Saturday, May 16, 2009

There's a lot to be proud of Liverpool. Hold your heads high. YNWA

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Match Pricks on Twitter – Wigan-United thoughts via TweetMic

Couldn’t help myself and rambled off a few words about my emotions this afternoon. Posted it via TweetMic at the Match Pricks Twitter feed. Check it out:

Match Pricks Twitter feed.

Follow along with us, if you’re not already. Sign up for the Match Pricks Twitter feed because TweetMic means Colin and I will not abandon our fandom just because the season has ended. With the summer shaping up to be chock full of insane-o, looney tunes transfer rumors (Hello Florentino Perez at the Bernebeau!), there'll be gobs of Match Pricks goodness.

Heeey! It's not all that bad, is it?

Well that's good. Thank goodness new boy Ivan (Arsenal's new CEO) spoke up. Whew!

I mean, he's right, isn't he? We did make it into two semi-finals, didn't we? I mean, in a way, we all should be glad that we're all so pissed off, right? Right? Right. Happy to be in this situation, I am. Right, right, right! Right as rain, in fact. If people weren't upset, well then I reckon it just means that they'd just be happy as a clam to have simply reached those semi-finals, yeah? But not our supporters! Nope. Noooooo, sir! Not our players, either! They all expect to win things, they do! I'm glad they're upset ... Right? The silver lining and all that, right? I mean, if we weren't ticked off well then there's nothing left to pursue, is there?

That's all fine and it's perfectly simple, isn't it? Fact is, I go through life with a much deeper and more altruistic approach. (Yes, I realize that's the second time I've used that word today, but it's true and appropriate.)

Again, I'll reference the gorgeous Spain/Russia match (note the slash there rather than the "vs.", those were two willing participants engaged in a symbiotic relationship in that match, it wasn't so much one team against another as it was two incredible musicians riffing together to create a masterpiece) from the summer of '09 (the summer of Doin' It For Eduardo, lest you forget). I would have been just fine with a nil-nil draw there. It's about the approach for me. Do you approach the game with grace, humility, RESPECT? Do you put your foot forward to make it better, to make it adventurous ... to recast the mold? To do it better than it's been done before?

See, that's what I'm searching for. And it's why, in part, I've got such bile stewing through every inch of my visceral self right now. There are too many who set forth without keeping those things in mind. Or there are too many who can find those higher values but either choose not to express them or are simply incapable of pulling together the higher plane of thought necessary to recognize the responsibility that comes with their lot.

Sure I'm disappointed that Arsenal haven't won anything. Of course it's bittersweet that we reached two major semi-finals yet capitualted so easily when we got there. Yes, of course it sucks but that's not all there is to it. Losing isn't everything, to turn a phrase.

What does it mean? It means, Adebayor, I don't want you to just win me a trophy. It means, Ivan, I don't see the value in the disappointment expressed for losing at so high a level. It means, Alisher Usmanov, I don't jump for joy at the prospect of a cash infusion when I know - or can suspect - from whence it came. Savvy?


Because I want, I expect, to see a greater expression. I want to see a greater achievement. I want to see a greater commitment, higher values ... a more pure evolution. Because I hope.

And when I don't see it, when my normally bouyant hope is tethered by the forces of evil (those are obvious if you read Match Pricks regularly), I feel cast off and lost. I lack the clarity needed to express myself and the clarity or leadership to see the game for its true beauty. It lies on life support until those markers I look for can be hit again.

And then you're just left with the thin hope that there's "someone tending the light at the end of the tunnel" (Thompson).

Well, Wigan gave it a go. False dawns and all that.

Driving 70 mph on I-94 during that last half hour while checking updates on the iPhone probably wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, but I made it to work in one piece - even if the title chase did not.

Wigan 1 - United 0, 33 min

This is why it's absolute death sometimes to be a football supporter.

