Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Friendlies in America PART 2!

I am writing this in full belief that there will be someone reading it that has some sort of influence in the soccer world.
What would give me that sort of confidence?
If you are a fan of this blog since its inception then you will remember one of my earlier Blog (rants) on the "Friendlies" that have been taking place in North America in recent years featuring the better Serie A teams.
Reading through that piece now it seems scary because it's as if who ever is organizing the Guinness International Champions Cup, read it as well and took my advice.

Currently I am in the Sunny (gorgeous) State of Florida and will be attending the final 4 games of the Summer Friendly Tournament tonight and tomorrow at Miami's Sun Life Stadium, and could not be more excited.

One of the main things I complained about in the aforementioned year-old blog post was the obscene prices that were attached to friendlies featuring Juventus, Milan, Inter, and Roma in Toronto, New York, and Montreal since 2010.

Last summer to watch a ridiculous lop sided game between Milan and Real Madrid in New York, tickets were from 70$-1000$! For a friendly, which if you watch the highlights of, was more of a romp. In Milano for 20 euros you can watch Milan play in the historic San Siro stadium in a game that actually has relevance and is not just a warm up.

How much are tickets for the Guinness International Champions Cup you ask? Starting as low as 60$-350$ (dependent on seating selection) you get a pass to attend all four games in Miami tonight and tomorrow featuring Juventus, Inter, Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid! If you got the lowest package for 60$ would have you seated in the upper bowl (still a great view) and your paying 15$ a game! Now that's Winning!

My next argument (complaint) was the fact that all these games have no meanings, yet the marketers attempt so hard to sell these games as more than what they are....a warm up and test for Managers to see what changes they need for the upcoming season.
And again the Guinness International Champions Cup listened, they created (albeit not a prominent) Trophy, that the teams announced for the tournament would take part in. 
Although Juventus and Inter may have played like they were ready for the first flight back to Europe, you couldn't tell me that Real, Chelsea and Milan weren't trying to win this trophy.
Kudos to the organizers for doing the best they could to make these games interesting.

How the Tournament has worked itself out
And finally the atmosphere and climate of the city. Having been at the Everton/Chelsea/AC Milan practice at Sun Life Stadium last night, (more on that in a future post) I got goosebumps. The decorations around the stadium and the city of Miami itself right now are a constant reminder that some of the Worlds biggest soccer clubs are in the 305 and its GAME TIME!

Last year, I asked for more meaningful matches and affordable prices; Guinness International Champions Cup so far has delivered.

All in all if you are a Calcio fan and never seem to make it across the pond anymore (life myself), look out for the news of next summer's Guinness International Champions Cup. Reports already suggest that it has been a really good tournament (financially) and there will be a second edition. The final games have not even taken place yet and I am already recommending this tournament to all my calcio-fanatic buddies.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

May the Real Napoli please Stand Up!

Will Napoli be the Real Deal this season or the Real mistake.

Out with the old and in with the new. That is a saying that is probably being heard quite often these days in and around the SSC Napoli clubhouse. The Naples side have parted ways with superstar striker Edinson Cavani and charismatic coach Walter Mazzarri. Since they have brought in controversial Rafa Benitez who immediately acquired an interesting mix of dynamic young players creating quite a buzz of excitement around the Stadio San Paolo despite the loss of their most prolific attacker in Napoli's rich history.
Something about the air in Paris makes Cavani look more presentable
The ambition of last year's Scudetto runner-up is apparent and the gung-ho manner of their transfer campaign has seemed to throw off the balance in the Serie A transfer market...but unfortunately their efforts may all be in vain.

Mazzarri to DeLaurentis "F*** this, I'm out!"

Fact is Napoli has already been on a slight decline ever since they sold Ezequiel Lavezzi to PSG last summer and Walter Mazzarri obviously knew this. Napoli ran out of gas in their Scudetto pursuit this past season and with Cavani set to leave, Mazzarri jumped ship because he believes Napoli are a sputtering ship and it will take one hell of an effort to keep it from sinking...so Walter tucked his tail and ran to the one team that can only go up from the position they currently are in.

DeLaurentis is like "no fear, Rafa is here"

Rafa Benitez has now flung himself into another seemingly impossible position (despite the large transfer $$$ given to him), where expectation will be high for the southern Italian side to mount a serious run at the Serie A title despite the fact Napoli are about to go through a HUGE transitional season.

