Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bennett, Brown, and the Argument from Authority

Hull FC manager Phil Brown was quoted as saying of Bennett's reversed penalty decision, "It's beyond me - whether it was a penalty or it wasn't, he's given it." In other words, even though Bennett's assistant referee and, as it happens, reality, contradicted the decision, because Bennett is the on-field authority the decision should have counted.

Greek philosopher and chief Plato rival Aristotle was paraphrased as saying, "An appeal to authority cannot guarantee the truth of the conclusion."

Aristotle 1, Phil Brown 0.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winning Against the Run of Play with an OG in the 88th Minute: Check!

This Doesn't Work

Lest this become a Villa blog.

And yet.

Our seasons tend to be lost around this time of year. After a marvelous bit of overperforming in the Fall, the Villa boys usually put away their rocket packs just in time for Christmas, losing in undignified fashion over the break after trying to play the long-ball away from home, then sputtering out in Jan/Feb in order to set up a thrilling push for the UEFA Cup spots in May.

I sat through most of this convinced the pattern was repeating itself; Zat Knight spent the first half hoofing misdirected long-balls to an Agbonlahor hell-bent on practicing his best Thierry HenryTM Look of Indignance.

And then, while sending emails to the Guardian MBM (my version of the Mexican wave), I came back to my livingroom just in time to see Zayate owngoal it horribly, undoing all of Hull's hardwork and cueing pathos-inducing shots of old gramps with weeping child in knit Hull toque.

Not only that, but the game ended in controversy when Steve Bennett blew the whistle for a penalty on a suspected Ashley Young handball, only to consult the linesman and then change his mind.

Yes, Aston Villa are looking like a Top Four side more and more everyday.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hang and/or Beat Up the DJ

Stevie G Goes Totally Shithouse Mental

What is it with footballers and club brawls?

We're told Steven Gerrard roughed up a DJ for not playing a song. This to me is the equivalent of roughing up a grocery store clerk for not stocking up on enough organic 3% MF yoghurt, i.e. fucking ridiculous.

It's also hard to picture Steven Gerrard beating some gangly two-bit disc jockey to a pulp. Liverpool's rabbit-out-of-the-hat man has all the emotion of a strip of sheet metal. I like to think he strolled in the redundantly-named Lounge Room like Gort from the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, opened his metal visor and burned the disc-spinner a bit with his eye laser. Considering the vacuum of information, that story is about as likely as any other at the moment.

It's like Crouch eating his nachos. Is this all part of what it takes to play at the highest level, being boringly level-headed to the media but careening around like a douchebag during your off hours? Perhaps someone can direct me to a study, because I'm sure some bored Sociology PhD candidate must have picked up on this by now.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Does that mean William Gallas is Sloth?

Barry and Gallas exchange pre-game niceities

A couple of years ago my then-girlfriend, now fiancee, wondered why out of all the clubs in the world I had to support Aston Villa.

"They're my club," I answered.

"But they don't do anything," she said, probably after some dismal away draw to some Lancashire side during the O'Dreary years. This was the era of Hiltzsperger, Mellberg and Juan Pablo Angel, when Villa were a midtable side from a part of England not rich or interesting enough to sport a powerhouse club but not rough-and-tumble enough to produce a hardy, populist underdog.

In other words, Villa weren't from London or Manchester or Liverpool but Birmingham, a midlands town perfect for a middle-of-the-road club.

We know what happened next. An unassuming American with his billions, a jumpy nerd from Norn Iron, two beautifully fast forwards named Ashley and Gabby capable of dancing the ball off the feet of the most pernicious defenders, a sought-after mid-field general named Gareth, rejects from other mid-table clubs like Milner, Luke Young, Stilian Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker, Zat Effing Knight, all banded together, a pack of misfits in search of lost treasure in order to help save their dreary town.

In other words, Aston Villa became the Premiership's equivalent of the Goonies.

We didn't beat Arsenal today, it's true. But in some sense coming back to equalize after conceding two very flattering goals, especially with those Big Four title-rights weighing heavily on Villa's back, is a better result.

"Remember Goodison Park!" the Holte End might have shouted after Barry's penalty (I know I did), "Remember Stamford Bridge!" It seems one boyhood fan of that unfancied side from an unfancied town, on a sitter in the box at the ninety-first minute, did remember. And hopefully the Setanta announcers, gasping and gobsmacked as stat after stat proved Villa were hosting UEFA Cup hopefuls and not potential Premier League champions, might remember it too.

We wish you a Merry Christmas Zat Knight, and for Villa -- well, I hope for Villa anyway -- a Happy New Year.

