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Extreme Makeover Football Edition: What Michael Vick, John Terry, and Joey Barton Tell Us about Media Rehabilitation in 2012

July 30, 2012 — by Ryan


Recently, Michael Vick appeared on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (PTI).  Vick appeared on PTI to plug his new book, Finally Free: The Power of a Second Chance. In his nearly eight minute interview, the Philadelphia Eagles star openly acknowledged his problematic past and while contrite and thoughtful he also admitted the book was also an attempt to end the conversation about his history. “We can talk football, we can talk other personal things but let’s not talk about my past, let’s leave it where it is.”

Vick’s career and life provide insights into several aspects of sport including race, and media rehabilitation.  After serving hard time in prison for dog fighting, Vick’s efforts in rehabilitating his career, image, and persona have been notable.  Finally Free is really the last leg in a Michael Vick public relations campaign to undercut those who see Vick as little more than a talented, underachieving, amoral mercenary dog torturing athlete.

For years, Vick has worked with the Humane Society filming PSA’s and making appearances in the name of animal rights. Yet, as Vick seems to becoming full circle, this summer a prominent English footballer finds himself regarded as a talented but maligned influence.  Much like Vick, the trial of John Terry provides insights into many of the same issues, but knowing Terry’s character (as will be explained) a reversal of Michael Vick proportions seems unlikely.  Instead of the thoughtful, long term, self-reflective, and honest effort by Vick, Terry should go for the superficial answer much like his manic violent Newcastle peer Joey Barton.

The Trial of the Century?

In the second week of July, one of the most anticipated summer trials in all of England ended with a predictable acquittal. John Terry, Chelsea’s stalwart defender and starter for the English national team, was found not guilty of racially abusing another player.   Accused of directing a racial profanity toward QPR defender Anton Ferdinand (Terry allegedly called him a “black cunt”), Terry professed his innocence, even taking the stand to relate to the court how soccer players interact on the pitch.

The trial itself played out in tragic-comic fashion via the New York Times.  Needless to say, the language exchanged between opposing players at any level can reach rather dicey levels as insults directed at one’s family members prove quite common.  In college, I roomed with a female soccer player who admitted to once using a remark about child molestation to get under the skin of the forward she was marking and that was Division III soccer.  Between amateur and professional male athletes, mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives bear the brunt of such insults, just ask Zidane who sacrificed France’s 2002 World Cup to defend his sister’s honor (Italian Player Marco Materazzi later admitted to more or less calling her a whore).   The Daily Mail quoted Terry pointing out that “players routinely tell each other they ‘s***’ each other’s partners.” It got even worse, as during testimony Terry further admitted “that conversations between players descend to degrading levels during the heat of battle in the Barclays Premier League.” Do tell?

Remember when you liked me?

Of course anyone who uses the Times as a source for such prurient details was disappointed argued the Atlantic’s Alexander Abad-Santos. Abad-Santos pointed out that the Times policy of neutering language to avoid controversy had turned “a NSFW cluster-cuss into the most sterile argument ever,” he noted.  At least the Times gave us all stateside some new slang: handbags as in “this whole thing is handbags” or much to do about nothing as Chelsea teammate Ashley Cole described the whole affair.  Terry portrayed his interaction with Ferdinand similarly. “As the argument on the field became more heated, Mr. Terry at one point compared Mr. Ferdinand to male genitalia, and then to female genitalia, in consecutive sentences.  Most of these constituted ‘handbags,’ or ‘normal verbal exchanges between the players,’ reported the Times.”  In the end, though damaging, the Times coverage remained so awkward, one could be forgiven if distracted.  Again, this played to Terry’s favor, as the ridiculousness of this aspect of the trial overshadowed its more serious themes. Remember, Luis Suarez received an eight game ban for a racial outburst toward Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and then inflamed matters when he refused to shake Evra’s hand several weeks later when the two teams met in competition. By contravening pre-match tradition, Suarez reignited questions about his character and apparent racism. It got worse last week when Suarez blamed his ban and subsequent controversy on Man U’s “political power.” Is Suarez the Richard Nixon of the EPL, constantly and unfairly under siege, abrasive and contentious but oddly talented and always the victim?  Who’s to say?

