Archive for the ‘Soccer’ Category

ARSENAL AND BARCELONA: SIMILAR STYLE OF PLAY, TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PHILOSOPHIES

Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Nwaji Jibunoh

Nwaji Blog

 

 

 

 

Arsenal-vs-Barcelona

During the first games of the Round of 16 Tournament of the UEFA Champions League, we saw two clubs; Arsenal and Barcelona (two clubs with a history of being purists when it comes to the execution of the Total Football strategy, otherwise known as “Jogo Bonito”- The Beautiful Game) getting completely hammered in the first legs of their games. Barcelona lost 4-0 to Paris St. German (PSG) and Arsenal lost 5-1 to Bayern Munich.

Now, both Bayern Munich and PSG are leaders in their respective leagues in Germany and France and their results from the first set of games not only proved how good they are but it also showed how impossible it would be for any team to recover from those first two heavy defeats to progress beyond this round, given the aggregate formula used in European Football.

So come games 2 and Mission Impossible. Sport writers and pundits had already written off Barca and PSG coming into these games with insurmountable odds. What happened next completely defines the philosophies of both clubs.

Arsenal Football Club located in London, England is one of the oldest clubs in England, having joined the English Football Association in 1893. Since 1996, Arsene Wenger has been managing the club and is responsible for bringing the Jogo Bonito Total Football style to Arsenal. Such style focuses on dominating possession during a football game, intricate passing in all directions, and capitalizing on the point of maximum opportunity to score goals. This style over the last 20 years has seen Arsenal rank among the most successful clubs in England and Europe.

Barcelona Football Club, located in the Catolonia region in Spain have been a global powerhouse in Sports for decades, but more so over the last 10-12 years when the initial foundation work of Legendary Coach John Cryuff grew exponentially under Frank Rijkaard and succeeding coaches. The Barcelona system has been so successful that not only because has it seen them dominate Spain and Europe, but it has also ensured that regardless of whoever is at the helm of affairs, the winning formula and mentality continues. Barcelona, very much like Arsenal, also rely heavily on dominating the possession game, intricate passing, and the capitalization of scoring when the opportunity is created, versus when the opportunity randomly presents itself.

So here you have two powerhouses of European football who mirror each other in terms of their style of play and how they are coached.  And here you have two powerhouses of European football going into their second games of the round of 16 after having suffered “insurmountable” losses in their first games. How both teams responded has completely redefined their genetic makeup.

Arsenal came into this game after having lost 3-1 to Liverpool FC only a few days prior. Spirits were low and the general attitude for Game 2 was just to make the score line respectable. Barcelona on the other hand, led by the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Iniesta, had a hint of belief over accomplishing mission impossible. Their two games leading up to the rematch with PSG saw them thrash Sporting Gijon 6-1 and Celta Vigo 5-1. This meant that they were going into their showdown with PSG having scored 11 goals over two matches. They needed a miraculous 5 unanswered to progress to the next round.

So come match day and the ensuing series of events, Arsenal travelled to Germany to take on Bayern Munich and Barcelona hosted PSG at home.

The Arsenal v Bayern Munich game saw a deflated and demoralized team who started well by scoring first, but then capitulated once The Bavarians equalized. Arsenal got absolutely thumped by the exact same score line to the first game, 5-1. After a while the players looked like all they wanted to do was go home.

However, the Barcelona v PSG game saw a Barcelona team come out from the very beginning looking to shoot their shot against all odds. They didn’t particularly play well and some players (including Messi) looked out of sorts. But the deep-seeded philosophy/belief was evident that night, especially in the opening minutes. Barcelona need to score 5 answered goals in order to progress to the next round.

The plan was in motion and Barcelona were getting closer and closer. They had scored 3 answered and were feeling the impossible was inevitable. It wasn’t until Edson Cavani scored a wonder goal for PSG that brought things back down to Earth. PSG felt that they were in the clear and it appeared to the Barca players that this mountain they needed to climb only got much higher. So at this point, Barca now needed 3 answered goals. 8 minutes were remaining and only divine intervention could get Barca through, and divine intervention manifested itself in the form of Neymar. First it was a free kick…GOAL. Then a penalty…GOAL. Then at the death of it all, a sublime pass again from Neymar to Sergio Roberto slides the ball into the net…GOAL.

The unimaginable had happened. Barcelona, through sheer grit and determination pulled off an impossible comeback.

What Barcelona did was solidify their philosophy as a team that will never give up, which is ironically the final ingredient that defines Jogo Bonito. An ingredient missing with Arsenal when it was required.

Two teams who share similar philosophies but two teams who will forever define greatness differently. We can blame the coach and the execution of the game strategy etc, but at the end of the day history always vindicates those that pursue greatness.

Well done to Barca….and on to the next one in this legendary story.