And that goes to you too, AMSL readers.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Schrodinger's Cat is a Villan

I can bez chucked in a woodz chipperz?

So I'm sitting here recovering from a long and arduous month of singing, with my Christmas shopping finished and warm cider in hand, when I happen to flick on everyone's favourite Newspaper Sports Section Website Podcast, Football Weekly, only to have my jaw hit the desk on its way to floor listening to James Richardson and co banging on about how Villa MIGHT ACTUALLY GO AND WIN THE LEAGUE.

This is not, NOT on. You've let the cat out of the bag, and now that cat will be picked up by some large bloke in a Chelsea shirt, shot repeatedly at point blank range, and chucked in a wood chipper. It's like when you're watching a no-hitter into the top of the ninth, only to have the dumbass announcer let it loose that we are one pitch away from history seconds before the left-fielder bobbles a routine pop-fly.

I knew it, you knew it, most importantly before this weekend, Arsenal knew it, and you had to go and ruin it. I wasn't sure before, but now it's official: I'm so over you Football Weekly.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Siena 1 Inter 2: The End of Watch Another League Month


The final ten minutes of this one consisted of attack after attack on the Inter goal by the likes of Maccarone and Kharja, interspersed every couple of minutes with further visual evidence, complete with unnecessary digital offside markers, for what anyone with a brain stem and two eyes would have recognized as a criminally-offside Maicon goal, scored in an offside position, set up by Samuel in an offside position, astride an entire Inter forward line in an offside position.

Siena wins the moral victory, Inter wins the game, time marches on.

Siena are in fifteen place, but had you walked in on the last half hour of this one you'd be forgiven for confusing the bianconeri with Juventus. Inter were ont he backheel for almost the entire final thirty. This should have been a rugged one-all draw, but now Inter are a full nine points ahead of Juve, poised to vacuum up another scudetto and to almost certainly get knocked out of the Champions League in the first round against Manchester United.

Mourinho adhered to 4-3-1-2 with Jiminez meant to feed Ballotelli and Ibrahimovic, but the fact that the former two were subbed off in the fifty-fifth minute revealed the on-again/off-again nature of Inter's key players. Had Maicon not been off on a tear, and if Zanetti hadn't finally gotten off his arse to defend properly in the second half, Siena would have probably knocked in more than one. Cambiasso and Ibra had borderline shockers.

The thing is, Mourinho's placed everyone properly, his defenders expertly cancelling out the wings much as he did with Chelsea. But once he has to face a team like United with incredible flexibility between attack and defense, as opposed to some of the lower teams in Italy who defend deeply with only two or three players pushing up on the break, Inter will leak goals. Cancel out Ibra and bob's your uncle. Whether Mourinho will survive the fallout from their early Champion's League exit is anyone's guess...

This has been a fantastic month. I've thoroughly enjoyed Serie A and will now have to deal with following two leagues full-time, something I'm sure my fiance will have no problems with whatsoever. As for AMSL, expect regular updates as I'm home for the holidays...Villa are in third doncha know!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Inter Could Still Lose the Scudetto...to Napoli

Fairy-tales can come true, it could happen to you...

Scott Fleming would have you believe Serie A is all wrapped up with nice black and blue ribbons, signed and sealed for Jose Mourinho's Inter. His colleague James Sugrue agrees; not only will they win it, they will win it very, very boringly. Channel 4, being English, has succumbed to that peculiar English disease: calling the league title in mid-December after a hyped up top of the table grudge match.

Fleming says the reason Juve can't challenge for the title (let's not waste time getting geriatric AC Milan's hopes up) is because they "get by on sheer hard work and desire." In other words, they didn't look very organized in their 4-2 victory over Milan. Their goals "came out of nowhere." The implication is that Inter are a marvelously organized side who play top-notch tactical football (which would be surprising to Champions League 'giants' Werder Bremen or Panathinaikos), and Madrid-beating Juve won't touch them in Serie A. Summing up, when Inter score, they MEAN it; when Juve score, it's because of sheer hard work and desire.

It's true Inter are coasting through the league at the moment, but they're hardly untouchable. Only six points ahead of injury-prone Juventus, they've maintained a very good defensive record but are hardly knocking them in. One or two key injuries, an Ibra, a Maicon, would throw Mourinho's bare bones tactical plans completely out of whack. And if Werder Bremen can find holes in the Inter defense, there's no reason a Napoli or a Juve couldn't, making up for earlier losses this season.

And even with the injuries, Juve look good outside of some fairly hefty defensive issues. Amauri and Del Piero actually seem to have a bit of fun in the six yard box from time to time. But time and tiredness will inevitably kick in.

