Thursday, May 16, 2013

Read my article on PolicyMic about Chelsea's triumph over Benfica at the Amsterdam ArenA here:

May write something later in the day, but until then enjoy this picture of Chelsea's Brave John Terry celebrating Europa League glory in full kit.

Posted on Thursday, May 16, 2013 by Lex

No comments

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Frank Lampard’s weekend brace against Aston Villa not only lifted the Blues to victory and ensured their spot in the UEFA Champions League next season, but it also lifted him above Bobby Tambling as the club’s all-time leader in goals scored.  The 34 year old midfielder has had his future with the club speculated on extensively despite leading Chelsea in Premier League scoring with 15 goals.  With his favorite manager, Jose Mourinho, all but guaranteeing his return to Chelsea this summer, it makes sense for the club to retain Super Frank’s services.  Finally after months of speculation it appears Lampard is ready to accept a one year contract extension from the club. Lampard is expected to captain the Blues in today’s Europa League Final against Portugal’s Sporting Benfica. 

Lampard’s role as a first team regular has come into question during the 2012-13 season, though it has not been as a result of Lampard’s performances. Considered to be the 6th best performing player in the Premier League by, Lampard buoyed the team through the tumultuous transition between managers Roberto Di Matteo and Rafa Benitez.   Most clubs would rush to re-sign a club legend that was their leading scorer in the league, but with the emergence of the midfield trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, and Oscar, Lampard has been viewed as the odd man out in the midfield.

Lampard’s steady influence has been invaluable to the club, which has gone through 9 managers during Frank’s tenure.  It has been rumored that Lampard’s relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich became strained during the departure of former manager Andre Villas-Boas and prior contract negotiations.  Lampard, considered by many to be one of “football’s good guys”, does not have a reputation as a player who causes trouble for the club.  Earlier this year he announced he would be producing a line of children’s books called “Frankie’s Magic Football” based on previously undeveloped stories he reads to his two daughters.  With his favor among fans approaching an all-time high, some may wonder what there is left for Frank to accomplish at Chelsea.

With the goal of overtaking Bobby Tambling accomplished and added to a laundry list of personal accomplishments to match a trophy case full of team honors, Lampard has accomplished nearly every imaginable objective with Chelsea.  If he is able to steer the team to victory this evening, Chelsea will become the first team to win the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League in that order in consecutive seasons. 

Several American MLS clubs have expressed their interest in signing Super Frank, while he has significantly reduced his wage demands and continually expressed his desire to stay in an effort to broker a new deal with Chelsea.  From a public standpoint it does not appear that Frank was ready to take a “victory lap” in American football the way David Beckham, Robbie Keane, and Torsten Frings have.  Instead he has made the commendable decision to continue competing at football’s highest level. 

With today’s opportunity at European glory, Mourinho’s Chelsea return on the horizon, and the fate of club legend Frank Lampard assured, Chelsea fans have every reason to celebrate and “keep the blue flag flying high.”  

Posted on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 by Lex

No comments

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When my phone alarm sounded this morning I hit the snooze button almost instantly without glancing at the screen. When it rang several minutes later I repeated this process. On the third ring I decided to glance at the screen, I was notified that Sir Alex Ferguson had announced his retirement. I had been wondering when the man who has been the face of Manchester United since before my birth would announce his retirement. When this day finally arrived I found myself unprepared.

I often wondered during marathon sessions of Football Manager when the greatest manager of all time would decide to call it a day. Despite suffering defeat in the UEFA Champion’s League at the hands of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid, his squad had cruised to victory in the Premier League.  This season had been a typically successful one by Fergie’s standards, capturing his 13th Premier League title, with a squad that many regarded as unremarkable. 

The entrance of Robin Van Persie had buoyed the squad, Wayne Rooney’s role had diminished in comparison to past seasons, and Michael Carrick put on a season of spectacular displays in the midfield.  His squad included a balanced mixture of veteran influence, youth, and a splash of new blood in the form of Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa. Fergie remained true to his mantra that “No player is bigger than the club.” Many suggest that this philosophy has been the key to his success as a manger, and it is hard to dispute. He has continued to find success despite the departure of many club legends such as Roy Keane, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, and Ruud van Nistelrooy.  In an era where players are given ever increasing influence over their clubs, Ferguson made it clear that his influence would not be undermined.

Sir Alex won’t leave behind a distinctive tactical legacy, but he will be regarded in football history as one of the best man managers ever to walk the touchline.  His trademark “Fergie Time” will remain something he is remembered for, which his teams have earned thanks to countless occasions of stoppage time heroics. He will stay with the club as a director and spokesman, but will be unable to exercise his touchline influence on players, officials, and the Old Trafford faithful. Speculation has already begun on who will be chosen to fill the massive void left by Fergie’s absence. Whether it is Jose Mourinho, David Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini, or another candidate remains to be seen, but the shoes must be filled.

In addition to the identity of Ferguson’s replacement, there are many questions that must be answered during the off-season. Will the stalwart duo of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs continue their careers following the departure of their beloved manager? Will oft-disgruntled Wayne Rooney continue with United? How will the new manager cope with the pressure of following the most successful manager in world football history? Will that new manager be given the same level of support and control that Fergie enjoyed? All of these will be answered in time.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy will be forever engrained in Manchester United lore, along with his name on the Old Trafford North Stand and his statue standing guard over the Theater of Dreams. There is no question that he is the greatest.  

Posted on Wednesday, May 08, 2013 by Lex

No comments

Monday, May 6, 2013

36 hours before the second UEFA Champions League Semi-Final against Real Madrid, Bayern Munich announced they had completed the signing of Borussia Dortmund midfielder Mario Gӧtze.  The transfer valued at €37 million, is the most ever received for a German player, and at 20 years old it is plain to see that Mario Gӧtze will be a star for years to come.  Dortmund were able to cope with the distraction and despite suffering a 2-0 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeau, were able to advance to the Champions League final, where they will face Gӧtze’s future team Bayern Munich.

Gӧtze’s transfer to Bayern does not officially go through until the transfer window opens on July 1.  For the remainder of the Bundesliga schedule and the Champions League final he will remain a Dortmund player, but the 20 year old attacking midfielder is faced with an impossible position. Considered the primary playmaker in Dortmund’s tactical system, Gӧtze plays one of the most important roles in Jurgen Klopp’s team.  Klopp is faced with the dilemma on whether to include Gӧtze in his squad. Failing to include him would deprive Dortmund of a critical influence on their style of play, while Gӧtze’s inclusion would put him in an interesting psychological dilemma.

If Klopp decides to include Gӧtze in his Champions League Final squad, Gӧtze will be faced with the following conundrum: succeed with Dortumnd and doom his soon to be teammates to their second consecutive defeat in the Final.  Failure with Dortmund, aside from having the usual psychological strains of losing an iconic match in a football career, Gӧtze also risks the ire of the Dortmund fans that have followed the emerging star since his youth career with the club.

The conventional wisdom and belief is that a player will always try his hardest to win the biggest match of their career, but under the given circumstances Gӧtze does have incentive not to succeed.  If Gӧtze were to have a spectacular performance leading his club to their first Champions League title, he would almost certainly face cold shoulders and hostility when he enters the Munich training set up in July.  Having been hand chosen by incoming manager Pep Guardiola already holds a certain amount of pressure, coming in as the villain responsible for the Bayern’s Buffalo Bills-like embarrassment would take that pressure to another level.

Upon further review of the transfer, it is beginning to look like a particularly shrewd piece of business from the Bayern Munich front office.  Draw into question the commitment of one of your rival’s key players just before the biggest match of his career.   Rumors have circulated that they have also attempted to gain the services of Dortmund’s superstar striker Robert Lewandowski, but Dortmund have wisely rejected any rumors regarding the future sale of the striker to Bayern. While doubt remains about Lewandowski's future at the club, Gotze's fate is already set for his July 1 transfer to Bayern. 

Aside from the psychological manipulation of Mario Gӧtze, the timing of this deal also makes financial sense for Bayern. Should Gӧtze produce the performances he is capable of in the Champions League Final, his value may have skyrocketed higher than the €37 million agreed upon by the clubs. At the age of 20 entering as Guardiola’s desired player, he has the potential to succeed for the club for the foreseeable future while offering a tactical incentive in the short term.  This is a win-win situation for Bayern and this astute front office move should be recognized and praised.  Whether it yields the intended short and long term rewards remains to be seen.   This is the type of drama and intrigue that makes the UEFA Champions League the greatest competition in sports. 

Posted on Monday, May 06, 2013 by Lex

No comments

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Trying something new with Full Time Football, here are the must read stories in football for today:

Grant Wahl tells the tale of Abel Rodriguez a Mexican-American who had volunteered as Real Madrid's support worker during their yearly training sessions in Los Angeles. After several years of volunteering, Rodriguez traveled to Madrid in order to view El Clasico. Arriving with no ticket, hotel accommodations, or club contacts he waited outside Valdebebas in the freezing cold before being recognized by Jose Mourinho. The Special One repay's Abel's dedication by helping his dream come true.

From the depths of a long forgotten Manchester United forum post comes the tale of the great friendship between Patrice Evra and Ji-Sung Park. Translated for the masses onto Reddit's /r/Soccer, comes the story of a friendship that began as adversaries and developed into a family. A great story demonstrating the unifying force of football.

Adidas launched a new ad campaign last week for Chelsea which covered Chelsea players in blue paint and made for some spectacular photos. Check them out here or watch the video below.

Posted on Thursday, April 11, 2013 by Lex

No comments

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

America has a rich history of exploiting “free” labor; it is a quality older than America itself. America also has a history of defending these practices long after morality, market forces, and society’s general consensus have determined them to be at fault. Amateurism is one of these qualities, held in the highest regard among early modern Olympians, collegiate athletes, and those that play solely for “the love of the game”.  This won’t be a condemnation of those people, but rather the forces at play that demonized people like Jim Thorpe for being audacious enough to ask for fair market value in exchange for his expertise.

This week is the perfect opportunity to discuss this topic.  March Madness will take over tomorrow at Noon EST.  Millions will be glued to their televisions, streaming feeds, and radio broadcasts where the college basketball’s elite will battle for the Wooden trophy.  Advertisers, ticket sellers, vendors, NCAA executives, and universities will rake in untold millions as a result of this tournament.  Worker productivity across America will take a noticeable dive. Yet, no player will receive a cent as a result of their athletic achievements during their time in college.  The lucky ones may someday earn an NBA contract or an opportunity to play overseas, but not a single one will receive a check for their efforts during this season. 

Clearly there’s something wrong with this.  This tournament would not exist without the players, who attract fans from all across the nation.  These players are all adults over the age of 18, many with families, bills, and real world troubles to which their audience can relate.  Yet an entire organization, the NCAA, exists almost solely for the purpose of preventing these athletes from ever receiving direct compensation for their labor.  These players cannot even be treated to a steak dinner from a friendly booster without risking ineligibility and sanctions against their team. 

What if athletes were provided with a modest salary and were allowed to pursue academic interests at their own leisure, perhaps after their playing time is over? Time and again cases have been made that not all student athletes are capable of excelling in both areas. Athletic talent is a fleeting trait, so why burden athletes entering the peak of their prowess with a skill set that may be irrelevant if they are able to reach the pinnacle of their desired profession.  The hours of practice, weightlifting, individual training, and medical treatment are often overlooked demands. When placed on top of the NCAA required course load, the burden may be too much for these individuals to bear. A college education is a valuable tool and investment, but only if a student is willing to commit to the rigorous requirements.

In a capitalist society, lavishing praise on amateur athletes is a confusing concept.  Their amateur status prevents them from taking economic advantage of their situation, despite great wealth being flaunted at nearly every occasion around them.  The temptation to take advantage of their circumstances is too great for some, at which point they are chastised for accepting gifts and stripped of their eligibility. How are we supposed to accept this contradiction when the games themselves are interrupted in order to sell products to a television audience? How can we prevent individuals from capitalizing on their hard work at what could be their most marketable moments?

The NCAA also restricts an athlete’s ability to receive compensation in other ways.  For instance, an NCAA athlete cannot have a part time job as a salesman at a car dealership where they would be able to market their notoriety into an occupation.  This restriction doesn’t exist for the average American college student, nor for emerging athletes in Europe where professional contacts are common for athletes as young as 13.  Even the NBA has come to the absurd conclusion that elite high school players cannot make the jump straight to their ranks and now require a gap year. 

Elite athletes are forced to risk potential career ending injuries before they are allowed to cash in on their prowess.  This year’s best example would have to be Nerlens Noel, the former #1 high school player in the nation, and current Kentucky Wildcat freshman.  Had the NBA’s rule not existed, Noel already had the skill, size, and star power necessary to be drafted in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. Instead, Noel accepted a scholarship to Kentucky and tore his ACL blocking a shot on a fast break.  Noel was savvy enough to take out a personal injury insurance policy, but at the expense of at least $40,000 to him and his family. 

ACL injuries are not the catastrophic career ending ailment they once were, but should elite athletes and their families be forced to bear the burdens of insurance premiums and student loan debt? Aren’t these athletes entitled to a portion of the millions of dollars in revenue they earn their respective schools? Is the current system setting up student athletes to fail? I believe it is. 

Posted on Wednesday, March 20, 2013 by Lex

No comments

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

After weeks of conjecture, Mario Balotelli's move to AC Milan has finally been finalized today.  The controversial Italian striker returns to his home country after a very successful two year stint with Manchester City.  The transfer valued at £19 million (with the possibility to climb to £22 million with add-ons) is one of the biggest deals of a transfer window that has been rather uneventful up until this point.

Balotelli has been a figure that has attracted attention and controversy since his entrance onto the world football stage.  After an impressive Euro 2012 campaign, he has found himself out of favor with Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and only been selected for 15 of the club's matches, contributing 5 goals in those appearances.  After a training ground row with Mancini, many speculated that his departure from the club would come in January.

Balotelli fueled the transfer speculation with comments regarding his love for AC Milan.  These comments drew controversy from supporters of his former club, Inter Milan.  The fierce rivalry between the two clubs that share the San Siro has not stopped many notable players from playing for both clubs.  Balotelli joins the ranks of legends such as Guiseppe Meazza, Roberto Baggio, Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Andrea Pirlo becoming the 34th player to play for both the Rossoneri and the Nerazzurri.

Balotelli joins Milan during a time of transition. After the departure of beloved veterans Genarro Gatusso, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Mark Van Bommel, and Gianluca Zambrotta, the club struggled to find their identity in the early stages of the season.  Milan has successfully brought in several younger assets to replace the old guard, notably Stephan El Shaarawy, M'Baye Niang, and Bojan Krkic.

After a rough two months to begin the season, Milan has lost only two matches since in Serie A and secured qualification for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League.  Balotelli's entrance to the squad could inspire them to climb above their current 5th place status and challenge for Champions League qualification.  As it stands, Milan trail league leaders Juventus by 12 points with 16 matches remaining, making a title challenge unlikely.

Balotelli's departure from the Premier League means that the world's richest league has lost one of it's most entertaining superstars. Super Mario often attracts more attention for his off the field antics, but his skill on the pitch is hardly ever questioned.  Whether Balotelli will develop into the reasonable, cultured footballer that pundits somewhat unrealistically expect from him is yet to be determined. It will be interesting to see what happens next.  Shine on you crazy diamond, Super Mario, the world is watching.  

Posted on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 by Lex

No comments

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When Eden Hazard kicked out at a old Swansea ball boy on Wednesday evening, he was correctly shown a red card by referee Chris Foy. The ball boy had fallen on top of a ball that had gone into touch for a goal kick and attempted to waste precious seconds for his beloved Swans.  At the time, Chelsea was trailing 2-0 on aggregate with only minutes left in the Captial One Cup Semi-Final tie with Swansea. In a moment of frustration and anger, Hazard kicked out at the ball lodged under the teenager, making contact with the young man's ribs in the process.  The incident is currently under investigation by the FA and will likely see the 23 year old Belgian suspended for several matches.

In a strange twist to this story, following Chelsea's loss, denizens of the Internet, led by BBC Five Live pundit Phil Nevin have taken to defending Hazard's actions and condemning the teenager for...well acting like a teenager.  Nevin said, "I would have kicked the ball out from underneath the ball boy if he had been lying like that, 100 per cent." Some now claim that Hazard is the victim of the teen's play-acting and how the incident is reflective of how the beautiful game and the country itself have "gone soft."

This defense has gained momentum in large part thanks to the ball boy's Tweets earlier in the day.  In the moments, following the incident the internet quickly raced to uncover the identity of the teenage ball boy as 17 year old Charlie Morgan, son of Swansea board member Martin Morgan. The self-described "lad" had indicated earlier in the day that he was recalled to ball boy duties and would engage in time wasting.

Following the match, Hazard and Morgan met and apologized to each other.  Despite the childish actions of the ball boy, Hazard's actions were certainly out of line and merit a lengthy suspension simply because of violent conduct. While both sides can and should be held responsible, it was Hazard's rash decision that made this a controversy. The time wasted by the ball boy would have been put back onto the clock in stoppage time, but Hazard's action sealed his team's fate. Swansea police have investigated the incident and determined that no criminal action will be taken.

Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2013 by Lex

No comments