footy musings from a (relative) newbie

Archive for May, 2014

Champions

So much for my prediction skills.

Real Madrid are the Champions of Europe, clinching their 10th European Cup by beating city rivals Atletico Madrid. For a while there, it did look like Atletico were on their way to springing the upset. And that wouldn’t have been a complete surprise. Not only have Atletico defied all sorts of expectations this season – winning La Liga and getting to the Champions League final on a budget that can only be described as lean – they’ve pretty much bossed Real Madrid and Barcelona all season long.*

So Atletico winning wouldn’t have been a total shock. But I guess the prospect of losing was enough to prompt Sergio Ramos’ stoppage time equalizer and Real’s subsequent comeback victory. However it came, Real now have La Decima – the trophy they’ve coveted more than any other since 2002.**

And with that, the European season is officially over (until qualifiers for Europa League and Champions League begin in July, that is). Congrats to all the league and European completion winners.

Next stop: the World Cup!

*Copa Del Rey notwithstanding

**No doubt, they will move on to their next obsession shortly.

On Landon Donovan

The omission of Landon Donovan from this year’s USMNT World Cup Squad is both surprising and not.

Donovan’s performances in recent months – for club and country – have been below his usual standard. He’s not the player he once was, but fair or not, he’s set such a high standard that we still hold him to it.

Moreover, he himself has said he is not as fit as in previous years and even has trouble getting motivated to continue playing. From where I’m sitting, I can see how a player like him, who’s given a lot of himself to his country and his sport, might just be burned out.

That said, it was always going to be surprising to see a player of his stature excluded from the WC squad. I think that’s testament both to his talent and accomplishments and to how much we as US fans had invested in him.

But as much as I appreciate the memories LD has given his country’s supporters, I’m fine with him being left out of the squad.

I am not one of those who believe that Donovan should be included on the World Cup squad solely on the basis of past performance. It’s completely reasonable for Jurgen Klinsmann to have looked at Donovan’s performances for his club and in recent training camps and said “Not good enough.” (Yes, even great players have times when they play badly. This is not news)

And yet I don’t think that this exclusion should be used as an opportunity to heap scorn on the player for its own sake or in pursuit of some faux objectivity. (I was one of those who had zero problem with Donovan taking his much-talked about sabbatical)* Donovan’s been a superb player for the USMNT, given 14 years to the team and been clutch in countless situations. If anyone earned a mental health break, it was him.

Nor do I think everyone should be second guessing Jurgen Klinsmann** As some of have noted, Klinsmann has a history of shaking up team selection – i.e., dropping big stars in favor of younger players. This situation isn’t particularly unique (though you’d certainly think so based on all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that’s greeted this announcement).

As noted – in this space and elsewhere – the US has been drawn into group that will be almost impossible to get out of. I’m not convinced that Landon Donovan’s presence would have significantly improved our ability to advance to the round of 16, especially given the inconsistent form he’s shown recently.

That said, if the US has an especially poor showing at the tournament, the second guessing of this decision will be ratcheted up. Significantly.

*I know we think it’s an athlete’s job to run himself into the ground until he can no longer play, at which time he can fade into obscurity and we can stop giving fucks about him, but I disagree. We as fans are, in fact, not entitled to an athlete’s whole life and person.

**This is coming from someone who’s not entirely sold on Klinsmann as USMNT manager.

This In-Between Time

All the European league seasons are done, but the World Cup is still a few weeks away. A Europa League champion has been crowned (congrats to Sevilla). But there is still the little matter of the Champions League final to be played this Saturday in Lisbon. I never learn my lesson, so I’m going to once again make a prediction (*cracks knuckles*)

Atletico Madrid will win the 2014 Uefa Champions League*

They are already La Liga Champions, and they’ll be keen to get another cup final win over their rivals Real Madrid to crown what has been a fantastic, remarkable season for them. So, why not?

*Believe me, I know it’s not a big leap.

Finals…finally!

Welp! Here we are. After 9 looooong months, the finalists for the two European competitions are

Champions League: Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid

Europa League: Benfica vs. Sevilla

I need to get this out of the way: I do not understand how the Europa League final will be contested in Juventus Stadium, but not by Juventus other than to once again lament my terrible prediction skills.

As for the Champions League, the road to Lisbon apparently goes through Madrid.

With Real and Atletico advancing to the Champions League final, it’s that time of year where football pundits declare this or that footballing approach to be dead. Because football pundits apparently have the attention span and perspective of over-caffeinated teenagers.

Can we just say that the footballing approach that is deemed superior is usually the one that is currently being employed to win? Can we also admit that different approaches to the game can win in different circumstances?

When Barcelona was cleaning everyone’s clock a few years back, tiki taka was all the rage, and folk were falling over themselves to praise it. Fast forward to 2013, when Bayern Munich was winning everything in sight, and their brand of football – counter attacking, with a focus on physicality – was being lauded as the best EVAH!

I’d love it if everyone – pundits, fans, players, managers – just owned that they were reacting to who and what was winning in a given moment.

And failing that, it really is ok to just say Team A played better than Team B on the night.

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