And who knows; a few Inter bumps down the road, and exertions from the Champions League on both Inter and Juve might leave room for a little club from the south of Italy to come waltzing into the upper echelons, IF they haven't lost half their talented kids to the bidet-less hotels of West London in January.

I'm just saying...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A CSA-Sized Challenge


So on Saturday, I ranted a bit about how journalists have done such a poor job explaining just what is wrong with the Canadian Soccer Association and what we can do to fix it. The very next day, as if deliberately challenging me like some sort of jerk, Canadian soccer journo/blogger/madman Ben Knight helpfully compiled a list of recommended reading in order to understand the myriad perspectives and problems with the CSA.

So here it is. I will read all six of the long, dry, and ultimately soul-destroying documents, ranging from the CSA restructuring plan ('oh god, no') to Deloitte's list of recommendations for renewal ('oh please, please, just pull the trigger and end it') to the Canadian Soccer Federation's attempt to form a break-off organization ('I've completely transcended pain, and the possibility of feeling empathy toward others').

I will have done this by the first week of January, a delay that comes down mostly to the need for Christians to hear grown men singing like women to celebrate a the birth of a child in Palestine some several thousand years ago. Expect a full update.

For now, I will direct you to someone's idea of a sick joke -- pegging Toronto FC as a possible flagship for the competitve rejuvanation of Major League Soccer. Enjoy! And while you're at it, please remind yourself that this all is so important precisely because it's so utterly meaningless by reading Brian's recent struggles with Pro Vercelli.

Ince, Inepxerience and the Ineffable


Quick one today, as I'm in the midst of Messiah Madness this week. I'm also still recovering from an awesome, awesome weekend of Serie A football. Congrats to Amauro and Juve on that front.

Paul Ince is gone. Can't complain really as the results speak for themselves, although Paul Wilson is already wondering why Ince was ever hired to begin with.

Conventional thinking says Premier League managers should be selected from an 'elite', highly-experienced group of managers ranging from the likes of Sam Allardyce, Gary Megson, Sammy Lee, David O'Leary, and Harry Redknapp (I can hear your guffaws even over the Handelian choruses ringing through my ears).

But I'm reminded of Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece last issue on the impossibility of determining a quality elementary teacher or NFL quarterback on CV alone. Take old 'Arry for example. The man did a decent job at West Ham, than on to Pompei, so his stint with Southampton should have been marvelous no? But after a twenty-seven year run in the top flight, Southampton fell through the floor.

So when Harry returned to coach Portsmouth afterward, fans expected the worst. And yet Pompei turned out pretty well, and eventually won the FA Cup. None of this makes any sense.

So in the end, was it so crazy for Blackburn to appoint a younger, less experienced manager who managed to get a nothing club with MK Dons to go places? Probably not. The result could have been the same with any number of so-called 'proven' managers.

Nonetheless, does this mean we won't see this sort of move in the Premier League for a long, long time? Probably. Therefore, expect to see the gang Premier League 'elites' at a Sunderland or Blackburn near you.

Update: With grim inevitability, Graeme Souness and Big Sam Allardyce have tossed their hats in the ring for a go with Rovers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's Napoli

Denis in the Dressing Room

From one point of view, there is nothing to like about Napoli. There's a je ne sais quoi about Levezzi's face -- after every whingey foul, I want to strike him repeatedly with my shoe. Furthermore, the resemblance between German striker Denis and Dolph Lundgren is too disturbing to overlook, and if Hamsik had any more teeth he'd be digging for carrots on the touchline.

And yet they have pace, they look fancy in front of goal, and they create a hell of a lot of chances and do so with economic precision. And I found myself, bizarrely, more attracted to the end of a 3-0 match with little or no inclination to cheat and switch over to El Mega Super Top Clasico on GolTV. They are of course the once great side of the eighties, winning scudettos with the help of unsung, work-a-day striker Diego Maradona. They have come roaring back into Serie A, and look to have serious ambitions for a Champions League berth. They also hail from an area of the country that is notorious for corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and high crime rates. Sound familiar?

So there you have it: I've made my choice.

On another note, this one for Canadian soccer fans: I'm very heartened by the huge web response to De Rosario playing for TFC next year, but does anyone else feel we might be setting ourselves up for a Barack Obama-sized disappointment come April? Does anyone really trust either Chairman Mo or Little John to build a tactically-sound team around His Nibs, even with our blessed allocation money left over?

