Waiting is Agony

Let’s take a moment and consider the beautiful Germany v England friendly in March of last year. Not quite a year yet, it was a moment where the impossible seemed possible and England came out victorious, 3-2, with goals from Kane, Vardy, and Dier. We thought maybe we were seeing the beautiful future of the English National Team, and all was beautiful, right?


Less than 30 minutes into the match, it looked like business as usual for the Germans, with goals and a little bit of luck: Jack Butland looked to roll his ankle and had to be stretchered off.

My heart wasn’t in pain, my heart WAS pain. Just looking at the agony on his face was agony for me as I watched him being taken off, and I prayed that he wasn’t going to be out long. After all, Stoke still had a season to run, and Jack was in strong contention for the England Number 1.

So…what happened to Jack Butland?

A couple of ankle surgeries later, he’s still in recovery, only a couple of months from a year’s anniversary from his injury. Stoke have been okay, but their defense isn’t nearly as strong without him. And now with Joe Hart’s…rather public move to Italy this season, it would seem that the top keepers in the league are not British keepers. I mean, Foster’s not bad, but…

When will Jack be back?

I’m learning not to get my hopes up. I’ve actually told myself he’s never coming back to football, so that when he does I’ll be so happy I’ll cry, instead of just sobbing quietly every time his Twitter tells me the wait is even longer.

Do you want to know how it feels for an injured player to have to wait to play? Follow one closely during an extended injury. You’ll feel the agony, I promise.

Prayers for Jack, please.




FA CUP – Round 3

This morning, like many other Saturday mornings, is football-filled, but not with NBCSN Premier League action. Today, I’m living mostly on FS1, helping myself to the breadcrumbs of FA Cup action they’re tossing my way.

I prefer watching NBCSN, mostly, as their coverage is so superior in its completeness. Not airing the Stoke match? That’s cool, it’s on their app. I can watch any and every game in the Premier League.

Fox, on the other hand, limits me extremely. If it’s on FS1 – or the rare match on big FOX – then I have access, but I don’t even have the option of turning to FS2, as it’s not offered in my geographic region. And forget about matches not aired on traditional channels. Stoke? Birmingham City? Nope. They’ve got to draw a Manchester, London, or Liverpool team – or be at an odd time – for me to get a look in.

This morning, I watched an obviously superior Man Utd annihilate Reading – with Rooney scoring his Charlton-record-equalizing goal, happily, and Sutton and Wimbledon are about to kick off. Who knows what sort of football that will be.

Meanwhile, I’m re-devoting myself to my go90 app, available with streaming of all kinds of football, courtesy my Verizon plan. It’s a lovely fringe benefit. I got to watch my Granada side be pulverized by Real Madrid, and Napoli will be on around lunchtime.

I consider it a shame, as I adore the FA Cup, that it has to be put through FOX, who have done a poor job prepping viewers for it. Ah, well, may the matches will male up for it.

Here goes the match!



Zola: My Two Cents

This post is not really about Zola. It’s about my emotional rollercoaster this week, dealing with how the new owners of BCFC have treated the club, the fans, the manager.

Gary Rowett was a fabulous manager. He was making a great, solid club out of pennies in a difficult time for the Blues. He was fostering the youth well, giving chances to a lot of great young players, managing them very well. He stabilized a time of turmoil, and I can’t help thinking he’s going to make another club really stellar now.

Why was he sacked?

Lots of possible reasons. Perhaps philosophical differences with the new owners. Perhaps they didn’t believe he was capable of meeting their vision for the club – going up in the next couple of years so they can sell the club on a big profit. He doesn’t add glitz and glamour to the club. He’s not foreign or exotic, he’s a local servant with a great deal of know-how.

This isn’t about what Zola can do in the transfer window. This isn’t about the fact that they decided to squeeze in a new man just before that window in hopes he could make some changes straight off instead of waiting for a real excuse to make the change to save their own image. Maybe this was the brave thing for them to do, the honest thing. I don’t know.

