Monday, June 22, 2009

Current Status: Attacking throw, Arsenal Gunners of London

Big news today. Potentially widespread ramifications and something we've all been hearing whispers of for months, if not dreading for years. After all, sports will all be under the same umbrella by 2015, won't it? And by it all I mean down to the game of whiffle ball you're playing in your background, with that oak tree as second base, the neighbor's sidewalk as the warning track and the old man next door's Ford Taurus as third. That heated match, between you and your eight year old nephew, will probably be on ESPN 523. Or maybe I'm quite certain you'll be able to just pull up the live blog an see the updating status on your iPhone. It was bound to happen.

For now, however, we'll have to settle for what we've got and somehow make do. ESPN has acquired Setanta's rights to broadcast the English Premier League.  

The details will surely trickle out in the coming days and weeks. The biggest thing we worry about when it comes to such things is a change in our routine. Please say it ain't so. Please say you, ESPN, wont unravel what has become the structure of my life. I'm having a hard enough time shaking off a severe level of depression with the absence of league football and the onset of a summer with no proper international tournament to pass the time until August. And yeah, the Confederations Cup does not count. This year's tournament is akin to Rocky Balboa's final exhibition fight against Mason Dixon. A bunch of nobodies trotting out and taking their shot against a team that is so far and away superior that it almost tarnishes how well they are actually playing to even face the opposition. It remains to be seen whether or not one of the upstarts (perhaps those plucky Americans on Wednesday?) will actually turn up and make a fight out of this exhibition. But I digress...

In America, when it comes to ESPN, we get announcers with no credentials (see the comments in the above article - Shaka Hislop?). We get terminology that churns our pretentious and stuck-up stomachs ("and that'll be a PK for the Samba Kings from South America's BraZil"). And we get Manchester United. A lot of Manchester United. In fact, we get so much Manchester United that ESPN featured the club on their ticker just the other day when it was announced that Carlos Tevez would not be returning to the club. Now, rightly so and credit where credit is due, they have won the league three years running and have made the last two Champions League finals - winning, of course, in 2008. They deserve the coverage. But at what cost? Watching the coverage from the American sports conglomerate one would think it a fait accompli that United would surely win the league each year ... if they don't, well, my oh my, they must've been cheated. It's their trophy, isn't it? In fact, all trophies really and truly belong to them. Surely there aren't other teams in the league who compete? 

When news of ESPN potentially winning this contract first started reaching our ears several months ago Jim and I had a conversation that focused on the potential changes at hand. Whether it was out of pure absurdity, silliness, jealousy or even fear of the full reach of Jintao's spindly little fingers, we ended up with a rather terrifying and distopian view of our future as football viewers in America who hitch their very sanity to the fact that they count on a 6:30 a.m. match, a 9:00 a.m. match, an 11:30 a.m. match and a 1:30 p.m. replay - every Saturday - with a 7:30 a.m. match and a 10:00 a.m. match - every Sunday. Clock.Work. Much more than our watches are set by that schedule. And rest assured we're not alone. Every one of you reading Match Pricks from these shores is in the same boat. We've got the schedule, the lifestyle and the bags under our eyes to prove it. And you know what? We enjoy getting to watch Aston Villa vs. Fulham (hell, we relish it!). We're happy to check in on Bolton (no, really, we are) and Tottenham (no, I'm not smirking, really, full respect) and a shot of White Heart Lane in full voice. West Ham, Birmingham, Reading, Southampton, Portsmouth, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Charlton, Norwich, Sheffield United, City ... we embrace and enjoy watching all of them through the course of a weekend. It's like family members coming over to dinner, or rather, breakfast (and lunch, sometimes we make it to dinner too ... sometimes).

So imagine our fear when we hear that ESPN - the network that broadcasts every one of Manchester United's European Cup group stage and knockout matches, the network that regularly gives us highlight updates on their Sportscenter shows, the network that runs news of Carlos Tevez simply not re-upping his contract on their ticker - has won the rights to broadcast the league that we turn to like a five year old turns to his tattered old teddy bear. As I say, we toyed with this look into the future a few months ago and we didn't like what we saw. That we never laid out the thoughts in full, beyond an assortment of notes, must've spoken at some primal level to a desperate hope that it wouldn't come true. Well, gird yourselves, folks. The dam is about to burst.