Granted some might argue, John Terry’s alleged racism though vile, doesn’t hurt anyone or thing physically while Michael Vick’s actions resulted in mutilated animals and disturbing levels of violence.  Others might point out that discursive racism can lead to violence against ethnic, racial, and religious groups accordingly, John Terry needs to be punished for contributing to such discourse.  In Vick’s case race played an important role, but secondarily. Race played a role in perceptions or how people viewed him.  Most people – black, white, brown, yellow etc – were rightly horrified when the stories of his dog fighting facility emerged. The reaction to this might have been racial but the underlying facts of the case were not. From established press, (ESPN The Magazine published a controversial article titled “What If Michael Vick were White?”) to the attentions of more academic bloggers, numerous outlets have reflected on what Vick’s career and image mean.   Sure Vick’s case involved very volatile emotions regarding animal rights, but plenty of non-white folks feel strongly about their animal brethren.

In regard to John Terry, his case shows that lingering pockets of racial tension persist in the EPL and more widely, Europe. Though numerous ex-coaches and current teammates vouched for his impeccable unbiased nature, others remained silent on the issue including Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother. Racism has been a recurring problem in soccer across “the continent” and internationally.  Franklin Foer demonstrated sectarian, ethnic, and racial hatreds perpetuated by soccer fans and players in various parts of Europe in his book, How Soccer Explains the World.  More recently, Italy’s Mario Balotelli accused Croatian fans of making racist taunts during the two teams’ encounter at this summer’s European Championship.  Go to present day Poland and Ukraine where some clubs’ fans openly employ Nazi salutes and make references to the holocaust.  When the Times noted that the trial revealed divisive schisms in “the close-knit world of Premier League soccer,” it seemed unsurprising.  After all, though Chelsea won the Champion’s Cup this year, they struggled through their domestic campaign.  Rumors floated around that the team’s Spanish and Portuguese speakers supported doomed coach Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) while the older English speaking players resisted the European tactics he brought to the table.   Soccer’s swirling mix of cultures and styles, though enormously beneficial on the whole can sometimes clash.  Terry probably deserved some credit/blame for AVB’s departure mid-season.

Of course, the efficacy of such trials and the FA general policy deserve some scrutiny. The FA has rightly targeted racism to be squashed; undoubtedly a noble and worthwhile effort.  However, the effects of this policy seem less clear.  Suarez remains unchanged by his punishment, should we expect any different from Terry?  Add to it, that following the trial, Rio Ferdinand fell under FA investigation for replying in the affirmative to a tweet that Ashley Cole (who is black) amounted to “choc ice” (basically meaning black on the outside, and white on the inside) for testifying in Terry’s favor.  Ferdinand responded to accusations of racism, how else, via twitter: “What I said yesterday is not a racist term. It’s a type of slang/term used by many for someone who is being fake. So there.” Should Ferdinand be reprimanded? Does the FA want to adopt the heavy handed tactics of Roger Goodell’s NFL?  When Emmanuel Frimpong of Arsenal (on loan to Wolves) responded to a hostile posting by a Tottenham Fan with “Scum Yid”,  Frimpong promptly removed the comment from his twitter feed, but shouldn’t he be punished too?  Add to it, the complexity of Tottenham’s identify, which Foer documented. Having once been home to a large Jewish fan base, many Tottenham fans adopted the term Yid as a means to undercut the term’s viciousness. “Instead of denouncing the Jews as pollutants to the nation, chunks of the working class have identified themselves as Jewish, even if only in the spirit of irony.” (Foer, 85) While an improvement on anti-Semitic violence, it still leaves Jews as cartoons, outsiders, or “others” in European minds. The point is the FA policy and its ramifications can be dizzying.