This is about the fact that one morning I wake up and my manager, whom I really quite liked and respected, whom I looked forward to hearing from about young players, insights into how development is going, the growth of the future of the club – you know, the important things to long-term fans invested in a club for life – was suddenly sacked. And before I could even make sense of why such a thing might happen, he was replaced.

I’m not saying I’m angry with the owners exactly. I can understand their behavior, and I never expected them to be sentimentalists. They’re obviously not in this for the long haul, though, or they might have thought for a moment about how this might upset the fans – lifeblood of the club – to make such a sudden and mercenary move.

Wherever Rowett goes next, I wish him all the best. I truly think he’ll make a club greater than they are. I wish that could have been Birmingham City, but since it won’t be, I only ask that it’s not Villa.

And as for Zola, well, may he endeavor to fill the shoes he’s stepped into, and may he throw himself completely at doing his very best to win games with this club.



Jose’s War

Jose Mourinho has been sent off again against West Ham. That’s the second time this season – not even waiting for half-time this time – and a strange mirror of last season’s sending off against West Ham.

It was even the same ref.

Jose says his club is unlucky. I know that high-level athletes and coaches and managers can be very luck-oriented, but it feels like a cop-out in this case. Jose is clever, and he knows that people make their own luck. The fact is, he doesn’t know what to do with his squad – doesn’t know his best eleven – and doesn’t know how to compose himself long enough to make it work.

I mean, seriously, kicking a water bottle? Childish.

Full disclosure, I don’t like Man Utd and I don’t like Jose, but right now I feel sorry for this storied club. They took on this overgrown child in the hope that his reputation as a great manager would outdo his reputation for antics just like this. Sir Bobby didn’t want him, and it’s looking more and more like Sir Bobby was absolutely right.

The thing that absolutely grates is that neither times Jose was sent to the stands has he opted to do the post-match talk to the television press. Maybe he’s thinking that with his record of saying things that get him fined, he’ll only make things worse, but he’s had HALF A GAME to get his act together and say something constructive, apologetic, and maybe even contrite. Or at least not offensive.

As I said, he’s a clever guy.

In a league now chock full managers who are gracious, intelligent, passionate, charming, and well-spoken…. Jose is looking more and more passe. I mean, Pep’s conversation about whether or not he’d banned his players from having intercourse after midnight? PRICELESS.

It remains to be seen whether Jose can salvage anything at all from this season tactically, but in a war where Jose’s his own worst enemy, if I were Man Utd, I’d be getting rid of him quickly to avoid becoming collateral damage.



The Woes of West Ham

One of the most interesting stories of the past year in football is that of West Ham leaving Boleyn Ground and moving into the Olympic Stadium.

I don’t know if anyone else recalls – or maybe we’ve all forgotten? – the ugliness at the last West Ham home match last season. It wasn’t exactly a glittering goodbye to the grounds, largely due to fan behavior.

And now, apart from the obvious issues that exist in an Olympic Stadium being used for football (which we all know, so there’s no point rehashing) what were among the first issues in the new season but West Ham fans and their poor behavior!

Fans fighting other fans? Despicable, we all said. Low. Yes, there’s some mismanagement going on with ticket pricing and allocations that has caused non-West Ham fans to buy season tickets for West Ham. Yes, the stewarding could be better.

But as I watched the supporters streaming out of the ground today after a very poor showing against Southampton, I couldn’t help thinking the ground was only part of the problem. The ground was supposed to be this wonderful thing that was going to elevate West Ham’s stature, and all it’s done is become a scapegoat for something else.

The first is the mediocre playing of the team. Payet is a star, there’s no question. Some of the other players are quite good. But they’re just not special. They played outside their minds last season, and I don’t know that they’re underperforming this year as much as they were overperforming last year.

