to holiday cheer as he can

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top Five Transfer Thoughts: 2012 - 2013

The time has come to take a hard look at the impact made by players purchased in the summer transfer window. Below, we will examine top five signings, flops and players to watch during the January transfer window.

Top Five Signings of the Summer

(5) Mario Mandzukic Bayern Munich
Following an excellent showing at the European Championshops with Croatia, Mario Mandzukic landed a huge deal with Germany's most regaled team, Bayern Munich. Since joining the Bundesliga giants, Mandzukic has scored a team high nine goals in league play, propelling the Bavarian club to the top of the table -- double digits ahead of their second place challengers. Even more impressive, Mandzukic was charged with fulfilling a bulk of the goal-scoring duties over the first few months of the season, after Mario Gomez was sidelined due to injury. Of late, Gomez has returned to the starting lineup, bringing the Bayern dream of a Mario Bros strike-force to life.

(4) Eden Hazard Chelsea
Before moving to Chelsea in June, many wondered if Eden Hazard could succeed in a top league with a world-class side. Following his blockbuster move to the House of Blues for a reported £40m, we can confirm the fleet-footed winger has lived up to every bit of hype that has surrounded him over the past few years. The Belgian midfielder immediately bursted into Chelsea's starting lineup, appearing in all of the Blues' Premier League matches. He's scored three goals and notched six assists, and has linked well with the likes of Juan Mata and Oscar to provide a string of entertaining moves. At just 21 years of age, it will be exciting to see how Hazard progresses as a player while continually competing at such a high level.

(3) Michu Swansea City
The striker's move from Rayo Vallecano to Swansea City for a mere £2M is considered one of the coups of the summer window. Not only does Michu have one of the best names in world football -- akin to a rare goal-scoring Pokemon -- he has been clinical in front of goal since landing in England. The lanky forward is currently joint-top in the Premier League scoring charts with 12 goals. Incredibly, this relatively unknown player from Spain is keeping pace with top forwards like Robin Van Persie, Kun Aguero, Luis Suarez and more in scoring! Furthermore, Michu's exploits have driven Swansea to the top half of the table for the first time since God knows when. Many clubs around the Premier League are ruing the day they passed on signing this gem.

(2) Robin van Persie Manchester United
The purchase of Robin van Persie feels eerily familiar to Manchester United fans, doesn't it? Does this guy ring a bell? The Red Devils captured the striker this summer, gaining yet again, a top Dutch player at the peak of his game. Since moving over from Arsenal, Van the Man has been in scintillating form, scoring 12 goals in EPL play, including a dipping free-kick deep into injury-time to purge rivals Manchester City in his first derby. RvP's goals have won United crucial games and driven them to the top of the Premier League table -- once again in line to be champions.

(1) Zlatan Ibrahimovic Paris Saint-Germain
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is by and large this year's top summer transfer. If there has been one constant throughout Ibra's career, it is wherever he goes, he scores. At PSG, the tall Swede has 17 goals to his name, an astounding achievement at this point in the season. Even as he ages, his prowess and daring in front of goal seem to be second to none. PSG currently reside in second place in Ligue One, but are poised to pull ahead given the continued efforts of players like Zlatan. On a related note, we all remember his great goal against England, the best ever scored

Honorable Mention
Kwadwo Asamoah, Juventus; Santi Cazorla, Arsenal; Jordi Alba, Barcelona; Marco Reus, Borussia Dortmund; Borja Valero, Fiorentina. 
Top Five Flops

(5) Giampaolo Pazzini AC Milan
Will the real Giampaolo Pazzini please come back? Since the instinctual striker's switch to city rivals Milan from Inter this summer, Pazzo has been less than satisfactory. Over the past few years, his name was on the score-sheet on a weekly basis. This year, starts have been few and far between for the Italian hitman, and he's tallied a mere 6 goals for the Rossoneri -- clearly not up to his standards. We are admirers of Pazzini's work in the final third, but unfortunately he has been truly flop-worthy thus far.

(4) Fabio Borini Liverpool
The young Italian has found life tough at Liverpool since straying from his homeland this past summer. After a dynamite year with Roma which saw him gain a spot with the Azzurri at the Euros, Fabio Borini found himself on the fringes of the squad early in the season, then on the sidelines injured. Not an ideal start to life at Anfield. This also confirms that Liverpool is the dying ground for Italian careers.