ESPN will be tripping over itself to bring us more news every day in the run-up before the season. It'll be an effort to continue to convert their American audience. We'll get news of United's bid for Karim Benzema. We'll hear all about Ecuadorean and soon-to-be ex-Wigan striker Valencia and how he'll incorporate with United's midfield. Little Tommy Smyth will stop rubbing Sir Alex Jintao's feet long enough to tell us just how deadly Dimitar Berbatov is (Barry Melrose will stop talking about hockey for the few minutes necessary to chime in and compare him to Brett Hull) and how versatile Rooney can be now that he's not watching Ronaldo loping up and down the pitch, Mike & Mike in the Morning will have a couple of United bobbleheads on their desk every morning. We'll get updates on Colleen's ultrasounds straight up until delivery in US Weekly and on Entertainment Tonight (that show is still on, isn't it?)

And don't forget the diving. We'll hear all about how the departure of Ronaldo will be a good thing for United, ushering in a greater level of team play ... one that will allow Sir Alex Jintao to build a new team for the future, for the next five to 10 years, so that he can sit back and retire, knowing fully well that his treasured side will be on auto-pilot. Selling Ronaldo will have been the most brilliant stroke of his long career. After all, no one really and truly liked him anyway, did they? Not that egotistical, pawning, preening and self-promoting poon-hound. Oh rest assured, we'll hear all about that.

And you'll get your hopes up, won't you, for some nice, clear and shiny high-definition games? It's ESPN after all, isn't it? You bet it is, kiddies. E.S.P.N. And hey, they're American. If they won't bring you football in HD, who will? Oh yeah, it'll be sweet. We'll get those HD games alright. Live and direct from Old Trafford where they'll have that pitch lined with HD cameras all set to bring it straight to America from 68 different angles. You'll see those prawn sandwiches in enough detail to tell just how fresh they are. You'll be able to tell how old van der Saar really is, how many minutes Rio was late for his most recent drugs test just from looking deep into his eyes, how muddled Owen Hargreaves' accent is from watching his lips move and just how many shades of purple Sir Alex Jintao's nose is by now. Hell, you'll be able to read the song sheet that kid is clinging to in row YY and see that it's simply the tune to Old McDonald.

But will you get to see your team? A team you once referred to simply as The Arsenal, or Liverpool, even Chelsea, Everton, or West Ham? Well for starters you can get used to hearing about the legendary career of Theeray Hen-ry at the Arsenal Gunners of North London, the heroics of Ferdinand Torres at the Liverpool Reds and the fortunes of other far-flung teams like the Chelsea Lions, the Everton Toffees (a team based in Everton, England of course) and the West Ham Hammers - with their popular number one fan Elijah Wood.

That'll be a trip, won't it? You'll have the TV on mute by the second week of September. If, that is, you can get the signal to come in. See, ESPN will have poured so much money into acquiring the rights and upgrading their equipment to project the most fantastic HD images out of Old Trafford that the rest of our games will come through in a jumpy black & white feed of 80 percent static that'll make everyone feel like a bunch of junior high kids trying to get the Playboy channel to come in at a sleep-over. Look inside yourself, you know it's true. No matter what size television screen your football pub or living room comes equipped with, you'll be squinting at a snowy 13 inch transmission that'll have you swearing Paulo di Canio just scored for Chelsea and that Arsenal actually featured a team of veterans. 