The other is the sometimes shocking behavior of fans. We got a taste of some of the ugliness in the Euros, with flares seemingly at every other match. Something about going to a football match, it would seem, causes some of us to forget common human decency, like not attacking other people, not throwing bottles at other people, not picking fights when you’ve gone out to enjoy yourself. And when your team is down, you don’t bail to beat the traffic. You scream your support until the end.

Supporters and teams have a symbiotic relationship, and I think the fan issues are having a much greater impact on the pitch than the actual physical pitch is. Just my two cents.



Man U on the Up?

After watching some recent and at times brutal Man United defeats of late (and thoroughly enjoying watching them get thrashed at the derby), I was excited to get up early this morning for Man U v Leicester.

I’ve made no secret of my fondness for Leicester City, in part because of my originally indignant and eventually triumphant support of Ranieri from the first moments of his appointment. Partly because of my adoration for Birmingham City (KRO) and all its successful former players. And since Jack Butland is still out for his ankle and breaking my heart with his absence, I’ve adopted Damarai and his foxes as my second team.

Needless to say, it was a disappointing morning, and I don’t anticipate it growing much better with Stoke v West Brom.

The real question is, can we call this true progress for Manchester United, and what’s the real cause of the great match for Jose’s side?

I don’t think it’s the fact that Rooney was left out – or rather, that it’s not SOLELY because Rooney was left out. He’s an easy fall-guy, and I was really hoping they’d be thumped when they left him out just to try to stop the negativity toward him.

The fact is, he wasn’t the only thing changed about the line-up, and the changes led to a lot of people stepping up, playing better and smarter. Leicester didn’t play poorly (although their set piece defending had a very ugly five minutes), but Man U just gelled so much better today.

I’m not ready to sing dirges for Leicester yet, or to praise a revival of Man U, either. There’s a lot of high-quality teams in the league this season, which wasn’t really the case last season, and I doubt very much that Man U will win the title, or even come in second.

As far as Leicester, I’d be pleased to see them in the top half, and maybe right by Stoke (although I’d be pleased for a Stoke in the Premier League next season, at this point). I’m not naive enough to expect them to be in the Europe slots again, but I suppose I can dream?



Managerial Musical Chairs

So, the Premier League is going to have a bunch of fresh faces this season, and I think it’s important to take a look at these managers now, while we wait for transfers to continue playing out, before we start making our speculation on the season as a whole. Because honestly, if you don’t know what you’ve got in hand, it’s tough to know how well you can do.

These are in no particular order.

Sean Dyche

I confess to not knowing much about Burnley, nor about Dyche in particular, but as freshly up, they’re also quite likely to pop right back down again, no matter how good of manager Dyche might be. I will say, the man is impressively ginger.

Tony Pulis

You know, West Brom didn’t do half bad last season, and in a season full of incredible chaos on both ends of the table, it was astonishing how often I would just forget they even existed. I would go through the list of times for the weekend and say, “OH, yeah, them.” Not encouraging, but perhaps they can slide under the radar again under his leadership. There is definitely something to be said for keeping a low profile, the whole no news is good news, especially in a world where every little negative is plastered all over social media and erupted into something massive.

David Moyes

Okay, so it’s official. Big Sam has left the league for the England job, and his replacement has been named as David Moyes. This could be a very good appointment, if he can carry on where Big Sam left off and inject a bit of caring and confidence into the Sunderland side. It’s early days yet, but he’s already witnessed a win in their pre-season period.

Eddie Howe

Alright, I’ll admit it. I love this guy, just like everybody else does. And what’s not to love? Intense club loyalty, building up a Cinderella story of a club from scrapping the bottom of the barrel all the way up to the top league, and then SURVIVING the last mad season. If he got offers from “bigger” clubs, he didn’t budge, which appeals to me big-time (we’ll talk more on that later). And he’s well-spoken, positive, composed, attractive, and well-dressed without being pretentious about it. He’s a good figure of what a young, vigorous manager ought to be, and in my opinion, one day he’ll be a supreme manager of the England team.