This fact however has been masked by the interesting transfer campaign that has been undertaken by Rafa. The former Liverpool boss has signed an exciting young Belgianattacker in Dries Mertens and a host of Real Madrid 'misfits', most eyebrow raising, the reported 42Million signing of Gonzalo Higuain.....WHAT....yes that’s right...Napoli has spent two-thirds of the Cavani fund on a striker who, albeit one who may play with a chip on his shoulder this season...in my opinion, has failed to really impress as a top class striker. They were way better off with Cavani compared to him.

thousands of Napoli fans assaulted Gonzalo like he was the Biebs

His goal tally aside, Higuain was always second choice to the likes of Benzema and before him Raul and Van Nistelrooy...and I'm sure there is a reason for that. Higuain has those Inzaghi like abilities of being inthe right place at the right time and being a close range clinical finisher...but he does not possess boatloads of technical ability, does not have the power and presence that his Partenopei predecessor Cavani had...Higuain's skill set matches many other available Serie A strikers...one name that comes to mind is Alessandro Matri...a player who is of not that much less quality than Higuain and one who would probably been allowed to leave Juventus, even to arch-rivals Napoli, on the cheap since they have now found themselves with a glut of strikers...but instead Napoli have forked over 42mil for ONE striker and still have plenty of holes to fill.

Their defence remains a biq question mark with the likes of Gamberini,  Paolo Cannavaro and the newly acquired Raul Albiol hardly being able to instill fear in the eyes of Europe's greatest attacking forces. Their midfield lacks dynamism and creativity...and then there is the coach himself…. Benitez…no doubt a great tactician... but one who gets very set in his ways and ruffles the feathers of his employers...just ask Massimo Moratti. Formation changes, style changes, personnel changes will all be on the cards for Napoli this season. Switching from a very Italian-style 3-4-3 counterattacking system to Rafa’s for 4-2-3-1 will be a major transition that current players will have initial difficulty in adjusting to. And any new acquisitions will need some time to gel.

I'm not saying that Napoli will be a disaster this season, but talk of potential Scudetto champions is definitely premature, if not na├»ve. It seems as though management is just trying to overhype a team in transition and is rushing to create a fresh, attractive team    filled with nothing but names. In a way Napoli kind of reminds me of a certain Toronto baseball team who had all the hype surrounding them after somebig name offseason acquisitions, but unfortunately was never able to put the talent and potential together on the field.

If Napoli fans have Scudetto dreams then they are in for a big disappointment this season.

the irony of Napoli's second jersey being military fatigues, considering it's going to
be a battle for them to achieve even second place this season.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

"When will it be Spain's time?"

"When will it be Spain's time?" A question that's response does not guarantee the same reaction.
LEFT: Xavi give me your shirt
CENTER: Iniesta give me your shirt
RIGHT: Pique, give me Shakira!

Last May I infamously boasted to friends or anyone who would listen a bold sports prediction (not uncommon for those that know me), "Spain's run of dominance on the soccer field is over, and Italy will beat them to win Euro 2012". I was sadly mistaken and would be on the verge of suffering an infamous letdown last 1st of July.

I had been led to believe that the Spanish stars "Casilas-Puyol-Xavi-Iniesta-Torres-Villa" were on the outs and the new Spaniard kids were not up to par.
Even after Spain had outclassed my Azzurri last summer, I still stood by my pre-tourney prediction, that, from then on, going forward "Spain's run of dominance, is over"
But just as recent as 11 days ago, I was taught a hard lesson. Spain's run of dominance on the soccer field is not over, and in most people's eyes has just begun.

I may not be as distraught as Azzurrini starlet Lorenzo Insigne was after the crushing 4-2 defeat to Spain in last week's Under 21 European Championship game, but my eyes are wide open to the awesome talents of Thiago, Isco, Morata, and all the other Spanish under 21 players.

SIDE NOTE: Not to take anything away from the 'piccoli Azzurrini' who were brilliant technically in the tournament, and were hard done by a bad call in the final. Italy's future is very bright. But if you’re a fan of this blog then you should know that already.

EXTRA SIDE NOTE: Even the under 20 Spain team is wreaking havoc in Turkey with the talents of Suso, Jese, Bernat, who have them poised as the favourites to win the 2013 U20 World Cup.
That dog was probably the only one in Italy happy to see Mario home early

With this new realization and the fact that Super Mario went home early, my excitement for the Azzurri's chances to win had evaporated by Thursday morning.
So when my mate from London Luke informed me we would be joining Goya nominated screenwriter Jorge LaPlace and his family & friends at Berry Park in Williamsburg for the game, I was hesitant.
Why? Because Jorge Laplace is a native of Sevilla, Spain (pronounced Se-vi-ja) and is a passionate football fan. Jorge's from Spain, not from a country that just speaks Spanish but actually from the country that has been the torment of my Azzuri since 2008. So if he is bringing family and friends, I'm sure they are all from Spain as well. Not the best scene for someone like me (if you know me, then you know I get really into Juve/Azzurri) games. So I decided against wearing a jersey, but wore an aqua blue outfit to hint at my support.