Shortly thereafter, we'll be forced into the streets. Our retinas will be too burned out. Flattened and cross-eyed we'll scramble into the closest public square outside of our favourite football pubs where a giant board will have been erected and our publican, rather than insulting the early morning drunks in jest and tossing napkins in the air after another famous goal, will update the giant tote board from a ladder and with a long reaching stick like a man pulled forward out of 1893, sliding numbers and names across the ledger to keep us up-to-the-every-20-minutes as the news trickles in from such far-flung non-Manchester outposts as London, Liverpool and Birmingham. For those of us too far back to get a decent look at the board and the score updates, we'll rely on his partner who stands at the base of the board equipped with a large cardboard shouting tube, no mega-phone here folks, there's no municipality in the United States crazy enough to allow an electric amplification device that early in the morning (There are decent folk here! By God, they need their sleep to keep society running!). With each update, with each pass of that long reaching stick across the beloved and soon-to-be cherished Big Board (I can only imagine it'll evolve into a shrine, like the unexploded bomb in Beneath the Planet of the Apes), that man will simply bellow out for all to hear ...

"Attacking throw to the Arsenal!"

And a general "hurrah!" will push up from the crowd. My how quickly things can change. At least there'll still be booze.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Slightly more detailed first impressions of the 2009-10 Premier League fixture list

(Editor's note: Scroll down for more fixture list 2009-10 news not covered here. This one is basically how things start and how they end, with a key point or two thrown in.)

After looking at things a bit, there's some stretches that jump out at my Liverpool fandom. First up is the opportunity for a flying start. (I'll get to Arsenal in a bit as Colin is sleeping like a normal person while I stay up after work for these sorts of things.)

NOTE: There's no dates and times included because, obviously, TV rules all over this stuff and things can change/get postponed. Hey, the list came out 30 minutes ago.

Here's the first seven before Liverpool heads to Chelsea:
– @ Spurs
– Stoke City
– Aston Villa
– @ Bolton
– Burnley
– @ West Ham
– Hull City

The pessimist or Liverpool detractor would point out the two 0-0 with Stoke last year and, of course, Burnley's infamous FA Cup victory at Anfield a couple years back. Sure, but I'll take my chances with this start.

The Merseyside derbies are 28 Nov. (Goodison) and 6 Feb. (Anfield). The second one is interesting in that, as the schedule now stands, Liverpool is slated to play at the Emirates on 9 Feb. in the second of this season's Match Pricks derbies. That's an intense four days.

OK, the run-in, which we all love to think about:
20 March – @ United
27 March – Sunderland
3 April – @ Birmingham City
10 April – Fulham
17 April – West Ham
24 April – @ Burnley
1 May – Chelsea
9 May – @ Hull City

I included the dates here because toward the end of the season, the fixtures are generally less clogged with competing competitions. Like last year, that March date at Old Trafford looms large. I'm talking 4-1 kind of large. Too far away to think too hard about it. Chelsea on the season's penultimate weekend is too much to comprehend right now, either. Fun to think about, though.

OK, on to Arsenal, though not as in depth as Colin's the better voice on that particular subject.

Arsenal's start:
– @ Everton
– Portsmouth
– @ United (Such fun to see the early biggie on the list)
– @ Manchester City
– Wigan Athletic
– @ Fulham
– Blackburn
– Birmingham City
– @ West Ham
– Spurs

Some away challenges there to start, but my first thought is it gives Arsenal an excellent chance to get tricky ones out of the way and really lay a quick punch on United.

Here's the Arsenal gauntlet for 2009-10, though:
– 27 Jan. @ Aston Villa
– 30 Jan. United
– 6 Feb. @ Chelsea
– 9 Feb. Liverpool

I included the dates there mostly for effect, because at that time of the year, fixtures are getting postponed all over the place with the Carling Cup wrapping up, the FA Cup kicking up and all sorts of other stuff. But if it goes off as set, what a crazy two weeks for Arsenal supporters.

Arsenal's run-in:
– 3 April Wolves
– 10 April @ Spurs
– 17 April @ Wigan Athletic
– 24 April Manchester City
– 1 May @ Blackburn
– 9 May Fulham

Ahem ... well, that's not exactly a set any title-chasing side would overly stress about when considering. Where will Arsenal be in the table when they wake up April 3, 2010?

OK, all good stuff. We're less than two months away. Can't wait.