Football writers honor Steven Gerrard's 2008-09 brilliance with Player of the Year Award

I wasn't going to add anything about this because it's been covered so extensively elsewhere, but the Guardian has a nice photo essay of Gerrard's bright spots this season in honor of the football writers naming him the Player of the Year. Sentimentality for the neutral is fine and all, but at least somebody stood up and said, "Excuse me, but Ryan Giggs – he of the 14 League starts – has not been a better performer than Steven Gerrard this season."

On a day where United look likely to essentially clinch the title at Wigan (scroll down for more), it's nice to reflect on the fine performances from Gerrard and Liverpool. Plus, we'll always have this:

A must read for today

First off, scroll on down for some thoughts from Jim reflecting on Wigan's role in the title chase, my mental breakdown and some telling video of bronze boy Ronaldo.

This article, in the Daily Mail today, is a must read on the Adebayor situation. I couldn't have put it any better myself. Well done to Neil Ashton for saying what so many are thinking at the moment. 

Adebayor must go.

For one, he's not all that good. A great season a year ago, a less than mediocre season this year. And he's clearly not as good as he thinks he is. He's got this sickening air of entitlement, doesn't he? His performances have been less and less interested as the calendar days tick off. Look at the case of Nicholas Bendtner. Here's a guy who is level with Van Persie in team goals and could easily have a dozen more if not for misfires that have plagued him through the season. With Adebayor, we struggle to see where the goals might have come from, don't we? Arsene has said that Nico will get there, that he's a young striker who will come good and that you can tell from simply watching him ... All he needs are the goals ... a line we keep hearing. I don't think, and I can't believe, that is the case for Adebayor. In fact, his selfish play flies in the face of team tactics and has destroyed the team concept. 

Even greater than that are the poisonous comments he rattles off before and after each match. Complaints about losing so many big players ... waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh. Really? Alexander Hleb was a player most of us would've driven to the airport ourselves (credit to Match Pricks reader Ian for that nice line). Mathieu Flamini? Yeah, he was good but not world class by any stretch. Gilberto? Steady, solid and valuable ... also old. I'm not turning my back on these guys, I'm being realistic. Hleb can barely get a game at Barcelona, by the way. And he was barely with us three years in the end.

Adebayor is a player who doesn't understand the commitment necessary. He doesn't understand the level he has attained at and what is expected. In fact, his understanding of the level he has attained is not in-line with reality. He seems to believe (listen to the audio clip in the article) that he is simply a mercinary at this point - as are all players who have reached that top level. He believes, it seems, they are simply there for the money, that there is no altruistic value in continuing to play for and represent a club. These are football clubs with supporters who expect you to care about the club. These are not, as much as Chelsea and Manchester United would have you believe, corporations. Could you imagine a player like Adebayor surviving at Liverpool?

So yeah, read that article up there. He says exactly what I've been thinking. I've been embarrassed that Adebayor has taken the field for the Arsenal lately. With a mind like his, he doesn't deserve to be in this team. 

Oh, and one more thing Ade ... there's not a chance in hell you're on the same level as Thierry Henry. 

If he comes out on Saturday against Manchester United, I will be sorely disappointed. Jim put it right down below when he commented that Arsenal are not in the right frame of mind to come out at Old Trafford. Emmanuel Adebayor is a major reason why.

Back at the the JJB

In a somewhat ironic turn, Liverpool's improbable-title-chase flash of a season reaches its likely end tonight at the site of one of its lowest points: the JJB Stadium in Wigan. Ironic because – as this oft-linked-to hateful diatribe of filth and bile shows – it was in Wigan in late January where Liverpool recorded one of their devestating draws – a 1-1 finish thanks to Lucas gifting the Latics a late penalty.

Now, United travels to Wigan with the League there to be wrapped up. Sure, there's mathematics involved, even with a United victory, that would require Jintao to steer his charges to somehow take one point from two remaining matches (home against Arsenal and away to Hull), but let's not kid ourselves. It's much more likely than not that United will beat Wigan today something like 2-0 or 3-0, and then they'll be geeked up Saturday for the title clinching point(s) at home against Arsenal, a side – with all due respect to Colin – isn't exactly in the perfect competitive mind-set for a late-season away match against United. If Arsenal somehow wins, then United would need a draw at Hull on the final day.