With that said, the fact that Terry had to sweat it out on this, makes this writer feel better. Yet, enough doubt remains regarding his true racial beliefs that it might be good to consider the full man.  When one does, you find a man guilty of much more than racism. Outside his significant soccer talent, consider his other claims to fame. On 9/11 he drunkenly mocked American tourists at Heathrow Airport. In January of 2002 Terry assaulted a nightclub bouncer resulting in his suspension from the English national side thereby forfeiting his shot at that year’s World Cup. In November of 2006, Terry allegedly racially abused Tottenham’s Ledley King.  A 10,000 pound fine was levied for “inappropriate conduct.” He cheated on his fiancé Toni Pooole with a 17 year old girl in a London parking lot in 2007. Three years later, Terry famously slept with the girlfriend and of his best friend and English teammate Wayne Bridge.  This led opposing fans to chant “Oh wherever you maybe, don’t leave your wife with John Terry!”  Sure there are other incidents but really, you get the point.

No handshake for you!

Even if John Terry needed a Michael Vick sized make over, I’m not sure he could pull one off. Intellectually, Vick’s pretty sharp, John Terry reminds this writer of Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda.   So how does the former captain of the English national team rehabilitate his image? Well first, play well and win; avoid being sent off in critical Champion’s Cup matches for openly kneeing people in the back.  After that it is simple really, John Terry needs to open a twitter account and grow a mustache: the superficial answer for a superficial man.

John Terry, Joey Barton, and the Future of Football Public Relations

Does that seem flippant? Perhaps, but new social media like twitter, not around when Vick returned to professional athletics, enables athletes to escape the “filter” of the traditional media.  Certain stylistic accoutrements like wild haircuts or distinct facial hair do well to draw attention away from volatile personalities.  Vick’s earnest and hard won second chance came as result of jail time, open contrition, athletic success, and persistent attempts – through PSA’s and now his book – to change the conversation about his image.  The example of Joey Barton provides the 2K12 route to “rehabilitation.”  Be assured, as evidenced by Barton’s season finale, the route remains skin deep, but are there more apt words for Chelsea’s 31 year old defender?

Much like Terry, Barton’s personnel history vibrates with the controversy, but perhaps more disturbingly than his Chelsea counterpart. In 2002, Barton extinguished a cigar in they eye of his teammate Jamie Tandy.  In 2007, a fight between himself and teammate Ousmane Dabore ended with Dabore bleeding from the ears. Speaking on the issue four years later, Barton expressed little remorse: “Frankly, Ousmane is a little pussy. Where I come from, when you fight there is no rule. You fight ‘til it’s over.'”  Soon after the Dabore exchange, Barton assaulted a man outside a Liverpool McDonalds, punching him twenty times in the head.  Barton served 77 days in prison for his crime.  Yet, if not for a psychotic outburst in his team’s season ending match this year, in much of the public’s eyes Barton had been rehabilitated.  Granted, his bizarre antics against Manchester City (resulting in a 12 game suspension next year) poisoned much of the work he had done in rebranding himself, but his example would serve John Terry well.

Sometime in 2009, Barton opened a twitter account and began randomly posting philosophical twitter messages. His tweets ranged from quotes by George Orwell  (“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”) and Fredrich Nietchze (“Whoever feels predestined to see and not to believe will find all believers too noisy and push; he guards against them.”) to political diatribes (“Why are British troops in conflict zones risking their lives, on America’s behalf? Supporting a fascist regimes ideologies? Bring them home.”) to an homage to the Smiths (“There is a light that never goes out”………The Smiths! Best song ever written. Thanks marr / mozza for getting me through that drive….”) He visited art galleries and told soccer fans all about them.

Then in 2010, Barton glommed on to one of the oldest tricks in the book: the mustache. The midfielder promised not to shave his newly acquired mustache until Newcastle recorded a victory.  It didn’t take too long, by August 22, Barton and his Newcastle teammates had thumped Aston Villa.  Still, by this point, Barton had tapped into his inner Magnum P.I.  His twitter feed and mustache drew attention away from his clearly unstable nature.  Sure we used to equate mustaches with totalitarianism (has their ever been two more famous mustaches than those of Uncle Joe Stalin and Adolph Hitler), but today even Michael Jordan rocks a mustache that many argue looks very similar to that of a certain genocidal German.  Today’s famous mustaches range from the conservative American Patriot Ron Swanson (“Parks and Rec”) to the businesslike Stringer Bell (The Wire) to ubiquitous “ironic” or  hipster mustache (really a character like Swanson and Bell unto itself – see Jude Law here for celebrity example).  People began talking about the quirky, mustachioed twitter happy Barton, not the thuggish freak that served over two months in prison.