(3) Marko Marin Chelsea
Last year, I found Marko Marin's wing-play to be top class in Europe. His trickery and quickness seemed to induce a "deer in headlights" kind of reaction amongst opposing defenders, allowing the tiny winger to work his magic. This year at Chelsea, the only magic Marko has worked is making himself invisible for team selection. The proclaimed "German Messi" made his Premier League debut about three weeks ago, better known as three months into the season. It seems like a mistake that he joined Chelsea, seeing as Eden Hazard and Juan Mata will always get selected before him.

(2) Nicklas Bendtner Juventus
Clearly, Juventus were desperate for strikers when they scooped up large-framed Dane Nicklas Bendtner on loan from Arsenal on deadline day. Things did not start well in Turin for Bendtner, as he was called chubby by team directors and promptly put on a diet. You know you've let yourself go when a bunch of pasta, mozzarella and prosciutto eating Italians call you fat. Plumpness cost Bendtner the first five games of the season and he has hardly played in many games following, barring a few substitute appearance full of shanked shots and whistles from the crowd. Suffice to say, it is going to be another season of wondering if Bendtner can be relied upon in the lineup.

(1) Hulk/Axel Witsel Zenit St. Petersburg
Hulk and Witsel, aside from having a name tandem you would find in an 80s cop show, are the top flops of the summer window. The dynamic duo has "ruined Zenit," according to numerous headlines I have seen (I am not joking). Over the summer, the Russian Champions splashed a record £64m on the duo (£32m/player) in hopes of bringing their squad to the next level: Champions League contenders. Instead, Hulk and Witsel have been dismal, and pressure on both to perform continues to grow. Fans often protest their prescene and other players, such as Russian captain Igor Denisov, have fought with team officials for pay raises -- seeing as the great Hulk and Witsel earn three times as much as the next highest earner at Zenit.

Honorable Mention
Marco Veratti, PSG; Antonio Cassano, Inter Milan; Marco Borriello, Genoa.

Top Five Players to Watch in January

(5) Daniele De Rossi AS Roma
Marauding Midfielder Daniele De Rossi makes this list because at any single moment, if you listen closely to the wind blow, you will hear a rumor about Manchester City wanting to buy him. De Rossi is yet again linked to a move away from the Giallorossi after a rough run of form and a media fueled falling out with coach Zdenek Zeman. I reluctantly admit there is teeny-tiny possibility of a move this January, but it is not likely to happen. Please stay Daniele!!!!!!!!!

(4) Gareth Bale Tottenham
Over the past few years, Tottenham winger Gareth Bale has made quite the name for himself, ignited by his transition from wing-back to attacking winger. Bale is rated by much of the football community as the best option down the left flank in the world. This hype has garnned the attention of top clubs, first in line being Real Madrid. Recent reports suggest Los Blancos are saving £56m in their transfer kitty to make a move for Bale in one of the next two transfer windows. Will it be this January? That is unclear, but one thing is for certain, Spurs fans are holding their breath.

(3) Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Schalke
Much talk has surrounded a mid-season switch for Dutch journeyman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, as his contract is set to expire this summer. The striker has had a tumultous tenure with the Bundesliga side, thus there seems no ideal contract renewal in the cards this summer. The player seems keen on the Premier League, and luckily Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are in the hunt for a striker.

(2) Wesley Sneijder Inter Milan
A messy contract situation has flamed up between Wesley Sneijder and Inter Milan. The trouble started after Sneijder refused to sign a new contract, stating displeasure for the terms, which offerend no raise in wages. Inter, in turn, has frozen Sneijder out of the squad. This terrible situation for both parties can be alleviated by selling the Dutch midfielder this January, and it seems like a distinct possibility. Premier League clubs looking for a quality midfielder have been put on alert.

(1) Fernando Llorente Athletic Bilbao
Over the past 18 months, there has been much speculation over where striker Fernando Llorente will end up post Athletic Bilbao. Recently, Llorente admitted his desire to leave the club after his contract expires this summer, immediately alerting top clubs around the world about the prospect of signing him January, before he leaves on a Bosman in the summer. A host of Premier League clubs are said to be preparing bids to test Bilbao's resolve to keep the player until summer, but it is not clear if a mid-season move will happen. This story should be particularly interesting due to the wide scope of reports surrounding Llorente.

