20 July 2006

Transfer Season Heats Up

Well, it's official: The exodus has begun. Real Madrid kick things off by signing Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson from Juventus. Until the activity started, I supposed that players would wait until the clubs' appeals were complete. But now that two of the big names have moved, it may be that we start to see more players trying to find their spots.

And there are good players to be had, due to the Italian scandals. Three teams -- Juventus, Lazio, and Fiorentina -- are relegated to Serie B and docked points as well, so there's a very good chance they will spend two years at least before winning promotion. (And no European tournaments either.) That could be 20% of a player's career, and so most of the quality players will be desperate to find work elsewhere.
even from Juventus alone. The Turin side have claimed that Alessandro del Piero and Pavel Nedved will be staying with the club, but that still leaves an impressive list of names available. Buffon. Thuram. Zambrotta. Viera. Camoranesi. Ibrahimovic. Trezeguet. Mutu. Lazio and Fiorentina have some quality talent as well, with names like Toni, Ujfalusi, and Oddo. It's a who's who of world class talent and has the potential to shift the balance of power in multiple European leagues.

AC Milan is a more interesting question. They get to stay in Serie A, but they lose 15 points. So they'll be playing in the top Italian division, but will miss European play this year and probably next. That's a less-extreme situation, but still we can expect some departures. Even a couple names -- say, Kaka and Pirlo -- could have a major impact.

So there's plenty of talent to be had. And paradoxically, this may be good for the teams with a bit less money. Normally it's the Real Madrids and the Chelseas that snap up talent like this. And for sure, we've seen that already for both (with Shevchenko going to Chelsea). But there are only so many players that even a Chelsea can sign. So with a glut like this, many players should find their way to other teams.

There's been some speculation about Arsenal of course. Surprisingly, much of it centers around Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon. It would be harsh on Jens Lehmann to sign Buffon, but Buffon is one of a short list of goalkeepers that are better than Lehmann -- and he's only 28 as well.

But Arsenal are in even more need of defensive help, with the departure of Sol Campbell, the injury to Philippe Senderos, and the probable exit of Ashley Cole. So there are natural rumors around Lilian Thuram, the experienced French defender. He had a great world cup, and would provide a solid addition to any team. And in this case, his age (34) would be an advantage, as Arsenal won't want to block the path for their young defenders.

But only time will tell. There's sure to be plenty of news in the next few weeks, especially as the World Cup players return from their vacations. Keep your eye on the transfers, and cross your fingers for your favorite team.

11 July 2006

Klinsmann To The US?

It could be true. German sports news agency SID is reporting that Klinsmann will not renew his contract. Now, they also say that "Klinsmann... has dismissed reports he received a lucrative offer to coach the United States and has said he has no interest in coaching another national team such as England or Italy."

But it would make so much sense. Klinsmann lives in the US, and would have a much more relaxing and media-free time of life as the US coach. And I believe it would be exactly what the US needs.

Bruce Arena was a great builder of the USMNT. He developed players, brought respectability, and kept an even keel. But now the US needs to change things around a bit, to bring some more excitement, create some energy within the team, and to challenge players to perform. "I have done this before," he could say, "and I know what it takes. And you need to find more within yourselves if we are to succeed." But he can balance that with a modern (American) approach to fitness, mental health, and focus. It's a great match for American players and would give us a great chance for success in South Africa 2010.

Of course, that's a long time from now, and the US doesn't have a competition quite like Euro 2008 to prepare for in the meantime. Maybe Jurgen will manage a club team for a bit. He'd be a great fit in England, though none of the biggest jobs are available. Of course, that would take him away from his California home for a big part of the year, and he may not want that. But even if he does, maybe 2 years would be enough, and he could return to the US... perhaps in 2008 to prepare for qualifications! Hm...

10 July 2006

WC Final: Italy 1-1 France (Italy 5-3 on penalties)

So Italy are the champions. Congratulations to them; they were probably the most consistently good team in the tournament. They were winners of the toughest group, and did very well through the second round as well.

But it was a near thing. France played very well, and in the second half looked more likely to score than did the Italians. For long stretches, Italy couldn't even get the ball out of their half, and France brought wave after wave of attack. But I think the overall exhaustion began to tell on both teams, and while that allowed France to retain posession, it kept them from coming up with the creative, incisive move that could beat the Italian defense. France deserve a lot of credit. They made the group stage a close thing, but got the key win over Togo that saw them through. Then they had a very tough run through the elimination rounds, including solid wins over Spain, Brazil, and Portugal. Italy had an easy route through the octos and quarters (Australia and Ukraine), though their last-gasp victory over Germany makes up for it.

So two deserving teams, and a very close match. The early penalty was very soft but with this ref (Argentine Horacio Elizondo, who gave so many cards in the Czech Republic - Ghana match) it was not surprising to see it given. Zinedine Zidane almost missed it but didn't; the early goal then brought Italy out of their shell. The answering goal came quickly and was a beautiful corner, followed by a solid header from Marco Materazzi. But with equality restored, the game deflated, with Italy generally soaking up French pressure but unable to mount sustained pressure of their own. Both teams had a few chances, but as exhaustion took its toll penalties seemed inevitable. And so it proved.

But first we had the spectacle of Zidane's (well deserved) red card. It's not clear why he reacted as he did; clearly something was said that set him off. It's no excuse though. A player of his stature should know better and it's a disappoinment that he couldn't control himself. It's a shame that he will be remembered for this, particularly because it had little impact on the penalty shootout. David Trezuguet was always going to take his penalty, even if Zizou was around, and it was his miss that made the difference. So I hate to see the stories that link his ejection to the French loss, particularly because his excellent play was a major factor in bringing France to the finals in the first place. It's a shame that Italy are 'winners' and France 'losers', as the margin between the two teams was razor thin. But that's the way the game is played.

So it's all done and dusted. We have 34 days before the English season kicks off with the Community Shield. Arsenal will start a bit earlier, with the Champions League qualifiers beginning on 8 August. So 29 days from now. I feel for the players, particularly Thierry Henry. He suffered a nasty knock in the first minute yesterday that left him semiconscious on the Berlin turf. He had a fine game afterwards, but was taken off in extra time, either from injury or exhaustion. He has a mere two weeks to relax before Arsenal reconvene to train for 06/07.

More thoughts on the World Cup will come later. But for now, allow me to offer my congratulations once again to Italy. Despite the close match, there's no doubt that they are deserving champions. And now they're only one behind Brazil!

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