 

Nwaji Jibunoh, International Correspondent for War Room Sports

Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor.  Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective.  He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.

LEICESTER CITY, STEPH CURRY, AND THE ALL MADRID FINALS II

Monday, May 16th, 2016

by Nwaji Jibunoh

Nwaji Blog

 

 

 

 

As we get into the business end of the sports season, you find that times are changing with some intriguing accomplishments occurring.

Denver's stingy defense helps "The Sheriff" ride off into the sunset a champion. (Photo courtesy of FoxBusiness.com)

Denver’s stingy defense helps “The Sheriff” ride off into the sunset a champion.
(Photo courtesy of FoxBusiness.com)

In the 2015/2016 sports calendar year, we have already seen Peyton Manning and The Denver Broncos crowned Super Bowl Champions after an incredible defensive display against the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers.

In as much as the lead up to the Super Bowl was quite exciting and the emergence of Cam Newton as an elite Quarterback was something to note, special mention needs to go out to other fascinating accomplishments occurring in other sporting events.

EPL Champions - Leicester City

EPL Champions – Leicester City

Let us begin with the English Premiership. At the conclusion of the 2014/2015 season, a little known club located in the East Midland of England finished in 14th place in a league with only 20 clubs. A little known club that nobody truly ranked and were given a whopping 5000/1 Odds to win the title the following season. That little known club are currently the champions of England and that little known club is Leicester City. To put things in context, let us use a case study for the odds that the bookies put in play at the beginning of the season. A lifetime Leicester City supporter put a 50 pounds ($30) bet on those odds of 5000/1 to win the title. That lifetime supporter cashed out on a take home prize of 250,000 pounds ($166,000). What has been accomplished by this club who had a spending budget of 52m pounds ($32.5M) in comparison to the likes of Manchester City (411m – $274M), Manchester United (391m – $260M), and Chelsea (298m – $198M) is something that has never ever been witnessed in British football. Leicester City took advantage of a slow methodology of playing every single game to win and taking advantage of lackluster performances from the other big clubs. Credit goes out to their manager (Claudio Ranieri) and star players James Vardy (who only a few years ago was combining his playing time while working part-time as a technician making medical splints) and Riyad Mahrez (a relatively unknown Algerian now among the English Premier League elites).

As we talk about this great accomplishment in sports by Leicester City, we cannot go any further without mentioning what Wardell Stephen “Steph” Curry has done in the NBA this year. Let us look at some quick numbers to put things into perspective. In the 2014/2015 season where he was crowned MVP and also won the NBA championship, his numbers were as follows:

Regular Season – 23.8 ppg. Playoffs – 28.3 ppg. Total number of three pointers made – 286.

This season, his numbers are:

30 ppg and he made 402 three pointers. I will say that again….402. The only other player to come close was Ray Allen with 289 and we all know him to be a three point genius. Steph Curry has

Stephen Curry hoists his second consecutive MVP trophy prior to Game 5 of the second round of the Western Conference Semifinals vs. the Portland Trail Blazers at Oracle Arena.  (Photo courtesy of Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Stephen Curry hoists his second consecutive MVP trophy prior to Game 5 of the second round of the Western Conference Semifinals vs. the Portland Trail Blazers at Oracle Arena.
(Photo courtesy of Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

completely redefined basketball and the point guard position, and he makes shots from pretty much anywhere he wants to. He controls the tempo of the court and pulls out perimeter defenders, allowing other players such as Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to make significant contributions. The Conference Finals this year will see some exciting matchups with Golden State taking on Oklahoma City Thunder as perennial All-Stars (Curry, Thompson, Green, Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka) will dominate the highlights in the best of 7 series. On the East Coast, it looks like Cleveland with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, back at this stage of the competition healthy, will compliment the enigma that is LeBron James. We will most likely see the Cavs steamroll pass the Toronto Raptors to meet the best of the West.

UEFA Champions League Final - Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid - May 28th, 2016

UEFA Champions League Final – Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid – May 28th, 2016

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both finished in second and third positions in the Spanish La Liga. They were edged out by Barcelona but not before Barcelona suffered successive defeats to both clubs in the El Classcio and Champions League semifinals. These two clubs are Spanish power houses and are getting ready to battle it out in the Champions League Finals. This is not the first time we are going to have an “All Madrid Final”. In 2014, we saw these two clubs battle it out with Real Madrid emerging victorious. The Star man then and now and 3 time Ballon D’or (World Footballer of the Year) recipient, Cristiano Ronaldo is of course the centre of attraction. The last time these two teams met, Ronaldo was breaking records with an astonishing 51 goals. He has achieved that milestone again this season and goes into this final fully charged and poised to pick up his 3rd UEFA Champions League trophy. It will not be easy as Diego Simeone and his Atletico Madrid team, that play a high tempo coordinated style of Spanish football, will be looking to get revenge against their 2014 finalist fellow city rivals. These two teams have already met twice this season with Atletico winning one game and the other game ending in a tie. The UEFA Champions League Final which will be played at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy will be an explosive encounter come May 28th.

All in all, it has been an exciting year so far with so much more to play as we have the NBA Finals, UCL Finals, and the European Championships.

Sports fans, eat your heart out as the games will always continue to bring nothing but sheer entertainment and exhilarating excitement….

 

Nwaji Jibunoh, International Correspondent for War Room Sports

Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor.  Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective.  He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.

MY WORLD CUP IS BACK: The Raw Emotions of the Beautiful Game

Friday, June 20th, 2014

by Nwaji Jibunoh

Nwaji Blog

 

(Image courtesy of SoccerLens.com)

(Image courtesy of SoccerLens.com)

The year was 1982 and among my earliest memories in life. My twin brother and I struggling for space on our father’s lap as he attempted to balance the two of us while he watched the Brazilian squad of that year play possibly some the finest football the world had ever seen. That team consisted of the great Socrates, Zico, and Juninho. Players that mesmerized opponents with the Samba style Jorgo Bonito. Brazil was knocked out that year by a well-disciplined Italian team that would eventually go and win the World Cup, but what they did for me as a toddler was instantly convert me to a worshipper of the sport.

Subsequent tournaments such as Mexico ’86, Italia ’90, USA ’94, France ’98, South Korea/Japan ‘02 brought out the best players the world ever saw. What we also began to see as the years stacked on were the overt corporate commercialization of the sport and the introduction of prima donna global stars that had bigger personalities than the actual tournament itself. By Germany ’06 and South Africa ’10, players were no longer going to the World Cup for the same reasons that generations did before them. It became one big party, an opportunity to showcase to the world pure individualism. The core elements of the game were lacking, and it was starting to turn into pure entertainment. Yes, there was good football, I cannot lie (The ’06 final between France and Italy was quite epic), but something was missing. I did not feel the uncanny attachments and sheer euphoria I used to experience from days gone by.

Fast forward to Brazil 2014 where the beautiful game returns to the spiritual home of football. The games are being hosted in a country that produced the one and only Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, the Royal Prince of this Sport, a record holding 5-time champions, and a team that combined the musical sensation Samba into the very fabric of their playing style.

We are only in the group stages, and we have already witnessed some of the finest football, ecstasy, and euphoria that this tournament has produced in the last 24 years. I honestly do not know if the game being played in Brazil is the reason for what we are witnessing or if players’ donning the colors of their national team is bringing the sexy back.

So far, we have seen absolutely sensational goals and goal celebrations. Let me quickly point out the Colombians. Every time they score, I honestly do not know what to expect, but their rhythmic Latin American inspired dance moves invigorate my soul each and every time. We are watching the Dutch National Team; La Orange returning to their Johann Cruyff philosophy of Total football by being the team of the tournament so far with comprehensive victories against current holders and two-time Euro champions Spain and a dogged Australian side. The German national team bringing their machinery of efficiency by blowing out a star studded Cristiano Ronaldo led Portuguese team. Then of course, we saw the USA national team beating the Black Stars of Africa Ghana in the game of the tournament so far. The US coming into their own despite heavy hating from individuals like myself, showing that yes indeed they belong here. We saw Lionel Messi finally walking into his own destiny and leading the Argentinian national team to victory. England being England as usual by underachieving each and every tournament, and then there was Mexico holding down the indefectible Brazilian, led by Neymar da Silva Santos in an Iron Clad match where their Goalie Ochoa becomes a cult legend.

My World Cup is back, because the Raw Emotions are back. We are seeing fans in the stadium weeping when their National Anthem is played. We have superstar players literally going bananas when they score goals and are instantly besotted by the enormity of the situation that they find themselves in. We are witnessing the relatively unknowns becoming Gods overnight. We are watching the Beautiful Game!

YES, YES, YES, MY WORLD CUP IS BACK!!!!!

 

Nwaji Jibunoh, International Correspondent for War Room Sports

Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor.  Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective.  He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.

USA vs Ghana: Upon Further Review

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

by Veree Bampoe-Addo

veree blog

 

 

 

 

 

USA vs. Ghana (Image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)

USA vs. Ghana
(Image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)

Finally had a chance to take another look at Monday’s World Cup opener for USA and Ghana – let’s be honest, it’s hard to thoroughly analyze a game while having a few cold ones at the bar. Great football game overall, big win for USA, here are some final notes:

  • USA was pretty much on their back heel most of the game especially in the 2nd half but the defensive effort was impressive. The USA defenders marked the Ghanaian forwards well and managed to frustrate them. Ghana was actually exhausted in search for the elusive equalizer.
  • USA played pretty well on offense the few times they actually did have possession up front. They created the more threatening chances and most of their shots were quality looks. Only 8 shots the entire game but 7 of them were on goal.
  • USA needs to figure out how to maintain possession a little more – while it’s not “everything”, it helps if you can control the flow of the game a little bit. That would also help them create more chances and take some pressure off the defense. Maybe a different formation? Would be good to see Bradley more involved.
  • Ghana was the better team on Monday – unfortunately it comes down to the ability to put the ball in the net and they couldn’t do it; was kind of like the 2010 Quarterfinal between Netherlands and Brazil.
  • Ghana attempted a ridiculous amount of shots and yet weren’t able to cash in. They need to work on finishing because they definitely won’t get that many chances vs Germany on Saturday.
  • Starting lineup for Ghana was very questionable. Kwesi  Appiah had months to tamper with it and it doesn’t seem like he’s figured it out yet. Kevin Prince Boateng didn’t have a good game but his presence opened things up for the other forwards once he entered the game; he looked rusty and struggled to get with the flow of the game – attempted a few wild off-target shots. He’s better off in the starting lineup.
  • Goals: Both Clint Dempsey and Andre Ayew’s were World Class finishes. Hell of a set piece that set up the game winner for Brooks.
  • Man of the Match for Ghana was #7 Christian Atsu – a star in the making, great facilitator, had a key moment where he switched direction on Damarcus Beasley and sat him right on his butt – shows how dangerous he can be.
  • Man of the Match for USA was #13 Jermaine Jones in my opinion – made some key tackles, assisted on some of the better looks and seemed to be a part of every play.
  • USA’s preparation has to be in question – Altidore and Besler both pulled hamstrings. Are you kidding me? They knew that conditions would be humid, makes you wonder what approach they took in warm up drills leading up to the game.
  • Coach Kwesi Appiah will need to make major line up adjustments going into the Germany game on Saturday – he should consider benching John Boye, Johnathan Mensah and GK Adam Kawarasey for terrible mistakes they made on the field – they weren’t ready for the big stage.
  • I love the confidence that Klinsmann has this young team playing with. They believe in what they’re doing and despite talent limitations, they’re in a position to advance if they can get a few good bounces vs a vulnerable Portugal side on Sunday.

 

Veree Bampoe-Addo of The Sports Forum, for War Room Sports

 

The Gaffer & Hooligan Blog: CONCACAF Standing Strong

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

by Kamal Hylton

Kamal Hylton Blog

 

 

 

 

Gaffer & Hooligan logo

 

Being a writer and podcaster that mainly covers MLS and CONCACAF, I’m taking a fair bit of pride in how well the region has done so far at the 2014 World Cup.
(Image courtesy of IslandMix.com)

(Image courtesy of IslandMix.com)

Not the most heralded of regions compared to UEFA (Europe) or CONMEBOL (South America), currently CONCACAF are 3-1-1 in the tournament. A record that is highlighted by Costa Rica’s 3-1 win against Uruguay, USA’s 2-1 win over Ghana and Mexico’s 0-0 draw over tournament hosts Brazil.

I’ve already touched on the Costa Rica game in my last Gaffer and Hooligan blog, but that was more from a Uruguay perspective.

The Ticos pulled off what has to be the shock of the tournament, not only winning but completely outplaying a far more talented side like Uruguay. Earning three huge points has turned Group D on its head, star forward Joel Campbell coming up big and helping set the table for what was to come.

Another big result for CONCACAF came Monday evening, USA picking up a much needed three points against Ghana.

John Brooks’ eighty-sixth minute winner is one of the moments of the tournament so far. The timing of his headed goal, his reaction after scoring and the numerous vine videos on social media of American Outlaw supporters groups all over the country going crazy will be a standout moment for me when the World Cup is over.

USA vs. Ghana was billed as a “must win game” for two reasons, as the Stars and Stripes attempted to get revenge on its African rivals for defeating and ultimately eliminating them from the last two World Cups. Other results also worked in the Americans favor, knowing there’s now a huge opportunity with Germany defeating Portugal 4-0 in the earlier group match.

Mexico followed up its 1-0 win over Cameroon with a credible 0-0 draw over Brazil, getting an otherworldly performance from goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Standing tall under fire from the Brazilian attack, he kept his second clean sheet. Setting up El Tri very nicely for its final group match against Croatia next week.

Coming into the tournament, few will have had any CONCACAF teams advancing to the next round in their brackets. However, if the teams continue to perform there’s a chance that the region could see three of its four teams move on to the knockout rounds.

While some fellow Canadian National Team fans can’t bring themselves to cheer for CONCACAF rivals [particularly Honduras after losing 8-1 in World Cup Qualifying] or don’t see the regions success reflecting on or helping Canada in anyway, I take the opposite approach.

The further USA, Mexico and Costa Rica [or even Honduras if they play better] go there’s a better chance big teams around the world will look at CONCACAF players and more fans [particularly in North America] will be drawn to watching its national team, players or even local club on a more regular basis.

Be sure to keep up with my World Cup experience on the War Room Sports Blog and catch the Gaffer & Hooligan World Cup mini-shows on the War Room Sports Podcast Network.

The Gaffer & Hooligan Blog: A Nervous and Anxious time with Uruguayans

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

by Kamal Hylton

Kamal Hylton Blog

 

 

 

 

Gaffer & Hooligan logo
Since I’ve been following soccer, I’ve only watched four World Cup tournaments before Brazil 2014.

In that time, I’ve never watched a national team game at a real supporters hangout… until today.

However rather than watch one of the major nations that has a mixture of die-hards and casuals, I was fortunate to be invited by fans of a nation that as I’ve witnessed has pure passion and national pride for its team.

(Image courtesy of TorontoHispano.com)

(Image courtesy of TorontoHispano.com)

For my first genuine experience, that nation was Uruguay and the venue was Club Uruguay in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada (just outside Toronto).

La Celeste taking on the Ticos of Costa Rica to open up its tournament.

The South American nation has a relatively small population of about 3 million people, but with what they lack in numbers they make up for in emotion and devotion.

Being an outsider, I came into this match thinking the fans would exude confidence against a side like Costa Rica.

This was way off base.

Whether it has to do with past history or being one of the last teams to qualify for the big dance in both 2010 (advancing 2-1 on aggregate against Costa Rica) and 2014 (advancing 5-0 on aggregate against Jordan), there was a feeling of nervous energy and anxiety.

Ultimately losing the game 3-1, the feeling at Club Uruguay changed to despair.
Uruguay vs. Costa Rica (Photo courtesy of The Guardian.com)

Uruguay vs. Costa Rica
(Photo courtesy of The Guardian.com)

Part of this is knowing that the matches only get tougher, with England and Italy to come in the next two group games.

Even though the result wasn’t favourable, I did come away with an appreciation for the soccer supporters of Uruguay.

I’m particularly impressed with the soccer intelligence of the people, not only cheering when Edinson Cavani scored the team’s lone goal on a penalty but doing so at other less obvious moments as well. The place erupting when the team won throw-ins and corners, made smart tackles that gained possession and on clearances out of the penalty area.

Being a nervous fellow by nature, I’m not sure if my heart can handle watching another Uruguay game with Uruguayans, but if I do I’ll now be prepared and ready to hopefully experience the joy that I’m all too sure would be pouring out of the supporters with a win.

Be sure to keep up with my World Cup experience on the War Room Sports Blog and catch the Gaffer & Hooligan World Cup mini-shows on the War Room Sports Podcast Network.

Kamal Hylton of The Gaffer & Hooligan Soccer Podcast, for War Room Sports

The Gaffer & Hooligan Blog: Riding the Emotional Australian Roller Coaster

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

by Kamal Hylton

Kamal Hylton Blog

 

 

 

 

 

Gaffer & Hooligan logo

 

The 2014 World Cup is only a few days old and there have already been a number of talking points, including horrible refereeing calls in both the Brazil vs. Croatia and Mexico vs. Cameroon matches, as well as the Netherlands overthrowing Spanish kings with a 5-1 #BEATEMDOWN (shoutout to Bomani Jones) in a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final.
 
However, I’ve also had a great experience during the unlikeliest of games.
On a personal level, one match has seen me go through a range of emotions. The match I’m referring to is…. Chile vs. Australia?
Chile vs. Australia (Image courtesy of fivesee.com)

Chile vs. Australia
(Image courtesy of fivesee.com)

This game really doesn’t jump off the page in any meaningful way and certainly it doesn’t produce a multitude of reasons why a Canadian-born Jamaican would get emotionally invested, but that’s what the World Cup can do to you.

Having quite a few Australian friends, I found myself living and dying with every chance and going through 1000 different emotions.
 
I started out intimidated by the pro Chilean crowd in full voice singing their national anthem. This quickly led to anguish going 2-0 down in the first 15 minutes, goals being scored by Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia.
 
Just when I thought the route was on, my emotional state changed again.
A feeling of pure joy came over me when Tim Cahill’s header hit the back of the net and cut the lead to 2-1, keeping the Aussies in the match and landing a psychological blow ten minutes before halftime.
 
For the remainder of the game I was filled with stress, everything from a key goal line clearance to keep the score at 2-1 to the slew of near misses and close shaves that nearly leveled the game at 2-2.  The closer the Socceroos came to scoring the more I found myself trying to will the ball into the goal, wanting to see the little guy shock the world.
 
However, Chile scoring a third goal in the 90th minute ending the match 3-1 left me feeling disappointed and sick. Not only for what is a fairly young Australian squad, but also for my friends.
 
Having no official nation to root for in the tournament, moments like these are what the World Cup is all about. I have no roots to Australia at all, but having watched that game and seeing how much it means to many of my Aussie friends, I’ll be wishing them luck and success for however long they’re in the tournament.
 
After going through all of that, one of my Aussie friend James McKern put it best “Honorary Aussie for the game!”.
 
Be sure to keep up with my World Cup experience on the War Room Sports Blog and catch the Gaffer & Hooligan World Cup mini-shows on the War Room Sports Podcast Network.
 
Kamal Hylton of The Gaffer & Hooligan Soccer Podcast, for War Room Sports

One Nation, One Team, #LanDone

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

by Veree Bampoe-Addo

 

Landon Donovan (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Landon Donovan
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

USMNT supporters were outraged Thursday afternoon when the final 23-Man World Cup roster was revealed. None of us expected this. The most notable player we were all expecting to see wasn’t a part of it. Imagine in 1992 seeing the final Dream Team roster set for Barcelona without MJ? You get the point. Considering the man’s contributions to the growing of US Soccer (Google his accomplishments), he deserves to be on the roster. I’m a big fan of Klinsmann – I followed his career in the 90’s when he made monumental contributions to the success of the German National Team but this move leaves a dark spot on his coaching resume. Being Ghanaian, born here in the States, I support both USMNT and Ghana when it comes to international soccer (imagine the conflict I’ve had the last 2 World Cups). However this move Klinsmann pulled makes me not even want to root for USA in this World Cup…. definitely made it a lot easier for me to root against them when they play Ghana in the opener on June 16th. A power struggle is the only reasonable conclusion I can draw when you take 18-20 year-olds with less than 5 caps combined over Donovan. I’m surprised that the U.S. Soccer Federation concurred his decision. How can you go into this tournament without your icon, proven veteran, the most accomplished player in your program’s history, and fan favorite? I understand Landon going on hiatus during the qualifiers last year didn’t help his case, I also understand he’s 32, and doesn’t have the speed and endurance like he did 4 years ago – I sort of realized that in the last friendly match vs Mexico a few months ago when he subbed in late in the game. He didn’t look sharp but that may have been him not having sufficient playing time to warm up. The least Klinsmann could have done would be to add him as a reserve, even on the bench. His invaluable experience would serve this team well from a mentoring standpoint.

A good World Cup team consists of the right combination of veterans and young players. Only 5 (Beasley, Bradley, Howard, Altidore and Dempsey) of the USMNT’s 23 players have previous World Cup experience. At age 33, Klinsmann captained the German National Team in the 98 World Cup, so at age 32, you would think Landon Donovan has at least 1 more WC left in him. Our program here is not as prolific as Brazil’s who can turn over their World Cup roster every 4 years and yet compete at a high level. I remember ramblings about Ronaldinho not being a part of their 2010 team. With or without Donovan, USA has a tall order being in the “Group of Death” with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. The youngsters just might be intimidated by being in the presence of the top players in the World – Ronaldo, Essien, Ozil, Muller, Nani etc… Landon is on the same plateau as the aforementioned so I like USA’s chances better with him on the roster. It’s disappointing that this happens at a time where interest in U.S. Soccer is rapidly expanding (credit Donovan’s notoriety among the fans as well as “The Outlaws”) – fans will be turned away, ratings and merchandise sales will be also be affected. I started to call World Soccer Shop to cancel my Jersey order after I heard the news – but ultimately decided against it. I’ve seen several marquee players play in their last World Cup Tournament late in their career (Maradona, Henrick Larsson, Zidane) so a part of me is not accepting that we’ve seen the last of Landon Donovan in a World Cup. Didier Drogba and Miroslav Klose will both be 36 when the tournament commences but made their respective national teams’ final cut. Depending on what Donovan does in the next 4 years, there’s a possibility that he gets a call up for the 2018 World Cup at age 36, Klinsmann’s contract will be up by then. Also who knows what will happen between now and kick off on June 16th. Just saying, it could happen. I don’t believe “Lan-done”.

 

Veree Bampoe-Addo of The Sports Forum, for War Room Sports

RACISM, REACTIONS, AND THE NEED FOR CONTROLLED EMOTIONS IN SPORTS

Monday, February 10th, 2014

by Nwaji Jibunoh

Nwaji Blog

 

 

 

 

 

(Image via footbasket.com)

(Image via footbasket.com)

This past week, a lot of us who watch sports with the enthusiasm of addicts witnessed what went down with Marcus Smart during the Oklahoma State vs. Texas Tech game, where he was shown to shove a fan after he tumbled into the crowd after trying to block a shot. There have been several blogs, comments, and discussions about what caused a 20-year-old NCAA player to push a fan after being in close proximity with him. The overriding conclusions that have been put out there are that the Texas Tech fan, namely Jeff Orr, used a racial slur towards Marcus Smart, prompting him to do what he did out of disgust and annoyance at what was said.

A tearful Mario Bolatelli (Image via SportingNews.com)

A tearful Mario Bolatelli
(Image via SportingNews.com)

Also, within this very interesting week in sports, in the Serie A in Italy, we witnessed Mario Bolatelli break down in tears during the AC Milan vs. Napoli game, where AC Milan lost. At some point during the game, Bolatelli was subbed and was subsequently taunted by the notorious Italian fans that were making monkey gestures and noises. Whether or not this is the reason why Mario broke down on the sidelines is debatable. There are reports that he shed tears due to the sheer level of racism he had to endure and has had to endure his whole career, being an African who only knows Italy as him home. There are other reports that he shed tears because he was disappointed with his play and wasn’t too happy that his team was losing.

These two situations remind me of two other Soccer players, Samuel Eto’o and Kevin Prince Boateng, who while playing in Spain and Italy respectively, both walked off the field due to incessant racial abuse from the fans in two different games. In the case of Kevin Prince Boateng, the game had to be abandoned because his teammates walked off with him.

These scenarios always bring about the question of what is the right reaction from multi-million dollar athletes (with the exception of Marcus Smart, of course, who is still a collegiate athlete) who are subjected to such abuses. Are they meant to just sit there and take it and carry on with the task of what they are paid to do, which is to simply play the game? Or, are the regulatory bodies in various sports meant to intervene and ensure that there are hospitable environments in stadiums and arenas across the world, so that super star athletes do not have to endure the whims of fans who decide to be ignorant?

In my opinion, the onus remains with the athlete in reference to how he controls his emotions. At the end of the day, it is a game we are talking about. Somebody calling you the “N word” or a “bloody African monkey” cannot warrant a justifiable reaction out of you, especially when the prospect of your actions can affect the overall harmony of any team. Case in point, Marcus Smart (the outstanding player for Oklahoma State) has now been suspended for 3 games. Samuel Eto’o and Kevin Prince Boateng were heavily fined for their actions. The reasons being that there are overwhelming precedence’s for how an athlete is meant to behave, especially during game time. Any violation of that leads to consequences. A fan or group of fans provoking you does not unfortunately override that precedence.

Amateur and Professional Athletes, regardless of their background, need to come to the realization that these remarks, as horrific as they are, cannot and should not affect them in any way, because it is never personal. Why would you allow your emotions to go haywire because some overweight coward decides to be ignorant towards you? A coward that will never earn the kind of money you are earning. A coward that may never achieve in life what you have achieved as an athlete.

The need for targeted emotions and controlled reactions towards fans in sports is necessary because it all becomes too distracting when an inconsequential moron like Jeff Orr gets notable mention because he successfully pushed Marcus Smart’s buttons.

The irony is that the hearts and minds of people like that and those fans in Europe will probably never change. The only change I will ask of professional athletes the world over is to actually stop giving a damn and just play the game to the best of their ability, entertain us all, and go home with your fat salaries.

 

Nwaji Jibunoh, International Correspondent for War Room Sports

Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor.  Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective.  He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.

 

The NFL vs. EPL

Monday, January 27th, 2014

by Nwaji Jibunoh

Nwaji Blog

 

 

 

 

 

EPL vs NFL

 

A few years ago, I came across a CNN documentary that compared the National Football League and the English Premier League. Two football leagues but two totally different sports.  The critical issues they were comparing are the differences that teams in these top flight leagues have when it comes to financial troubles.

In light of the recent discussions surrounding Richard Sherman and the possibilities and potential of added sponsorships due to his newly discovered popularity and how best to manage and play this game in the media world, I decided to expatiate on this documentary and see how indeed players and clubs earn sustainable money in sports.

According to this documentary, NFL teams have several factors that save them from ever going into liquidation, and those two factors are a Salary Cap and a Salary Floor. This means that there is a minimum and maximum amount of money that any player can ever make in terms of wages on an annual basis, regardless of the talent of that athlete or what team that athlete plays for. For example, when you look at some of the annual salaries of NFL players (Richard Sherman for example), you might be somewhat surprised that as of 2012, it was $456,000.00. You would think it’s more considering the lifestyle that some of these individuals have and just overall perception of their earnings, but for a 3rd player coming out of the 5th round draft, that salary is quite consistent. Secondly, all the teams in the National Football League (NFL) receive equitable distribution of television revenue. This is partly because there is not a monopoly to every single game by one media conglomerate. Where you begin to see the difference in terms of franchise earnings is when it comes to game day and season ticket revenues, merchandising sales, and sponsorships. The structure of the NFL is so corporate that each player is graded like any employee you would find in the banking industry, and it cuts across all teams. These factors allow the league to properly regulate and structure their finances in such a way that they can never go into debt.

Now, on the other side of “The Pond” in the English Premier League, there is no salary cap or salary floor, meaning that any team depending on their financial buoyancy can pay as much or as little to any player as they please. According to Forbes Magazine, the top 5 earners in the English Premier League and their club salaries are:

1)     Robin Van Persie (Manchester United) – $19m

2)     Yaya Toure  (Manchester City)- $18.2

3)     Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) – $18.1m

4)     Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) – $17.4m

5)     Fernando Torres (Chelsea) – $17m

Ironically, in these same teams, you have players that earn $1M and less a year. Such disparities are quite ridiculous. So, what does this translate to? It basically means that players will naturally gravitate towards teams that can pay them the exorbitant amounts that they seek. This is why you have the same teams winning season in and season out, because they are the only teams with the cash flows backed by wealthy owners to pay these wages, hence attracting the best and the brightest from the world to the EPL and stripping off other leagues locally, continentally, and globally of adequately developing their own football teams.

Sky Sports, which is part of the media conglomerate BSB (British Sky Broadcasting, backed by 21st Century Fox), had exclusive live UK rights to the Premier League until the 2007/08 season when an EU Competition ruling forced the Premier League to share live TV matches among more than one broadcaster. That brought down their exclusivity dominance from 100 percent to 75%. They however, due to lack of proper regulation, do not equitably distribute the revenues generated from the advertisements during the games to all the teams in the Premiership. What they have been doing since the inception of their relationship with English football is allocating 60 percent of TV revenues to the likes of Manchester United (who have consistently raked in between 7-15% over the last 20 years), Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and recently Manchester City. The effect this has is that it has caused other minnow teams like Sunderland, Portsmouth, Hull, Blackburn, and Stoke to struggle significantly when it comes to these revenues, especially when players leave for bigger teams, for bigger wages.

The lack of an organized somewhat “socialist” structure in the Premier League ensures that we continually see a monopoly amongst those who retain the title (After all since 1996, only 4 different teams; Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal have been crowned champions of England), whereas in the NFL in that same span of time, 10 different teams (New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers) have won the Super Bowl.

One may argue that the capitalist nature of America allows players to receive endorsements that are absolutely astronomical from different corporations, so they are not necessarily motivated by one particular club. Perfect example, Michael Jordan in his prime (The 1995-96 season) was one of the lowest paid first team salary earners in the NBA, but grossed $60 million annually in endorsements from Coca Cola, Nike, Hanes, Ball Park Hot Dogs, McDonald’s, Wheaties, Chevy Blazer, and Gatorade. Such endorsements can easily make any professional athlete forget their wages and simply focus on their love for the game. This can never be the case in the UK, because the salary wages to endorsement ratio is the complete opposite of the Michael Jordan example.

The question being asked is… “do you think the English Premier League needs to reconstitute the way they do business to avoid disasters that happened with the likes of certain clubs such as Leeds United, Newcastle United, and Portsmouth F.C, that had to file for bankruptcy?” Can the EPL learn from the NFL and avoid being at the whim of wealthy mercenary type owners who don’t understand football (I can’t bring myself to call it soccer, I just can’t) and who burden big teams with insurmountable debts? Can corporations in Europe begin to focus more on splurging out on more players in endorsement deals so that way the players can focus on their ability to market themselves to make that big money while having a team focus at the center of what they do when it comes to “the beautiful game”? After all, for a cup competition that boasts to be the biggest in the world, comprised of 25 leagues, with an average representation of 3 teams from each league, with a 22-man squad per team, bringing that total to 1,650 players, there are literally only 5 names that are recognized from a brand perspective when it comes to sponsorship and marketing on a global scale.

The fear with the soon to be passed “Financial Fair Play” policy which stipulates that all teams in Europe spend only what they earn will show that the English Premier League is the most expensive and lucrative sports league in the world, but at the same time, the most irresponsible when it comes to good corporate governance.

The National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) all learned the hard way in the late 80’s and early 90’s, where several teams went into administration simultaneously, that some entire seasons were suspended in order to rectify an impending problem. We have even seen recently some leagues having lock down seasons due to the inability to arrive at a consensus when it comes to equitable salaries.

Should the EPL wait for such to happen before they introduce Salary Caps, Salary Floors, and Equitable distribution of television revenue? Can’t teams focus on ticket, jersey, and merchandise revenues for significant incomes? At what point will leagues in Europe learn from the NFL to avoid their teams slipping into administration.

What better way can we educate young athletes on the intricacies of these payment structures before allowing super-agents to take advantage of them?

For those of us who love sports, spreading the word on these details with enough objectivity and accuracy is one of several ways.

 

Nwaji Jibunoh, International Correspondent for War Room Sports

Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor.  Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective.  He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.