Moving on, does anyone else think the perpetual circle-jerk with regard to CSA restructuring, both on blogs and in the trad media, is getting very old, very quickly? Does anyone else find if you scratch the surface a bit of the "it's not funding, it's incompetence" crowd, you find a bunch of small government conservatives with their own axe to grind? And is anyone else annoyed that Canadian soccer journalists who've been in the game forever have done a terrible job in educating new TFC fans on just what the shit is wrong with the Canadian national set-up, and what we can all do to help fix it?

*exasperated sigh*

Somethin's Happening Here


As everyone now knows (me thanks to Colin), Dwayne de Rosario is coming to play for Toronto FC next year. Suddenly, my rash decision to spend a whack on season tickets in the middle of an economic downturn, and maybe possibly a zombie attack (counterfactuals matter), seems good and holy and true.

My only pause for thought here would be that Toronto FC is starting to bear the symbolic weight of the future of Canadian soccer a little too heavily. Whenever our season ticket renewal rate is posted up on some American site, comments always pour in all saying, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Yeah, Toronto's multicultural and they have lots of sports teams, like the Toronto Blue Budgies and the Toronto Hockey Leaves. So it makes sense. But no more. Toronto is basically downtown Canada so 'one' is the magic number when it comes to sports. Remember the Montreal Expositions! The next franchise should clearly open in Tulsa."

But for now I will take it. The ultimate wet-dream of course would be for all of our wayward sons, including that guy who got the skull fracture in that FA Cup tie, to come home and fill the roster. Hargreaves, the de Guzmans, hell, we could put Stalteri in goal for all I care. Toronto FC would be a Can-Con juggernaut.

But if it came down to that or having more Canadian MLS teams, I would choose the latter. I lived in Montreal for five years and these people love football. I know it's kaiboshed for now, but remember when Dwayne said he would never play here so long as we had an astroturf pitch? Dream, dream dream dream.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I'm One


A More Splendid Life is one year-old. Read my bizarre mission statement, dated December 11 2007.

The Right to Watch


Football, malheuresement, is entertainment, Don Revie be damned. As such, we are expected to pay for it. Fine.

However, the increasingly arbitrary manner by which television rights for football are awarded in Europe from one year to another is costing fans a lot more than their monthly satellite subscription.

Take this little gem from the Guardian a couple days back. Apparently Silvio Berlusconi, supposed champion of neoliberal, free-market values, moved his cabinet to double VAT (value-added tax) on Rupert Murdoch's Sky Italia, his direct business competitor.

While I'm certainly no fan of Murdoch, who's on the same footing as Berlusconi in terms of ruthlessness but without the advantage of being prime minister of a large first-world nation, Sky Italia won the rights to Serie A and has been growing steadily in Italy ever since. This year they posted a profit for the first time. So, realizing competition might actually threaten his personal business interests with regard to his Mediaset company, Berlusconi arbitrarily reversed a tax break initially designed to promote more competition. In effect, he's asking Italian Sky subscribers to pay up to protect his own company, at a time when Serie A is struggling to gain an audience outside of Italy, let alone within its own homes.

So what did Sky do in response? They made a direct appeal to viewers through presenter Ilaria D'Amico (and let's just say I find her quite...convincing), explaining how Berlusconi ambushed four million Italian household subscribers at a time of economic crisis.

When you have to sit through a multi-million dollar telecast make an appeal for equal treatment in the market as if they were PBS, when you can't even watch Serie A in the football-mad United Kingdom because of failed negotiations over TV rights, when individual web-streamers are threatened with a barrage of litigation for turning on a webcam, you know things have gone a bit too far.

Methinks Serie A will ultimately take the fall as the market implodes and threatened businessmen everywhere, whether taxman Berlusconi or 'think-of-the-children' Murdoch, suddenly find their inner socialist.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Let's Get Serie A-ous


I had a chat with the friend of mine who inspired me to switch over to Serie A this past month. He said that he liked the idea, but that he didn't understand why I felt I had to give up the Premiership completely.

"In order to fully immerse myself in Serie A's narrative arc," I explained, "I require total exclusivity. The only thing missing now is the overwhelming print coverage the Premier League takes for granted."

"Good luck finding any quality English-language coverage of Serie A," he offered.

And he's right.

On-line coverage for Lega Calcio seems pretty threadbare. A quick peak at the English-language version of Gazetta Dello Sport reveals some tumbleweeds drifting past three-day old stories. ESPN Serie A coverage features some day-old specials as well, including the headliner. Channel4.com is updated regularly but reads like a boring fan blog. The Offside is pretty alright, although has a piecemeal quality. And I dare you to find something relevant on the Guardian Serie A page.

There are a great many good blogs though, Spangly Princess taking the lead from what I've read so far. Any suggestions for some big ones I'm missing right now would be appreciated.

As for television news and analysis, all we get here in terms of Serie A analysis is this thing, a weekly roundup on our local Italian-themed network station. I don't know how else to describe it other than saying watching it is a bit like being stuck on a bus on your way to work with well-intentioned but horrible people discussing something you love. Not for the squeamish.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

ARGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHEEEEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH

Still. I'm loving Serie A. But...damn.

Lazio 0 Inter 3


Great game this, although the second goal, a Lazio OG committed by French defender Diakite, really stopped the show at the end of the second half.

I have to say though, watching Mauro Zarate play, the man would be quite good on a much better team. He and Foggia were the only two doing anything of any note whatsoever for Lazio for large swathes of the game.

But a few words for Ibrahimovic. I like him. A lot. He is one cocky sonofabitch ball handler, and his outrageous overhead back-heel pass to Sully Muntari, tactically useless as he knew Muntari had no support rushing into the box, was there simply to show the world that Ibra can make an outrageous overhead backheel pass.

Later he got in a tussle with Lazio meathead Brocchi for show-boating (I also liked how Lazio had Rocchi and Brocchi. Sounds like some sort of horrible Dutch kid's show). At least Ibra smiles when he plays, unlike Ronaldo who seems to think it is a categorical imperative for others to let him trot handsomely to the edge of the area. I mean, when's the last time you've seen a player amused by his own skill in Europe? He also scored Inter's third.

Serie A. Okay. Here we go.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Big Blogger Update

I will quote Sean Ingle here: "It was a toss up, in truth, between villasupportgroup and Tomsk. But taking their pieces from last week into consideration, the nod goes — just — to Tomsk."

So there you have it. Moral victory. Noble failure. Woolwich Arsenal. I hope, like Tele Santana's 1982 Brazil, I went out in style, but you can judge for yourself.

Thanks again to all of you who voted last week -- I would not have come so agonizingly close to negotiating fees with Sean Ingle on my cell phone without you.

Woulda Coulda Shoulda


Yay! Gay-pride pancakes!

This morning I woke up to see one of those Friday please-keep-reading-this-particular-on-line-rag-and-not-another stories on the Guardian. Apparently Christiano Ronaldo 'almost' signed for Arsenal but went for Manchester United instead.

I mean, speculation on possible alternate universes in sport? When did this thing become a giant game of Dungeons and Dragons? Did he roll an octagonal die, or spin some sort of plastic arrow on a piece of cardboard to decide his club? And why can't we get alternate universe news all the time? "NEW YORK POSSIBLY DESTROYED BY HANDSOME MONKEY IN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE: SCIENTIST."

Apparently even Ronaldo knows he can't roll back the clock -- "I have gone down in history." Yeah, it's over. No time travel in our lifetime, no takesies-backsies. You won your little Ballon d'Or, your little Premier League trophy, your pathetic little European Cup. The dream of playing keep away in the six-yard box with a gang of seventeen year-olds is dead. You made your bed Ronnie, now lie in it, and make sure not to get too much Crisco on the linens.

And Ronaldo's not alone in revealing this bit of 'news.' Waltzing over to my new-found home of English-language Italian news, Channel 4's Italy page, I notice Torres was once on the verge of joining AC Milan. Apparently, by even considering signing for one of the top clubs in Europe, and then signing for another top club in Europe, he's shown his true colours. Expect a black-armed march to Anfield in the coming days.

And what great news for Milan! Torres must be a great strike partner for Inzaghi over in that alternate universe. I hear if you scroll through the dreggs of Justin TV, there's a magical station broadcast out of Oman that picks up feeds from the alternate universe where Roy Keane isn't so cheesed all the time. Manchester United were relegated in 2002.

Anyway, the point here is that these people are stealing my idea.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We're In Stoppage Time Now

Just a few quick notes.

I would like to thank all of you for voting for me on the Guardian Big Blogger; your votes put me over the top. Now comes the hard part.

I'm in the Final Five (that one's for you, Battlestar nerds), and facing some very talented opposition. Now, AMSL needs your help to land the top prize of a paid Guardian commission (I mean, Jesus Christ already!).

I would greatly appreciate any comments or emails on past articles of mine that you thought 'worked,' and even better, which one you didn't. That way, I can gauge what sort of angle I'll take for the final. I have to submit the thing by Thursday night at the latest so, you know, whenever you have a moment (!). Needless to say, it might be quiet here between now and Friday.