Can't forget Boxing Day

What are you doing Dec. 26, 2009? I know where I'll be, friends. Here's the lineup:

Arsenal v. Aston Villa
Birmingham City v. Chelsea
Burnley v. Bolton Wanderers
Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur
Hull v. Manchester United
Liverpool v. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Manchester City v. Stoke City
Sunderland v. Everton
West Ham United v. Portsmouth
Wigan Athletic v. Blackburn Rovers

It's a Saturday this year, by the way. (sniff) (looooong tooth suck) (deep ear plunge)

It's closer than you think: 2009-10 Premier League fixture list announced

Fresh from the head office, here's some highlights of the 2009-10 fixture list. Brief analysis shortly.

First up, the 2009-10 editions of The Match Pricks Derby:
– 12 Dec. Liverpool v. Arsenal
– 9 Feb. Arsenal v. Liverpool

Now, for the meetings with Jintao:
– Liverpool v. United, 24 Oct.
– United v. Liverpool, 20 March
– United v. Arsenal, 29 Aug. (nice and early, kiddies!)
– Arsenal v. United, 30 Jan.

Opening weekend, 15 Aug:
– Spurs v. Liverpool
– Everton v. Arsenal
– United v. Birmingham City

Again, we'll take a deeper look in a few minutes. This is just a taste of our beloved sides (plus Jintao; always keeping one eye on that bastard).

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'd like to be more outraged or have a greater point about this but ... 'eh

Liverpool is about to pay £18.5 million for Glen Johnson, the Portsmouth right back who ended up there when Chelsea loaned him out because he didn't fit into their superstars plan. He's since become a very good player and an England international.

That's a boatload of ching for a player like Glen Johnson, but I can't get too worked up anymore about this stuff. Arbeloa is limited in that role now, and it's a position that requires an upgrade for Rafa's Reds. Still, I just can't get over this:

Xabi Alonso, bought from Real Sociedad, 2004, £10.5 million.

I just can't get past it. It's arguable that Alonso was Liverpool's performer of the season in 2008-09. Hell, I even made the case for him in early December. Gerrard and Benayoun (surprisingly?) were likely more influential in keeping the faint title dream hopes alive until nearly the end, but that roaring start was all Alonso, jack. He is brilliant, and it doesn't hurt that he's also my favorite Liverpool player.

Glen Johnson, in this day and age (and five years after Xabi), costs 80 percent more than Alonso did. Craziness.

Plus, Glen Johnson stole a toilet seat.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

'This is the best squad I've ever had' Watch: Ronaldo

You've heard about it, obviously. Here's a money detail:

Ronaldo, currently on holiday in Los Angeles, also confirmed that a doctor from Madrid had examined the groin injury that has been troubling him. "Every­one wants to see and test your product or future product," he explained. "It does not require an operation."

Ronaldo refers to himself as a "product" and, naturally, is on holiday in Los Angeles. I so, so badly want to see him courtside at a Lakers game in the Finals if it goes back to L.A. That didn't happen already, did it? I missed the first two games.

The "best squad" he's ever had. Remember that statement?


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Alert! ... Pirate Internet ... Alert! Accept Transmission!

We are here, we stand up straight and we look with brightened eyes to the horizon that holds all of tomorrow's possibilities. An horizon that has a graceful champion in its place, a leader who stands by saying that we can do, and we should expect, better and a field of magicians at the ready.

Match Pricks has survived that stranglehold and struggle that was May of 2009. We have survived the sleepless nights and the haunting bellows that come with each slowly passing minute. We have survived to see the age-old axiom - maktub, or 'it is written' - destroyed, shattered in all of its hubris. We are bloodied, we are bruised and we are a little dizzy but all the same we will be heard ... nothing is written. Nothing is a fait accompli

There is too much joy to suckle on, to taste and to feel - like the wind slapping at our faces. Too much fun to be had - like finding the bottom of a series of vodka tonics and that pressing hope of what's to come. Too many bright colors to see, graceful poets to hear and unwritten endings to witness. And we want all off it ... every last drop. So open up that spigot and let freedom roar.