Like I said, I'm not ordering any champagne in case of an improbable pair of Liverpool-favoring results this weekend. Sure, I'm hoping – maybe even talking myself into – Wigan pouring out 90 minutes of desperate, last-ditch defending and then sneaking one at the end to win 1-0. Yeah, I'll give you that I'm actually hoping for that. I'm hoping I win the $109 million Powerball draw tonight, too. Hope is a wonderful thing, but at a certain point ...

This has been a downbeat post, but only because the end of the season is just about here, and I don't want it to end. It's been an outstanding Liverpool campaign. We got 4-1 out of it, and if nothing else, that would be incredible. But there's been so much more to get juiced up about. I'll write more about 2008-09 soon, but for now, there's just the JJB, United and the (likely) end of a dream – for this year. Really want to not have to add that part after the dash one of these days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Hello, darkness, my old friend" or: What does it all mean

"Hello, my name is Colin and I follow the football."
"Hello, Colin." "Would you like to share anything?"

Good to get to know you again. Been too long. A number of interceding points of interest have kept me from expressing myself as I should here at this point when all things come to an end and into full focus at the onset of May. The end generally comes crashing down around us like a tidal wave, doesn't it? There's really no casual unfolding, as much as you might want it. Even if you feel like you expect what is to come, the end of the season will always be like a rubber band snapping across your unsuspecting forearm. 

Sorting these thoughts, divulging this emotion and admitting these feelings has been something I've dreaded for the last month - at least. In truth, I haven't even wanted to come to grips with it. How often have I, over the span of a decade, answered that routine and quite mundane question, "hey, how are you?" with something pulled directly from the early dawn hours of my life as a football supporter - in spite of the language barrier, as it were.

This season, these horrible, horrible 14 months since February, 2008 when Eduardo shattered his leg, Gael Clichy committed a clumsy penalty and then-captain William Gallas threw a tantrum that would impress a colicky toddler, has been pockmarked by brilliance. Little protruding teases of brilliance. "What's this?" you'll ask yourself as one comes on and passes you by. "Haven't had one of those in yonks." It's there, it can clearly come back, you know well that it used to be there. But then why does it just flitter away? Why won't it stay? You've clearly welcomed it, made room for it, put out some extra towels and such. Stay, won't you? I've got bachelor chow, and there's vodka in the freezer. Hell, I've even got ice. Just stay! Here, let me make you an egg. Why would you leave? Who leaves when you can stay!? Right, Brilliance? Right? I mean you're with me, right?

Pockmarked by brilliance. 

Fleeting and all-too rare glimpses of that brilliance we've known for so long as Arsenal supporters. The truth through the long season has been clear to all - the team isn't good enough. Scroll back through the Match Pricks archives, take a look at the fall and see just how I felt about many of the players and the situations.  Just not good enough. Still, did I get caught up in the hope that many of those moments would turn into something greater? You bet your ass. So did most everyone else. But then that's football, isn't it? Turn out, put in a performance and capture it for tomorrow. Bottle it, release it at will. Hell, don't even release it ... when you're in form rip the top off of that damned bottle and shake it out like freaking holy water for the whole world to rub it into every pore in their miserable bodies for the exciting essence of life it truly is ... a football team in form. A class football team, with class players. A team with values. A team that holds the blueprint. Good form is like the best, clearest, most soaring, most challenging, most inspiring, most encouraging and most outwardly sexual poem you'll ever encounter. It just is, it soaks in, takes hold and grips your entire body. You can see it on people's faces, when their team is in form, when they are there in that special place - when they have arrived.

Quite conversely, you can see it on people's faces when they've encountered some 14 months of stubborn refusal to accept, process and profess the truth ... that they simply aren't good enough. We're there now though, aren't we? The Arsenal, and their supporters have been climbing a veritable mudslide of fortune, only to find themselves facing the very bottom of that hill. Sure, Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's genius manager who has now been cast more in the light of stubborn emperor leading a parade in nowt but his bare glory, has been trying to convince us of the direction and planned outcome, but all the same, there will always come a time when the truth is just there for all to see on our faces. And we have hit it at full speed.