Honorable Mention
Theo Walcott, Arsenal; Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund; Didier Drogba, Shanghai Shenua; Hulk, Zenit St. Petersburg; Kaka, Real Madrid.

 If I missed anyone, please offer your thoughts!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Another Reason to Love Lionel Messi

The Sensible Soccer Community has yet another reason to tip its cap to Lionel Messi. On Sunday, the Barcelona superstar broke the 40-year old record for goals in a calendar year when he scored his 86th against Real Betis. It was a classic Messi goal. Quick movement, close control, decisive passing, a little help from Iniesta, and a clinical finish.

The previous record holder, German legend Gerd Muller, had nothing but praise for Messi, hailing the diminutive Argentinean "incredible" and "gigantic." And how could you say anything else, really? At just 25, Messi has already proven himself to be one the all-time greats. But as this excellent NY Times article discusses, the stats don't even come close to encompassing his brilliance. He epitomizes everything that's beautiful about the beautiful game, and he does it with a humbleness that sets him apart from most of his peers.

As his former manager Pep Guardiola astutely stated, "Don’t try to write about him. Don’t try to describe him. Watch him." With that in mind, check out this awesome video that might help you understand just why Messi is the greatest.

Lionel Messi Never Dives

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Farewell Salute to David Beckham

Last night, we examined the Beckham Experiment and gauged the impact David Beckham had on American Soccer through his six seasons here. The report: positive. Whether you like him or not, Becks has risen the profile of the game in the USA.

What more did the famed English legend do for America you ask? He dazzled our hearts and minds with a display of truly Beckhamesque hair styles. I'm here to examine his journey in America through hair. Without further ado, David Beckham's six seasons of hair:

When David Beckham entered the American scene, a change occurred in his lifestyle. He realized the rigor of a European season was behind him and a more interesting sports landscape -- one of advertising deals and talk show appearances -- was before him. What best to do with his famed hair to represent this change? A fresh start, fresh cut and fresh highlights: Cali style, baby.


Beckham's 2008 season represented a return to normalcy in his play. After a rough inaugural season marred by surfing injuries, Davey turned to hair he could rely on: short-cropped and a bit of spike. The mercurial midfielder got back to basics in the bathroom mirror, which lead to a return to his on-field norms: team highs in assists and an All-Star game appearance, his first in the MLS. 

A trying season indeed, the trend in Beckham's 2009 hair reveals struggle. Following a loan spell with Italian giants AC Milan -- which saw Becks miss the first few months of the MLS season -- his loyalty to the MLS and LA Galaxy was put into question. Furthermore, his hair was shaggy and beard robust early on in the season and later, he appeared more troubled, donning a hair-style straight out of the movie SLC Punk. Though his hair had a rough run of it, the Galaxy managed to reach the MLS Cup Final, only to fall short in penalties to Real Salt Lake -- Note: Beckham was undone by fellow SLC Punk hair-bro Kyle Beckerman.

Four words: horror hair, horror season. After yet another unfaithful loan spell with Milan, Becks hobbled back to the Galaxy with an Achilles tear, one that kept him out for most of the season. What did this mean? More underwear ads? Not exactly. But mullets were in order.

HE'S HEATING UP!!!! After a turbulent few season, Davey and his hair realized their legacy was on the line; thus the time for a season MLS critics would talk about for years. And that's exactly what we saw out of Beckham in 2011. He tallied 20 assist and barnstormed the Galaxy to an MLS Championship. How he did it: back to the hair of his youth. The golden boy flick, followed by a serious hair-tie throwback from the early 2000s, Manchester United style.

This year, the wily veteran wraps up his MLS adventure. With some sadness, Becks calls it quits with LA at the time his hair looks the coolest. His conquistador image in 2012 has given the England man the moxie of a Marauding Midfielder, one who plundered opposition teams on a weekly basis. With a career MLS high 7 goals (check back on our earlier post to see a few crackers in Portland) and 9 assists, Becks has his team poised to repeat as MLS Champions and bow out of the American scene in style.

Although I am underwhelmed at times with the MLS, tonight's game is a special one. Not only is it a cup final -- a coveted event in world football -- but it is David Beckham's final game in the MLS. Basically, it's a must see. If for nothing else, to honor a heralded player. Tune in this afternoon at 4:30pm to bid farewell to a true talent.