Steve Bruce

Hull City is going to be attempting security, which is one of the toughest things when popping up. I remember watching them go down, so Steve Bruce is definitely going to want to solidify safety quickly, but whatever means necessary (legally, of course).

Francisco Guidolin

He was late to the game last season, swooping in toward the end to pull Swansea City out of hot water and into the mid-table positions. Once he came in I promptly forgot about him, right along with West Brom, so not only do I not have much to say, but I feel that if he can have an equally uneventful season this year, it’ll be something for Swansea to celebrate and build upon for future successes.

Claude Puel

Puel has spent most of his career in Ligue 1, which is great. I’m sure he’s enjoyed that immensely, except the no-one-but-PSG-winning thing. Southampton is where he’s settled, and they had a promising and steady season, one where you constantly looked at the league tables and went, “Wow, that good, eh?” I mean, don’t get me wrong. They benefited hugely from the down season a lot of the traditionally top clubs had, but this fresh blood could come in this season and show us all that it was no fluke that they did well last season. How? Don’t ask me – I know nothing of his tactics, but he looks like a friendly enough person in the one still picture I’ve seen, and he doesn’t inspire me to laugh at him. Good start, all told.

Mark Hughes

Alright, for those who don’t know, I support Stoke (more accurately, I support Jack Butland rabidly), and thus I sincerely hope ¬†Hughes has the season of his life. Expectations won’t be any heavier on him than they’ve been on the rest of the seasons for Stoke, just expecting mid-table, hoping for the top half of the results, and at the outset hoping to poke a toe higher than the season before (so maybe eighth?). And that’s great, and definitely feasible, but what I love about Mark his his ability to quietly and unobtrusively building a better Stoke. He’s making very conscious and organized efforts to put together the greatest side Stoke has ever seen. And it’s not been in vain. If not for injuries putting a stab through consistency, Stoke would have proved to have had an amazingly impressive season. But if they couldn’t make headway when the chips were down for others, I struggle to believe we’ll make great strides forward this year. But if we just move in a positive direction, I’ll be pleased enough.

Walter Mazzarri

I don’t know anything about Mazzarri, and I’ll be a petulant child on this one and say I really don’t want to. I’m still upset over the sacking of Quique, and he doesn’t look like all the things I liked about Quique (hate his taste in shades for one), and so while I enjoy having Watford around, barring some signing that I can’t ignore, I’m putting them on my shortlist for relegation this year because I’m still bitter. The only reason I wanted them to stay up this year was to keep Quique’s scarf on my screen, so I feel like I’ve gotten a bait and switch. *whistles and looks back at notes for the next manager*

Aitor Karanka

I know nothing about him as a person or a manager, but Middlesbrough has done beautifully in the last season, grinding out of a tough league and really being the class team in the northeast of England. Just for that, I already like him, but the pressure is going to be higher on him, as their last season of excellence does make them the favorite for NOT going right back down. Would be shame if he couldn’t manage that pressure and funnel it into a better season this year.

Alan Pardew

This is one where I hate to say it, but Crystal Palace’s performances were so patchy and sub-par. The whole thing was a bit sad, and I feel that if Pardew can’t put together a seriously better, more consistent performance of his side, he’s potentially going to be among the first with his neck on the chopping block. I certainly wasn’t inspired with confidence from his performance.

Ronald Koeman

Everton’s hole was filled by the former manager of Southampton, who had a really impressive performance last season. I’m not convinced that it’s the best appointment in history, but I think it’s definitely got potential. It could be that he and the team click and he gets the best out of them and they pull out a top-six finish, but I think somewhere in the top half is realistic, maybe even top eight. Still, he can’t afford to do a repeat of last season. They’ve got way more talent in hand than that.