Fact is, the supporters know it. The non-supporters, the neutrals, the guy across the street ... they all know it. Those involved, though? Those responsible? They'll either not admit it just the now or they are - quite simply - idiots.

Arsene Wenger won't admit it. And in fairness he shouldn't. He needs to do his job as manager. He is not a mouth-piece, he is not the press agent for the club. The idiots involved? Let's put it this way (you'll have gotten this teaser if you checked in on the Match Pricks Twitter feed this morning) ...

-Faith in few
-Mistrust in others
-Apathy toward the rest

Faith in a few? Yeah ... there are a handful of players that see everything the way they should. Players who care, who exhibit pride and effort. Players who recognize the opportunity in front of themselves and want to take it.

Mistrust in others? Right ... there are too many players on this team who play for selfish reasons, who try and exert effort for selfish reasons. They are there not for the club, but to attain a stage of further personal glory. To write a new chapter in their career before turning the page to the next and challenging themselves to see if they can achieve in another manner. They say things that are purely counter-intuitive to the steps one needs to assert and find success as part of a collective whole (i.e. a team). "We need to buy good players, show ambition, win trophies." "I am here to repay the club for the faith they showed in me, I am here to win them trophies and after that point I will be able to think about leaving." Oh how very f&*$ing gracious of you to hang around long enough to bestow us with a trophy, your grace. All of the talk in the world yet none of the commitment. Get F%^&$D!

Apathy toward the rest? You heard me ... just. not. good. enough. You're fine, you play your role (poorly), you show up, you punch the clock, you toss out an idea or two in a meeting every now and again, you repeat someone else's good idea, you latch on to the leaders ... Yeah, you heard me, you're just not good enough. Thanks for hanging around though, I can't really hold it against you, can I?


Yeah ... me too. It's in there somewhere though. Just keep searching. And now that this has been done, I may finally be able to muster the energy to turn my attention to Patrice Evra and Cristiano Ronaldo. The latter, of course, the most-despicable human being this side of Silvio Berlusconi (who is, in the end, falling firmly in the 'Happy Fool' category) and the former ... I don't even yet have the words.

Your 2008-09 champion in waiting

The picture of grace, no?

– Wednesday, at Wigan
– Saturday, home against Arsenal
– May 24, at Hull

They need four points from those three, and based on current evidence, they appear likely to take nine from those three. More thoughts as the week progresses, but here's some fine evidence of the type of person young Cristiano has become. And with Scholes coming on for him, no less.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Who doesn't love a good Tom & Jerry riff? Thank you, Michael Ballack

Kudos and plaudits to "the Internet" for these wonderful GIFs having fun with Michael Ballack's inhumanly possessed response to referee Tom Henning Ovrebo's refusal to award a penalty in the dying seconds Wednesday after the big German blasted into Eto'o's back-turned shoulder/upper arm area inside the box. The last one, in particular, brought an audible laugh out of me.

Click here for Ballack-inspired Internet shenanigans.

Credit to the always excellent Run of Play for finding this first.

Alonso out for trip to East London

The Director will miss tomorrow’s match against West Ham because he hasn’t recovered from last weekend’s leg injury.

Thanks a lot, Joey Barton, you scumsucking pigfucker piece of shit.

(There goes the Match Pricks sponsorship deal with Huggies .... Oh well.)

Greetings from Upton Park

No, I'm not in East London right now, but I have two friends – and possibly a third – who will be present for West Ham v. Liverpool this Saturday. Two of those three are West Ham through and through, and the third is mostly just along for the ride. But he's a helluva guy and I wish all those guys the best during their Saturday out – within reason, of course.

This one is a tricky run for Liverpool, isn't it? Gianfranco Zola has the Hammers playing well. I haven't seen too much of West Ham live, but I did catch them home to United and Chelsea, both 0-1 results for the visitors. They had just one really decent chance against United, from what I remember, and Giggs scored an amazing goal that made the difference. Cech saved a penalty in the Chelsea match, but West Ham were threatening there, too. It's not clear if Torres and Gerrard will both be ready to go 100 percent on Saturday, so Liverpool has to be careful.