MLS Might Have The Worst Ad Ever For a Final

Watch our final, not for the soccer, but for the fact that we do not have a flamboyant half-time show.

This interesting ad arrived in my inbox this morning, promoting the manliest of all man's finals, the MLS Cup Final. Woven into the cup itself is a subliminal message, telling us this final is not for pansies, but for real men. 

On another level of analysis, this ad is indirectly calling the Superbowl a final for p*ssies! Well played MLS. Well played!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Examining the Beckham Experiment

On the eve of David Beckham's final game for the LA Galaxy and in the MLS, Sensible Soccer proudly brings to you it's very first guest post! And it's a must read... Enjoy people.

I have fond memories of the LA Galaxy - NY Red Bull match at Giants Stadium on a balmy summer evening in August 2007. The game was a thriller -- the sellout crowd was treated to a 5-4 win for the home team that featured Jozy Altidore, Juan Pablo Angel and Clint Mathis (remember him?). But most of the 65,000+ people packed in to Giants Stadium were not there as Red Bull supporters, nor were they there to watch the sloppy play, shoddy defending or frenetic pace that characterized this particular match. No, we were there to see David Beckham's first match in New Jersey as an MLS player. More accurately, we were there to take 50 or 60 pictures of him swinging in one of his trademark free kicks.

And now, 6 seasons later, the Beckham MLS affair is coming to an end. On Saturday, David Beckham will don the LA Galaxy kit for the final time in a competitive match when his Galaxy take on the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup final. This marks the end of an era that began in 2007 with all the glitz and glamor you'd expect from the Hollywood premiere of an international icon. Even as he's battled injury and the onset of age, there's no question he's made an impact as a player. The technique and vision we all witnessed in his fabled East Rutherford debut -- two assists, dangerous set pieces, and defense splitting passes -- were prevalent throughout his MLS career when he was healthy enough to take the field. Add in a bit of arrogance and few doses of petulance and an indomitable work ethic largely unnoticed by casual fans and you've got David Beckham, American Player.

But I'm not really interested in debating his legacy as a player. When healthy, Beckham was in a class above the vast majority of his league peers. Though his career was slow out of the gate due to injury, he put in an All-Star performance in 2011, tallying 20 assists. He followed up with a strong 2012, especially during the Galaxy's turn around in the second half of the season and their progress through the playoffs -- only he and Mike Magee have started every Galaxy playoff game. And during his tenure, the Galaxy have gotten the results, too; three MLS Cup final appearances and one (perhaps two) titles.

What's entirely more interesting and difficult to analyze is Beckham's overall impact on soccer in the US and what that will mean for the future of the sport. Love him or hate him, David Beckham has probably changed the game in the US more than any other individual ever. There's no arguing that he's been instrumental in the rise of soccer's popularity in the US and the acceptance (albeit a reluctant, lukewarm acceptance) of the MLS as an actual, professional sports league. The mere potential of his interest in moving here literally caused the MLS to change its rules when it launched the Designated Player rule to accommodate his arrival. He opened the door for other international stars like Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, and the immortal John Rooney (Wayne's kid brother) to play the beautiful game on our home soil. And while he undoubtedly did well for himself financially, he also helped bring home the bacon for the league. The Beckham experiment led to a league expansion from 12 to 19 teams, big TV contracts, a boost in attendance, and increased exposure at home and abroad.

While not the only factor in the rise of soccer here, David Beckham was the driving force, the icebreaker that paved the way. Beckham wasn't the first international star to play soccer here, and he certainly won't be the last, but his arrival was different. It came at the most opportune time, and like two shrewd businessmen, both the league and team Beckham capitalized. But the real question is: what happens next? Is the Beckham Experiment the template the league needs to follow to thrive? Does aging star power + sponsorship deals + average domestic talent = soccer success in America?

Stay tuned to find out..

In the meantime, I'll leave you with these 3 classic Beckham goals against my beloved Timbers that I was fortunate enough to witness. 2 were in the face of the Timbers Army. All 3 were things of beauty.


-- John LaRose - Sensible Soccer MLS/USMNT Correspondent

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mexellent! Another Spectacular Overhead

Philippe Mexes reaffirmed why he is one of my favorite players ever by doing this in Milan's UCL match with Anderlecht today: