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

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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

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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

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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

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