That's it. That's the extent of my pre-match analysis. I know, you're floored. I'd just like to get to the match and enjoy some football. It's been a week to make one weary, so here's to the break.

On a personal note, here's a shout for local lad Kuba, who is jetting off to South Africa for 80 days following Saturday's match. He's been a fixture at the pub this season and he will be missed. This summer, who will sing "Desperado" at karaoke in his absence? If you're around, pay a visit to the Highbury Pub, 2322 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Milwaukee this Saturday morning to send the boy off.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Match Pricks Live Blog: We came to blog football; they came to blog nothing at all

Just a quick reminder: This is the final Match Pricks Live Blog of the 2008-09 Champions League campaign. I will be spending the final in our football pub, surrounded by hammered, overly loud United fans and wearing my yellow Liverpool away Riise shirt – or possibly a hilariously outdated Ronaldinho Barça shirt I bought drunkenly a few years ago. Yes, I realize that's not exactly a "dream scenario" but it's a midweek match in late May and I'll have off from work.

But for now, let's get it on at 1:30 p.m. CDT for Chelsea and Barcelona.

A belated huzzah, thank you and all the best possible wishes to the great Sami Hyypia

Earlier this week, as you likely know, it was revealed Sami Hyypia will leave for Beyer Leverkusen after this season to end a decade of brilliance in a Liverpool shirt. Sami's lack of pace in his old(er) age makes him a poor fit for the modern Premier League, and Skrtel and Agger are ready now to step in alongside Carra in the back four to take Liverpool's defense into the future.

But I come today not to bury Sami Hyypia, but to praise him. He practically owns the term "loyal servant" and I will always remember two terrific moments that defined his unique blend of the iconic center half who also posed a goal threat.

1. His goal in 2005 against Juventus at Anfield. The cross comes in from the right to the far post, where Sami volleys in with his left foot. Combined with Luis Garcia's wonder strike from distance and it ended up 2-1. Game on, 0-0 in Turin and then the miracle of Istanbul. Thank you, Sami.

2. A few years ago, in a Premier League match at Anfield, Middlesbrough was giving an underachieving Liverpool a tough run. I might not be remembering this correctly, but I'm fairly certain Liverpool was down a goal early, then fought back in the second half to go up 2-1 late but Boro kept pressing and looked a threat. There was a collision and Sami's head started bleeding from a deep cut. He had to go into the locker room and Boro looked likely to equalize. Boro had a free kick given about 35-40 yards out or so, and while they're setting up, Sami comes charging out of the tunnel to huge applause, his head wrapped cartoon- and Terry Butcher-style with a huge bandage. The kick comes flying in and Sami immediately heads it clear while Anfield erupts. He makes another clearance a few seconds later and the lead is preserved.

Thank you, Sami Hyypia, for everything you've done in a Liverpool shirt.

Coming up today: The Final Match Pricks Live Blog of the 2008-09 Champions League campaign. Don't miss it!!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Match Pricks Live Blog: Cesc-y football time

Quick reminder: I am NOT the Arsenal half of Match Pricks. I AM the United-hating, Liverpool-loving half of Match Pricks who has the time to sit in his basement at 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon and bleat on about this super-crunch semifinal. Let's rock.

Less than 3 hours until The Match Pricks Live Blog

Monday, May 4, 2009

"Arsenal are my club; they are the only club"

The challenge has been drawn, the expectations leveled and the stage set. Win 1-nil and go to penalties at home and with a red-hot goalie. Win 2-nil and go through. Concede just 1 and you must score 3. Ready? Go.

After keeping the emotions at bay for the better part of the last week as I stumbled through the rest of my life, pretending as I did that there were actually other things that mattered, I have now hit the part of that emotional dial that reads, "Officially Excited. Get out of my way."

There are so many eventualities lining up here that it's almost impossible to focus. The squad? The venue? The meaning?