May saw a gag-order of monumental and global proportions canvass the world of football. If it wasn't United, it wasn't happening. Jintao and his henchmen the world over grabbed a hold of humanity, of basic rational, and squeezed the life, passion and creativity out of each soul who dared to dream of something great happening. People who stayed. People who didn't quit. People who thought what if? to themselves in furtive corners with the burden of a simple hope that they wouldn't be found out by those freedom crushers like Kim Jong Il, Patrice Evra, Hu Jintao, Puty Put, Roman Abramovich and Sir Alex Ferguson.

From sea to stormy sea, the Internet is being taken from free people everywhere. It's being taken from supporters of poetic football, from dreamers of a higher ideal and from lovers of freedom. With the Internet at their side, the Poles might have been, today, celebrating 45 years since the fall of communism in their country rather than 20. With the Internet at their side, those school boys and girls in Beijing 20 years ago might now be developing applications that make Twitter look like something that is all together too 1992.

Well today, we have broken through the dusty rubble, friends, and today the Internet is able to bring us all such gems as this ... 

A couple of short weeks ago, a few men stood up for all of us dreamers out there and gave us such a wonderfully dream-making display that we can hop right into the Silly Season with as much gusto as it appears our young hero, Lionel Messi jumped clear into about five pitchers of an almost purple sangira. Mmmm, yeah, it must've been purple, dogg. Purple Rain. It explains a lot when you think of it that way, doesn't it?

Match Pricks: We don't die, we multiply

BEIJING (AP) – A massive police presence ringed China's iconic Tiananmen Square on Thursday, the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy activists, as the government continued an overwhelming drive to muzzle dissent and block commemorations.
The heavy security moves come after government censors shut down social networking and image-sharing Web sites such as Twitter and Flickr, and blacked out CNN when it airs stories on Tiananmen. Dissidents were confined to their homes or forced to leave Beijing, part of sweeping efforts to prevent online debate or organized commemorations of the anniversary.

Twenty years after June 4, 1989, Colin and I here at Match Pricks are taking a different stance. We're with this guy:

See, keeping quiet right now, going away and not bothering anybody – and, admit it, you thought we had done just that – is exactly what Jintao wants you to do. He doesn't want you to know that Chelsea might have (or might not have) thrown £73 million at Milan to try and outspend Real Madrid in the race to whisk Kaká away from Silvio Berlusconi's lecherous and roaming little fat fingers. He wants little to do with your talk of Kia Joorabchian and who he's pimping Carlos Tevez to these early summer days. Jintao would prefer it if you simply forgot David Villa exists.

That's not where Match Pricks stands, friends. We're standing with freedom – all summer long, dogg. If Ronaldo takes a dump while perusing a Zagat's review of Madrid restaurants, we'll be there. When Franck Ribéry passes through customs at any airport in Europe, we'll tell you the nationality of his car driver. As Mark Hughes opens another glowing briefcase full of riches as he sits behind his desk one pleasant, sunny morning three weeks from now, we'll tell you which precocious Brazilian he'll start eyeballing.

See, it's the silly season. Anything goes. Remember that elaborate, long-distance handjob Ronaldo gave Madrid last year? That act is chicken shit in the summer of '09. One of the papers launched a possible Madrid shopping list that included Ronaldo, Kaká, Ribéry, David Villa and Xabi Alonso. Loll that one around on your tongue for a few minutes and tell me you're not feeling that shiver running up your leg right now. Hell, The Independent says Gary Megson has put a £20 million valuation on Gary Cahill!

Most people hate the summer transfer season. They find the endless rumors and back-and-forth contradictions of agents, managers, players, WAGs, owners and personal masseuses leaking self-serving info to grubby journalists to be deplorable. So does Jintao. He doesn't want anybody thinking about Tiananmen and the June 4 massacre, and Jintao sure as hell doesn't want you thinking about what your favorite football team might look like come opening weekend of the 2009-10 season.

Not us. We love it, and Match Pricks is ready to roll around in all of it. Bring on the shenanigans. For summer '09 and all it entails, we're taking the stance of the guy on the left in this photo: