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CommentaryEuropeGermanySpainThe AmericasUnited StatesWorld Cup

Klinsmann, Rainforest Conditioning and the 1953 Hungarian Golden Team

June 17, 2014 — by Rob Kirby

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[Extreme conditioning, cribbed from 1950s Communist Hungary? After last night’s 2-1 victory over Ghana in the coastal heat of Natal, that’s the ideal method for Klinsmann and the U.S. team as they stare down the barrel of the Ruffhouse in Manaus, heart of the Amazon, against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Enjoy the Cult Football at Large article here in excerpt or over at Vocativ.com.]

It’s no secret that the U.S. Men’s National Team is not a favorite going into the World Cup in Brazil. The media has panned the team’s chances, pointing to its unfavorable inclusion in Group G—what some call the Group of Death, with some justification. The U.S. faces three big opponents in the group: Ghana in Natal on June 16, Portugal in Manaus on June 22 and Germany in Recife on June 26. Ghana has knocked the U.S. out of two straight World Cups. Portugal boasts Cristiano Ronaldo—probably the best player in the world—and always shows up in big tournaments (semifinalists at the 2006 World Cup, and the 2008 and 2012 Euro Championships). And Germany reached the World Cup finals in 2002, and the semis 2006 and 2010.

What’s more, America will endure a travel itinerary of almost 9,000 miles between the three group stage matches, kicking off in the far northeast of the country, the heart of the rainforest, then back to the far northeast of the country. None of their games take place near base camp in São Paolo (where the team will return after each match), and all of them hug the most extreme equatorial heat and humidity zones of Brazil.

For the USMNT, there are a lot of factors they couldn’t control: group selection, World Cup layout, the humidity of the Amazon. But prepping for climate extremes, now there’s something that could have been addressed in training.

Way back in January, USMNT head coach Jürgen Klinsmann organized a two-week training camp (of mainly Major League Soccer players) in air-conditioned, five-star facilities in São Paolo. The May training camp was in Stanford, California—hardly known for oppressive conditions. The team then played friendlies in California and New Jersey before confronting some actual humidity in Jacksonville, Florida, against Nigeria (Ghana’s neighbor and stylistic analogue) and winning 2-1.

If he really wanted to prepare his players, Klinsmann should have sent them to the Amazon, confiscated their passports and stranded them in the 80 percent humidity of the rainforest. To acclimatize, players need to swelter for long stretches, training in the muggiest midday heat available, rather than being strapped to electrodes in climate-controlled sports laboratories. Live in huts, not hotels. Yoga, but Bikram. Pull on the humidity like a second skin. The World Cup commences and the players leap through the gate as if on endorphin rushes, ripping through defenses at top speed.

So now what the U.S. needs is an alternate plan—and preferably an out-of-nowhere checkmate. Klinsmann could steer the USMNT out of its hellish World Cup group in Brazil and into the knockout stages, provided he gets dictatorial at the helm. He just needs to incorporate some Cold War Communist management tactics and perhaps jam some treadmills into the sauna.

***

Jürgen Klinsmann had a clinical soccer pedigree. He won German footballer of the year in 1988 and set controls for world domination. He won the World Cup with West Germany in 1990, the 1996 European Championships with unified Germany and two UEFA (Union of European Football Association) Cups—one with Internazionale and one with Bayern Munich. As a player, he barked orders like any authoritative striker, and his stats gave him automatic street cred.

As a manager, Klinsmann led Germany to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup, and later managed Bayern Munich, only to fall out with the board. His “führer factor” had come under question due to his relentless optimism, yoga advocacy and his residency in Southern California. People sometimes doubted the tanned man in après-ski casual could be the cold-blooded dictator fans expect in a coach.

But when you don’t have superior force (as is the case with his current U.S. squad) psychological warfare and conditioning are your two best hopes. The horse has bolted on conditioning, but regarding mind games and subterfuge, Klinsmann may yet have some chops. Klinsmann goosed Cristiano Ronaldo a good half-year ahead of the World Cup in the FIFA Ballon d’Or voting. When ballot choices became public, people saw that Klinsmann had not only left Ronaldo off his list, but he also nominated his nemeses: Franck Ribery, who deprived Ronaldo of the UEFA player of the year award; the “New Ronaldo,” Gareth Bale—Real Madrid teammate and therefore enemy within; and Radamel Falcao from the smaller club in Madrid that knocked Real out of last year’s Copa del Rey, and handed the team its first city derby loss in 14 years.

The devious placement of the World Cup qualifying match versus Costa Rica in high elevation Colorado in March 2013—and the ensuing snowpocalypse against the group rival in zero-visibility blizzard—was another example, and showed some promising diabolical tendencies. Finding a way to present Ronaldo with a mirror palace built in the jungle would prove an even bigger coup; like Narcissus trapped by the beauty of his image, Ronaldo might miss training sessions or group stage matches entirely.

But yet, Klinsmann brought 26 American players to Brazil in January and let them all leave. That was his biggest mistake. Jürgen should have embraced his inner Iron Curtain coach; in particular, his inner Gusztáv Sebes. By cribbing from the 1953 Hungarian Golden Team’s shocking 6-3 victory at fortress Wembley, and the autocratic advance measures Sebes took in adaptation prep, Klinsmann could have concocted a modern-day heat-tolerance strategy to get America into the knockouts.

***

Back in newly nationalized 1949 Hungary, the Ministry of Defense appropriated the Budapest-area Honvéd team as the army team, whereupon Sebes, as deputy minister of sport, installed himself as coach, appropriated the team for international competition purposes and started conscripting the best players in the country to Honvéd. Conveniently, the club already possessed the deadly left foot of star player Ferenc Puskás, who went on to score 83 goals in 84 games for Hungary (357 in 354 games for Honvéd).

Honvéd doubled as club side and national team, winning the league title five times between 1949 and 1955. It shared trophies with MTK Budapest, the secret service team, because even a ranking deputy minister doesn’t provoke the secret police unnecessarily. MTK also held the final key players for when the operation went full Voltron into the aggregate entity, the Aranycsapat (the Golden Team).

Emerging from the darkest days of Stalinist repression, the Golden Team (also known as the Magical Magyars) fused full-court pressure with fluid interchangeability of roles, a precursor to 1970s Dutch total football. Sebes subjected his national team to a full-time fitness and dietary regimen to ensure their conditioning would deliver high tempo for the full 90 minutes—they were Communist soldiers, after all. (The English media called Puskás, in actuality a lieutenant colonel, the “Galloping Major.”) Sebes focused on technique across the board, so players could change position seamlessly, scoring at will.

After the Golden Team won the Olympics in 1952, England, which historically held up its nose at foreign opposition—having codified the rules 90 years previous, cementing their superiority—deigned to invite the actual world No. 1 team to play at the vaunted Empire Stadium at Wembley. England had never lost to continental opposition at home, and a wet late-November day would offer classic English home turf conditions. England needed a boost. After having declined part in any of the first three World Cups, they got dumped out of their first, the 1950 World Cup, in a stunning 1-0 loss to the lowly U.S. team, which did not qualify for another for 40 years.

Here’s where Klinsmann could have learned a thing or two. As if marshaling forces for something outlandish (you know, like a match in a rainforest), Sebes prepared for the 1953 match against England by importing every aspect of English football to Budapest. He resized a training pitch to the exact oversized dimensions of the Wembley field. He considered the different-style English leather ball that got waterlogged as the game went on; especially with the all-English conditions of a cold, wet November day, it would take on weight quickly. Sebes obtained some English soccer balls and instituted training with them on the replica pitch immediately. He also compelled opposition players in the league to play in an “English style,” in order that the team get used to the different formation the British employed.

Sebes tested the English ball as the match ball in a slightly concerning 2-2 draw with Sweden 10 days before the so-called Match of the Century. A final calibration of shot settings with the gradually heavier ball, in a 18-0 blowout against a patsy Renault factory worker side in France, got Hungary fully acclimated. And on the day at Wembley, Hungary scored within the first minute and destroyed England 6-3. Six months later at the return fixture in Budapest, Hungary inflicted an even more brutal 7-1.

Famously, no Communist nation has ever won the World Cup. Hungary won the Olympics in 1952 and dominated the 1954 World Cup tournament, including a group stage 8-3 rout of West Germany, until suffering a crushing loss to those same Germans 2-1 in the final. (But, somehow, not the same Germans–a totally different lineup, as if the Germans had initially played possum.)

Although Hungary’s Golden Team scored a World Cup record 27 goals in the tournament, logged the famous 6-3 and 7-1 victories over England and went 31 straight games unbeaten between 1950 and 1956, they lost that crucial match in 1954. They’re called the best team to never win a World Cup, though the Dutch team of the 70s also has a claim on that title. In 1956, the Soviets invaded to crush an uprising against Communist rule, and Puskás and several others defected while Honvéd toured South America on exhibition. After that, the national team slowly disintegrated.

Imagine Jürgen had stationed his players in Manaus ever since that January training camp, and all the clubs, agents, sponsors and litigators had miraculously allowed this to happen. Not in plush São Paulo, but in maximum acclimation Manaus—capital of the rainforest. The players willingly submitted to six months straight of Amazonian boot camp, with full focus on their Arena da Amazônia showdown with Portugal, the Ruffhouse in Manaus. Jaunts to the marginally less oppressive coastal Natal and Recife would have seemed like destination vacations. While Cristiano banged in all the goals in Spain and the Champions League, posed in various stages of nudity for magazine covers and photo spreads, and opened a museum about himself in his own honor, U.S. players would have explored new realms of heat exhaustion and emerged reformed, rebuilt and steeled for heat-tolerance in the group stage and beyond.  …

Full article: The Communist Guide to Winning at Soccer  at Vocativ.com

BrazilCommentaryEnglandEuropeGermanyItalyWorld Cup

The Real Group of Death

June 12, 2014 — by Rob Kirby

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[Editor’s note: The good folks at Vocativ.com asked for an article on the Real Group of Death, and Rob from the Cult Football crew gave it his take. Check out the excerpt below and the full article on the Vocativ site. Another article on Klinsmann and lessons to learn from the Hungarian Golden Team of 1953 to follow.]

Fans salivate over the Group of Death that every World Cup inevitably thrusts upon unlucky heavy hitters cage-matched in the same group. This year, however, regional factions are debating which group qualifies as the real Group of Death for Brazil 2014.

American media says Group G—Germany (FIFA rank: 2), Portugal (4), the U.S. (13) and Ghana (38)—holds the title, hands down. In England, tabloid headlines sound a different alarm: English Premier League high-scorer (and convicted biter) Luis Suárez leads Uruguay (7) with canines bared against Italy (9), England (10) and Costa Rica (28) in Group D. But the real Group of Death, in our humble opinion, features a rematch of the 2010 final and allows no margin for error.

The insidious nature of Group B means that coming second equates to a stay of execution. In fact, think of Group B as having only one actual qualifying spot. Spain (1), Chile (14), the Netherlands (15) and Australia (62) will all have to bare-knuckle for first, because the group runner-up plays the winner of Group A, and as sure as Pelé talks about himself in the third person, Brazil will top its group.

You could argue that Brazil winning isn’t a sure thing, but consider this: Host countries almost always perform over the odds, and Brazil is already a super heavyweight. The team has the goal-scoring exploits of Golden Boot contender Neymar (Barcelona), Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg) and even defenders like Dani Alves (Barcelona).

Host nations have won five of the 19 World Cups. In recent years, France won France 1998, South Korea got to the semis of South Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany reached the semis at Germany 2006. Anything less than a Brazil World Cup victory will amount to a national tragedy—not unlike the 1950 final in which Brazil lost to Uruguay in the dying minutes on home soil, one of the darkest days in the nation’s collective memory, even 64 years later. Desperate to rectify that loss, the Seleção need no motivation.

What our position comes down to, essentially, is that the other groups saddled with the Group of Death label will still send on two teams to live another day. So while Group D has three top-10 teams, Italy will take the top spot, leaving Uruguay and England with an eminently dispatchable Costa Rica and a fair fight between themselves. Uruguay barely qualified for the World Cup; England bottles it at big tournaments. May the best team win.

All four teams in Group G would normally emerge from their group, but Germany could potentially win the tournament, and a Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo fundamentally has the firepower to progress even if the defense leaks goals. Still, both the U.S. and Ghana have the quality to beat Portugal, so ultimately after a fair fight, the best two progress from a tough group.

In Group B, however, either Spain, Chile and the Netherlands will miss out, and then one lucky non-loser must play Brazil. So after Brazil likely slaughters Croatia June 12 amidst the opening day pandemonium, Spain and Holland face off in Group B—two returning finalists drawn in the group stage for the first time. And those two progress, yes? Not so fast. … [continued]

Full article: The Real Group of Death (Vocativ.com)

CommentaryEngland

Liverpool, Awoken from a Dream into a Dream

May 8, 2014 — by Rob Kirby

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On the eve of the final weekend of the 2013/2014 Premier League season, we’d like to thank Bryan Belyea, heart-on-sleeve Liverpool supporter, for breaking it down and sharing his thoughts on the heels of Liverpool’s crushing draw with Crystal Palace on Monday night, when the fairytale title challenge may have faltered at the last.

What to make of Monday night? Pain, disappointment, nausea.

Having time to reflect I pondered why does this hurt so bad?

Who likes being slapped in the face whilst in the midst of a beautiful dream?  Being slapped by reality. The reality we all knew was lingering over our heads amidst this improbable title run. The reality that a team that panics in defense the way we do under pressure has no business making a title run. Yet our beautiful dream went on for so long that we thought it was becoming reality. That despite our fatal flaws we were going to make the impossible possible. We were going to shirk all the doubt and give those that have suffered so much for 25 years a little joy. Our captain was going to get the last feather in his cap that he so richly deserved after years of spilling his blood and guts for the team. A city beaten by economic turmoil was once again going to be home of the league champions.

The loss to Chelsea made us feel desperate. desperate to make the dream come true. Cruising along up 3-0 to Palace we persisted with the urgency of that desperation. The desperation created naivety. Naivety to our fatal flaw. That if left exposed our defense could be cut to shreds.And so it happened.. Palace made it 3-1. But we were still desperate. Desperate to overturn a large goal differential in the title race. So we pressed on with our naive urgency, forgetting about the critical 3 points we needed. Then it happened again… so quickly… 3-2. Now we finally realized what broth we were conjuring… the points were in danger now. But now our flaw was there once again for all to see… a defense shaken… was now shaking. Under pressure like this all season our defense has panicked. Panic begets mistakes. Mistakes provide the unavoidable. 3-3. The blood drained from the supporters in a collective flash flood. Silence. Confusion. That lost feeling of being slapped awake while in the midst of the most beautiful dream.

Now what? We are awake in reality now. Sobering reality. But as the pain subsides and the brain can start making sense of it all we still find ourselves in a place that is amazing given where we started from. If I told you in August that we would be where we are you would have told me that I was dreaming. The best we could hope for was a valiant run at 4th and if we finished 5th with good effort it would be the growth we needed. Yet here we are. Awake in a dream still. A dream that has become reality. The dream that would see Liverpool once again vying for titles. Qualifying for Europe’s most prestigious competition. No playing to get in. Direct qualification for the group stages of the Champions league. European nights at Anfield on the horizon. Money to spend on the 1st team for the summer. Transfer targets being drawn to beautiful attacking football and European competition. And lastly… still hope. Still a chance… a chance at the title. Could Agbonlahor or Carroll become legends to us? Could they now make our biggest dream a reality?!  Who knows? Anything is possible this season. A season in which we have been awoken from a dream into a dream.

No matter what… We HAVE dreams and songs to sing. Of the glory, round the fields of Anfield Road.

Champions LeagueCommentaryPreviewSpain

UEFA Champions League MegaMix Round of 16 Preview (Part 1): Man City-Barcelona, Leverkusen-PSG, Arsenal-Bayern, Milan-Atlético

February 17, 2014 — by Rob Kirby

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Set your DVRs, plan your late long lunches, etc. The Champions League is back. If you're a follower of European club football, you're excited as we are. If not, but you plan to watch the World Cup this summer, this is the competition you need to watch to get ready. Here are our previews of this week's four first leg matches, with a focus on which players to watch on each team (and a particular focus on players that will feature prominently at the World Cup this summer): Man City-Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen-PSG, Arsenal-Bayern Munich and AC Milan-Atlético Madrid.

Commentary

Juventus 3-0 Roma: The Scudetto Slips Away?

January 11, 2014 — by Suman

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Editor’s note: It’s been a while since we’ve done any match reports on CultFootball–not like the good old days, when trunchfiddle might watch a Bundesliga match over the weekend and write up a quick post and title it “Borussia Dortmund beweisen ihren Wert

Of coures, it’s not as if trunchfiddle and the rest of us have stopped watching matches–we’ve just stopped writing about them. But even that’s not entirely true–in what’s become a bit of a double-edged sword, most of our typed match-related output has migrated to our email listserv. It better fits the transient nature of match commentary

So here is a compilation of some of our thoughts, pre- during, and post-game of last weekend–the match in question being Sunday’s late Serie A matchup in Turin, which ended in a decisive 3-0 win for league-leading and two-time defending domestic champion Juventus over unexpected challengers Roma.

This match, at the halfway point of the season, was going to essentially decide whether there would be a Scudetto race the rest of the way. Going in, Juve was 5pts ahead of Roma in the Serie A table–even though Roma remarkably entered undefeated (Juve’s line: 15W 1D 1L -> 46pts; Roma: 12W 5D 0L -> 41pts).

But Roma had lost the momentum going into the winter holiday break. After starting the season with a record 10 wins in their first 10 fixtures, they slumped to 5 draws in the last 7 fixtures of 2013 (cf the Guardian’s handy Stats Centre, which includes team-by-team league form and league position time series.).  For accounts of that magica-l early season form, see Paolo Bandini in the Guardian (“Roma’s resurrection embodied by Francesco Totti but made by Rudi Garcia“) and Gabriele Marcotti in the WSJ (“Manager Rudi Garcia’s Tactics Spark Turnaround at Roma Soccer“), both writing in early October.

Meanwhile, Juve had dropped points early in the season with a draw at Inter and a shocking 4-2 loss at Fiorentina–but they won the rest of their league matches, finally pulling past Roma into the top spot in late November.