Let's rattle through a few things, shall we? Perhaps some further focus will come into play.

  • Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal captain, just turned 22 today (Monday). Here, Pires with the tackle and pass to Henry, Henry with the remarkable feed to Cesc, Cesc with one of the top moments of his early career. Cesc didn't have very much to say for himself in the first leg. My hope is that a different team approach, made possible by Van Persie's fitness, will enable him to exert his considerable influence on the match.

  • Biggest news of the day? Sure, Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand has been passed fit for the return leg of Arsenal vs. Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final and he'll no doubt be a monumental challenge for Arsenal, but the real news as I see it (and I'm sure it's the same from Gooners the world round) is the fitness of Robin Van Persie. Any time you can welcome a top striker into your side it is nothing but a massive boost. They can now come out with their preferred - my preferred - formation to attack and get the goals needed to win. Recall that Arsenal have recorded the impressive feat of not allowing a goal in the Champions League at home all year. Recall the string of clean sheets they kept through the calendar of 2009 to this point. Mmmm (yep, that's the mmm of satisfaction, folks). Recall that a clean sheet is the product of team play, organization, and in Arsenal's case, possession and the wonderful aesthetic that is their particular evolution of football. And finally, recall that United had their collective foot on Arsenal's throat for the better part of 90 minutes in the first leg at old Trafford.
  • So, that having been said, expect Arsenal to come out in a 4-4-2 with Adebayor and Van Persie up front to play some attacking football - some Arsenal football. They will keep the ball, they will move the ball, they will create opportunities for each other - for their team - and someone will grab the spotlight. Someone will put their pen to page, take the responsibility that matches of this magnitude so desperately cry out for and someone will become a legend. Although we'd all prefer the team to be tripping over each other to assert themselves in the pantheon of our future recollections, wouldn't we?
  • 4-4-2 then, right? Two ... no problem, automatic choices with Adebayor and Van Persie (there's no doubt that the Togolese (I just love saying that) plays much better alongside Van Persie and in spite of his come-and-go performances this year, you have to expect that he'll get the boots on for the biggest match of his career). Four in the middle ... again, not really much of a choice. They have slotted themselves in at this point - Nasri, Cesc, Song, Theo. It must be that and when you look at those four names (lightweights really) you must consider the two playing on top and just how quick (not fast, save for the case of Walcott) and dangerous they can be on the attack. It was the main deficiency in the first leg last week and the reason Arsenal chipped long balls over the center of the park with such a poor success rate. Beyond that, in the back it's anyone's guess and far from first choice. My assumption? Silvestre (should Gibbs be out), Toure, Djourou and Sagna. Hopefully they'll provide more cover for Almunia, who has been brilliant.
  • Young, yet ready as they may be, the team can accurately be described as 'youth without youth.' They are painfully young across the pitch but, and it's something that Arsene has said a number of times, they have indeed played together in big matches.
  • Arsene Wenger has promised a match of particular magnificence. My he's been up for it lately, hasn't he? Day after day he has trotted out some fantastically driving quotes. There's no mistake he wants this trophy and would it be any better than to reach the final by triumphing over his old rival and the team who have so firmly planted their feet at the summit of the game? (at right: Arsene shows Sir Alex Jintao the way out of Europe, if you look closely you can see him mutter that golden and all too descriptive line, "get f$%^#d!") Some choice lines here from Arsene regarding his position as manager of Arsenal as well as in this round-up piece from his press conference. It's when Arsene begins talking about the team as opposed to a collection of individuals (looking at you Chelsea) that the blood really gets pumping.
Eh, that's enough randomly disconnected babble for now, isn't it? We just need to sit back, hold our breath and watch it unfold. Again, time zones and all that. My personal blackout witll begin around 1:00 p.m. Tuesday afternoon as I race through the day until the time I can settle in front of the television at home and what will either end up as a glorious triumph that'll have me running around the neighborhood singing (as the squares look on and wonder what the hell I've gotten in to) or will end in painful acceptance and a cocked-up reality check that starts casting an eye over next season.