Claudio Ranieri

This is easily one of the most wonderful football managers EVER. Cuddly, sweet, grandfatherly, and with such passion tempered with reasonable expectations and honesty. Honesty goes a long way with me, and he’s got an honest face, and honest manner, and has proven himself to be forthright with the press in the best way. Watching his press conferences is like the opposite to watching a Mourinho conference. Those are like watching a perfect storm or a train wreck, but this is like watching a Fireside Chat or something. You just feel so secure, and he’s so tactically sound, and he sets clear, achievable goals and tackles them in order, keeping the team moving forward together as a unit. Yes, he won’t have exactly the same beautiful team as last season, but a truly great manager doesn’t need the perfect set of circumstances every year to be successful.

Mauricio Pochettino

I think the biggest issue with Spurs last season was their crumbling, coming third in a two-horse race. Yes, it was a young group, but it was their manager’s job to find a way to hold them together and get it done. With the big dogs getting big managers, it will be interesting to see if Pochettino can rally, move forward from the disappointment of that finish, and find a way to equal or better last year’s results. If he can pull off another top-four finish, I’ll consider the speculation that he could skipper a massive club valid. Also, he earns serious points for staying put and being loyal to Spurs instead of potentially going for another big spot.

Arsene Wenger

The romantic in me that dubbed Leicester as the winners last winter is a troubled and torn soul at heart. While I would love a Leicester repeat, there’s a big part of me that would want Arsenal to get the title this year, and then have Wenger take a role somewhere…upwards in the organization so that he can have gone out on a bang, maybe pick his successor. I’m an Arsene believer, and since they stormed the two-horse race when all thought it was lost, that steadiness under pressure and his experience with his club and league should serve him well in the battle of the bigshots.

Slaven Bilic

Obviously good at his job, Bilic led West Ham through a lovely season to herald their move to Olympic Stadium. I’m not sure he or his side will be able to hold that momentum, given the Europa League mess of games they’ll have to deal with, plus the promise of a much more typical top end this year. Top Six is possible, Top Eight likely, but I’m not sure Bilic will pull off two years of European football in a row. There’s bound to be a hefty bit of weight on his shoulders.

Antonio Conte

For all the reasons I hated Chelsea last season, Conte is making me love them this season. He’s inspired confidence in players who had lost their confidence in their last big skipper (*cough* more on him later *cough*). He got Terry to stay, which was critical for me. He’s made good signings thus far, which was something I feel they really struggled with last summer (Stones, anyone?). Most importantly, while he’s obviously great tactically and showed that with what he did in the Euros, Conte’s reaction to their big win over Spain was what really made me love him. His child-like glee, the way he jumped up on the top of the thing that covers the bench…. He was someone I wanted to know, which is something I respect and appreciate in managers. It was like watching Klopp get his glasses broken. You remember those moments forever. Doesn’t hurt that he’s a friend of Ranieri, either.

Jurgen Klopp

This is another one of those infinitely likable guys, as mentioned above. You just really want the best for him, like with Ranieri and Conte. They can’t all win, but maybe they could all be Top Four? Anyway, he’s a fabulous manager who had maybe a bit of bad luck and a dash of growing pains into the league. On the whole, he did well, and I really think that with some of the good business he’s been doing this summer, he’s going to be right up there, being an ordinary guy who always makes me think of a graphic design major who happened into a job in football and is somehow brilliant at it (maybe it’s because he makes me think of Alan Rickman…)

Jose Mourinho

If you are a fan of Man U or Mourinho, scroll past this section now because you’ve got a 90% of walking away mad at me. I’m not holding back.

That being said, I don’t like Man U, and they had a terrible season last year. I don’t like Mourinho and what season he had last year was terrible. And somehow this seemed like a good match? Zlatan and his ego, Jose and his ego, Rooney and his legacy…. Is there any more space on the pitch? Probably not. Maybe they’ll clear a corner for Rashford? Although, probably not with Mourinho in charge. No room for youngsters.

Pep Guardiola

I think I would dub Pep to round out my imaginary top five, somewhere in that mix with Arsene and the Nice Guys (my new band name for my top four), mostly because I think he could make a smashing team out of those starry players who haven’t managed to come together as a team. But mostly, I really want him to well out-do his cross-town counterpart. Brutally.