The 5-point gap at the New Year meant a Juve win Sunday would result in I bianconeri basically sewing up their 3rd straight Scudetto, while a Roma upset would mean the race would be back on.
One match preview worth reading, even now post-match, is by tactical guru Michael Cox, focusing on who he claims are Serie A’s two best midfielders,  La Vecchia Signora’s Chilean attacking Arturo Vidal & Roma’s Dutch deeper-lying Kevin Strootman:
(One of the themes of our match previews and reports over the next 5 months will be pointing you towards players to watch ahead of this summer’s World Cup–keep an eye out for Vidal and Strootman this summer, as well as Juve’s other midfielders: young Frenchman Paul Pogba, and Italians Claudio Marchisio and of course elder statesman Andrea Pirlo.  Roma’s Daniele de Rossi may also feature for the Azurri in midfield.)
In response to this link, our Roman amico Simeone wrote:
Definitely, the game will be decided in the middle…Pirlo-Vidal-Marchisio vs Pjanic-Strootman-De Rossi. WOW !!
I think Juve is still better in the middle, but if Pjanic and Totti (with Gervinho) have a good day, the match will be really fast-paced and exciting to watch.
And I wouldn’t discard the role of Maicon, he is a crazy player who excels in big games….and there on the right Juve is not strong….
Roma must be fast, very fast in counter attacks because Juve’s defense can be beaten by speed only.
I hope Roma wins, it would be good for Serie A and for all the Magica fans….
I wish we could watch it together !!
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to watch it together, and even more unfortunately for all the Magica fans, the game went against Roma from very nearly the beginning. Trunchfiddle’s halftime report:
I’ve got a nice clean English language sopcast feed running on the desktop.
Saw the Juventus goal. Made by Tevez, scored by Vidal.  Tevez has still got it.
Pogba is very good. He’s a blur in the open field and has a shot like a rocket. His and Vidal’s hairstyles are some next level shit.
Juve look very dangerous in the attacking third (and on the counter). Nice intricate passing and movement, very pleasing on the eye.
Roma apparently held more possession before the first 20 mins, but I didn’t see it. Their play is also nice to watch, very attacking but not nearly as sharp or intricate as Juve’s.
Totti flopping all over the place. Gervinho wearing some kind of headband.
And now James Richardson running the halftime show for BT Sport
Coach Larry weighed in with a few words at halftime–or rather just after halftime:
Roma just seem a couple steps too slow. Have done little threatening from their extra possession. Pjanic been suffering with some sort if knee issue.
Now Roma don’t react at all to a free kick to the far post, late runner Bonucci slides it home. This match is over.
That 2nd Juve goal came in the 48′, and did effectively end the match. Well, if it didn’t end prematurely then, it certainly did just after I tuned in, at the 75′, when Roma’s captain Daniele de Rossi, clearly a step slow even chasing Juve’s defender Giorgio Chiellini down the flank, went in two-footed after Chiellini had crossed the ball, and earned himself a straight red. Off the ensuing free kick, some more poor set-piece defending resulted in a Suarezian goal line clearance by Roma defender Leandro Castan and a Juve PK for a gravy 3rd goal.
It was Castan’s 2nd ignominious moment of the match–it was Castan that lost his mark on the earlier free kick for Juve’s 2nd goal.  Indeed, here were Simeone’s words Monday morning:
I owe you few words after yesterday….
First, yes, Serie A was available on dish in 2001. [in response to an unrelated Serie A question]
Regarding the game, although I liked the way we started it, and overall the whole first half, I was worried because Juventus was playing the game that we were supposed to play: stay calm, wait for their attacks and punish with lethal counter attacks. I was thinking “Look at that smartass of Conte, he is waiting for us to show off how good we are and he will punish us on the first real chance…..son of a b….!!”. And that is what happened….The match was decided by few episodes and it seems like everything is going in Juve’s advantage these days.
Unfortunately De Rossi and Totti didn’t play well and Castan made a huge mistake on the 2nd goal (unusual for him), which kind of ended the game for me. Strootman is a giant. I love that player. The rest is history. Now, unless Juve thinks that they already won, there is no way they will lose this scudetto….;-(
Ciao….

Commentary

CultFootball’s Best (and Worst (and Random Medium)) of 2013

January 1, 2014 — by Suman

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2013 was a relatively quiet year on the pages of CultFootball. A mere 20 posts (which is actually more than I would’ve guessed), and the majority of those in Q1.  Keeping us afloat with quality content, to a large extent, was Tyrannosoccer Rex‘s ongoing (we hope) Dictators and Soccers series.

We have grand plans to pick things up in 2014, in particular in preparation for our 4th anniversary, which happens to coincide with a little footy tournament to be played in Brazil this summer (or should we say winter?  That’s going to be confusing)

But for now, here’s a group-post–our best and worst of 2013:

Via PoliticalFootballs:

Best moments of the year I will send over soon, but I’d be able to give you the worst ones much quicker.
West ham 3-0 at the lane
Liverpool 5-0 at the lane
City 6-0 at the Etihad
One of the best was bale last minute winner versus west ham. Pure class.
Via trunchfiddle:
My memorable moment was this morning when J sassed S in the liga fabulosa thread.

 

Backstory: too long to recount here.

But Liga Fabulosa, and in particular it’s email listserv, is the source of one of my personal memorable moments of the year: when a woman we’d never heard of or from wrote our weekend game listserv with the following link: http://thevillager.com/2011/12/01/me-and-the-soccer-guys/

(The detailed and erudite match reports mentioned therein are crafted by infrequent CultFootball contributing writer Edinho–you can sample one his match reports from the previous year here, when he paid a visit to Craven Cottage.)
Via Tyrannosoccer, in his Gunnersaurus mode:
Worst of 2013:
Getting Baled in Spurs match before Bayern match that turned everything around. Followed by June, July, most of August. Learning we did not succeed in ridding ourselves of Bendtner. Learning we bid on Suarez (this is complicated–he is incredible, but we were never going to get him, I wish we hadn’t been seen to be wanting to sign him, there is to me definitely principle involved…), dithering about on Higuain, learning Higuain dived face-first into submerged rocks (ok, this I just found painful to think of, but didn’t affect me much).Best of 2013:Discovering AVB’s “negative spiral” was an accurate prediction, just about the wrong North London club.
Learning Ozil signed.
Successfully enduring the 2 wk intl break to see if Ozil would survive to play for Arsenal and seeing he was even better than I thought he was.
Ozil masterminding Napoli blitz, his goal for the 2nd (goal, not match).
Ramsey.
Actually, miraculously in first not only at year’s end but for 90 days or whatever. Unheard of, in my fanship.Random medium 2013: Chicago bartender diss yesterday unwitnessed by me.To timed perfection, I’ve been an Arsenal fan since fall 2005, which makes me the same as the 8-year Arsenal veteran douchey suds purveyor Larry encountered yonder morn.

THC offers up audio and video:
Best of 2013? Best of the decade?

Or if everyone has seen enough of it, how about the audio? The collective awe as it unfolds, the cheer, and the satisfaction of the replay.
Coach Larry’s “best of”:
Suarez staying.
NBC doing a good job, even showing low table matches on NBC itself.
and of course, Port Vale promotion!  Up the Valiants!
Snow Game
In reply to the last line, THC follows up–since he was there:
Ah, good one. Forgot about that–seems like more than nine months since then.I was just showing pictures of the snow game to my 8 year-old niece during Christmas. She was confused: the dry field when I arrived, snowplows to keep the lines visible, grown men in patriotic spandex at the concessions, Alexi Lalas being paid to speak…
Via hiphophorey:
My best of 2013 is the departure of Ken Bates. There is an optimism in the air and it shows in the support from the fans and I think even from the players. An injection of investment from the new new owners may go a long way in the promotion fight.
We’re sort of a lazy bunch, so we may still get some best of last year submissions in the new year. Check back for updates!

CommentaryEnglandWorld Cup

Suárez Scores Goals, Rocks Boats, Alienates People—–Breaking News

December 6, 2013 — by Rob Kirby

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Liverpool striker Luis Suárez is in amazing form, the kind of form that makes a Big Red fan forget about the summer past. That whole lark about the Uruguayan wanting to leave the club, doing anything to leave the club, saying he had a verbal agreement with the club that he could leave, and then the manager Brendan Rodgers essentially called him a liar. None of this matters now at LFC, because he’s in the form of his life, leading the goal charts in England despite missing the first six matches of the season by dint of violent conduct (with his teeth).

Suárez’s run has displayed the sort of impeccable form you can’t help but admire, possibly with jealousy, as an opposition fan, though it doesn’t remotely trigger the Red Liverpuddlian amnesia regarding his back-to-back biting incidents at Ajax and Liverpool. Nor his alleged punch on a Chilean defender in World Cup qualifiers, unseen by the ref at the time, left to slide afterwards. The deliberate handball to block an extra-time inbound header, denying Ghana a goal and ultimately (with a missed penalty) passage to the next round of the 2010 World Cup. And lastly, the man who said that what he said to Patrice Evra wasn’t racist in Uruguay but, upon learning the English connotation of “negro” (Spanish pronunciation), still decided to blank Evra in the next Liverpool-United handshake. He intentionally dumped fuel on the fire in now-full knowledge, he refused to back down despite the fact that both club and manager ordered him to shake Evra’s hand.

Anyhow, just watching the 90 minutes in the midweek match against Norwich, 4 goals and an assist for the fifth, the first and third goals of the most insanely incredible quality, leaves you convinced. Luis Suárez has undoubtedly ripped the mantle of best striker in the league from whomever held it last (Robin van Persie has a hurt shoulder socket in addition to his ongoing groin and/or toe problem). He receives nothing like the service of Agüero, but it doesn’t matter. He ultimately scores when he wants. Despite missing the first six matches of the season through suspension, he’s the league’s high scorer, at 13. He’s scored more goals than games played.

Liverpool fans see his work rate, his final product, their place in the table, and assorted clips of him as warm and fuzzy with his young family and generally think, serenity now, summer water under the bridge. And Suárez does give a hundred percent in everything for the team. He’s just not necessarily as tied up in what that team is at the moment. The Suárez agitation in the press was first portrayed as possibly mistranslated words to the Uruguayan press. That is, until he gave an interview with the Guardian officially announcing a desire to move and a supposed reneging on a verbal promise with Brendan Rodgers and the management. Brendan Rodgers outright denied the claim, declaring Suárez would have to apologize to the team and the manager about what was presumably a bald-faced lie.

All this, of course, transpired through not only an interminable summer with bizarre £40,000,001 bids but also during his 10-game ban for unprovokedly and inexplicably biting Branislav Ivanović in the late Spring matchup against Chelsea. Which followed a November 2010 chomp on a PSV player while at Ajax. Ajax promptly sold Suárez–he had, after all, come to them after a highly-public, acrimonious departure from his former club Groningen, whom he took to an arbitration court but against whom he lost as the court found against him. Everyone recognized a genius with a trouble streak. And with the genius came the occasional Mike Tyson special.

If Suárez gets a pass for a different original cultural connotation to what began the furor with Evra/FA racism charge, he can’t claim that for directly countermanding the orders to club and manger to shake Evra’s hand–a question of interminable interest to the prematch proceedings. He served his eight-game suspension, he coughed up an £40,000 fine, but he chose not to shake Evra’s hand, despite now knowing the public opinion, which ranks as insubordinate, if nothing else. It smacks of acting bigger than the club, something Liverpool fans perennially claim the club will never tolerate, despite all present evidence to the contrary. Yet, as with Stoke and the fans’ continual booing of Ramsey for appallingly forcing Shawcross to act recklessly, break Ramsey’s leg and sideline Ramsey for over a year, club loyalty can cloud the vision, especially with regard to a far-and-away star player like Suárez. The man literally creates goals out of nothing. Who doesn’t love a magician?

Suárez and his goalie’s instincts helped Uruguay claim 4th at the 2010 World Cup. (He later said of the goalmouth handball, “I made the save of the tournament.”) After steering Uruguay to its 15th Copa América in 2011, he won player of the tournament. He’s Uruguay’s all time highest scorer and leads the Barclay’s/English Premier League in goals with 13, despite having missed the opening 6 matches thanks to his summer-spanning biting ban. Uruguay go the the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on his shoulders, and Liverpool’s top-four ambitions rely on him just as pivotally.

As a serial disciplinary case and goal muncher, however, he has no compare. But unlike John Terry, he’s not sleeping with wives and girlfriends of best friends/teammates. So, there’s always that. And he scores more goals, slips less hilariously, has a better pistolero goal celebration.

He’s a great player who acts periodically violent/dirty towards opposition players and has an on-again, off-again relationship with his club. He will almost undoubtedly turn on Liverpool again at some point. If and when that happens, we’ll see how everyone feels about the man who currently divides so much opinion. Liverpool fans may then remember a couple things that bugged them at the time, something naggingly disloyal, perhaps, which at present they can’t quite put their fingers on.