Upon arriving at the bar, Jorge introduced me to his family and friends as 'Alessandro', which marked the first time I didn't want people to get that I was Italian off of my name, but to no avail. I saw a look on their pleasant European faces, a look that meant today we wanted different outcomes.

I sat sipping my delicious SchOfferhofer Grapefruit Lager in its oddly shaped tall glass, while Giaccherini and Maggio captured my imagination with missed chances. I kept my emotions intact for respect to my new friends, but it had me asking myself "is today the day I witness the beginning of the end of Spain's dominance on the pitch?"

The 'back and forth' 'on your feet' action of the first half was replaced with a quiet and uneventful start to the second half. Which prompted a lot of conversation between me and my new Spaniard viewing buddies. In these conversations I started to learn that the same question I had been asking for the last year, "When will Spain's dominance on the field end?", was being asked by these Spaniards as well............... just worded differently.

Jorge introduced me to his father, who is a lifelong 'Madridsta' (Real Madrid Supporter). According to Jorge his father is very irrational to watch a 'Galacticos' game with, which instantly made me respect him, as many have said the same about me watching a 'Zebras' match. All one can do is admire someone for that same amount of passion for a football club.

Jorge and his friend Carmine explained to me that the reason the team they and all of their countrymen of his generation hate the most about Italy was because of an incident in USA '94 World Cup Quarter Final Match between the two nations. For me that World Cup was a bad memory for a more famous reason. But as Jorge and his friend made me realize that was just a part of many of Spain's international failures in the years between 1964-2008.

This made me realize that while over the last year I may have been asking when will it end, Jorge, his generation and especially his father were asking for a lot longer of a time, when will Spain's dominance on the soccer field begin?

Just before penalties began, the nerves were at an all-time high in Berry Park, and my emotions had started to show a little. Jorge turned to me and revealed why he was really disappointed if Spain were to fall to Italy in a dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Growing up all Jorge (and myself included) ever heard was that Brazil is the best and strongest Soccer nation; the international Power House. Now that Spain had two consecutive Euro Cups, and a World Cup under its belt, Jorge and all of Spain feel that this Confederations Cup (a trophy Spain has never won) this final battle with Brazil and arguably Spain's greatest starting XI, is the final test if this Spain team is as great as they all believe they are.

So how could I root against that? We had just seen a disastrous Italy vs. Brazil. Did I really want to see that again?

He did note that even though most people don't care about this cup, Spain wanted it. I want to argue though as to why people should care about this fairly new Trophy. It’s only been supported by FIFA since the 3rd edition in 97, this marking the 9th edition of the Confederations Cup; formerly known as the King's Cup. The concept for the tournament itself is great: A year before the World Cup, the host nation hosts the Champions of all the previous international soccer tournaments to try and make a 'Best of the Best' situation. All previous editions of this tourney never lived up to the billing, but I must say we have seen some great games so far (Italy v Japan, Brazil v Uruguay).

The penalties came and went, and although I knew Bonucci would miss the whole time, I am damn proud of my Azzurri for the effort they put in on Thursday. To go out that way is never easy.
Baggio part II?
Jorge and his family did not boast in my face after their victory, they shook my hand like respectful opponents. That is when I truly realized that Spain is a great soccer nation, and I should respect them and their soccer stars for playing the beautiful game.

They represent a lot more than just passing and attacking style that Brazil made famous in the 70s (Joga Bonita). This Spain team is one of the shortest teams in most tournaments they enter. This trumps a Canadian soccer philosophy that "size matters".

Also unlike Spain’s opponent today; Brazil they don't dive and look for the call as much as most other teams do in today's game. How can anyone not respect that? 

So I have figured out the answer to my question of "When will Spain's run of dominance End?" And the answer is not any time soon. The "Winning" mentality is now embedded in the Spanish culture as much as it is on their jersey. From the Under17 Spanish team to the Main guys, they are going to produce World Class soccer players for years to come, much to the delight of Jorge and co.

Also back on the Confederations Cup, unless you are someone living in Brazil and have no job, you cannot hate on this tournament. If not for this tournament we would not have a Canada Day special like today.
 Two of International Soccer's most prestigious teams Italy and Uruguay meet for the Bronze Medal at 12pm EST
And Since 1970 the teams that have dominated it the most meet for the first time in decades. Brazil hosting Spain in the Confederations Cup Final at 530pm EST.
Should be an epic day of Football.