Barton in a long line of football hipster ‘staches

Joey Barton’s angled masterpiece was a combination of Brooklyn Flea artisan and Toledo used car salesman; in other words, “creative everyman”, if everyman only sold tricked out El Caminos that came with a free Rites of Spring discography.  With a mustache, Joey Barton’s previous violent outbursts became ironic acts of cognitive dissonance.  “I beat that man senseless because of how futile I think violence is, don’t you get it?  I tweet Nietchze!” In the same way, Terry needs to grow a mustache and maybe tweet out some obscure Foucault quote about bio-politics or something.  Then his acts of racism become nothing more the deadening affects of governmentality.  See you aren’t even sure what that means and honestly neither am I. That’s the point.  Terry’s set the bar so low, even a spark of intellect promises a wildfire of good publicity.  Besides, all that talk of salty language at the trial reinforced the idea that players say such inappropriate things, John Terry’s outburst, whatever it really was, simply reflected this.  All Terry needs to do is back that up with some reference to the power of discourse and he’ll have an army of anthropologists looking to complete their dissertations on the culture of profanity in football.

One might suggest fellow alleged racist Liverpool’s Luis Suarez grow his own mustache. Yet, as Roger Bennett and Michael Davies of the Men in Blazers podcast are found of pointing out, Suarez has Anne Hathaway sized teeth: the kind you see in nightmares about the dentist or eating carrots.  No, a mustache on Luis would leave him resembling one of those caricature drawings you get at theme parks.  Mr. Suarez will have to discover some other way to hide his unpleasant personality and casual bigotry.

Suarez’s choppers

In today’s over saturated media, nobody reads books.  Vick deserves credit for a well earned climb back to respectability.  Some will forever see him as a torturer of animals and this is how it must be.  Actions have consequences, in addition to jail, there will be some people he will never reach. Vick served two years in Leavenworth.  That’s real time alone, in a very bad place.  So even if you hate him, you must admit he’s done some thinking on his crime. John Terry, Luis Suarez, and Joey Barton are different sorts who lack the sincerity of Vick and in Suarez’s case any sense of responsibility. Likewise, John Terry thinks his trial “handbags”, so a real conversion appears unlikely.  Say what you want about Vick, but the man has suffered for his crimes and reflected upon them honestly. If we must settle for mealy-mouthed P.R. campaigns dedicated to scrubbing John Terry’s history clean let it be one as entertaining, hirsute, and schizophrentic as that of Joey Barton. That way fans will know it’s all a show and won’t be disappointed when Terry, Suarez, Barton or some other EPL lug decides to travel down the rabbit hole of racism.

CommentaryEuro 2012EuropeItalySpain

The Great American TV Tune-In

July 4, 2012 — by Rob Kirby


Expect to see more soccer on American TV.

The trend of increasing U.S. TV soccer viewership continued with the 2012 European Championship, with Americans tuning in throughout the tournament but particularly for Spain’s 4-0 mauling of 10-man Italy in the final. As such, even new viewers could probably repeat the super-over-reported stat that Spain became not only the first country to win consecutive Euros but also the first to win an unprecedented three major international tournaments in a row, factoring in the 2010 World Cup. But since the achievement really is pretty phenomenal, we’ll repeat it, too.

Overall, the U.S. audience jumped 51% over that of Euro 2008. The surge is particularly striking when you consider that the numbers include no big-four broadcast network coverage, but rather just ESPN. (ABC and ESPN partnered in 2008.)

Top Viewership Numbers in Euro 2008 and Euro 2012:

Sun, July 1, 2012          ESPN      Spain vs. Italy 4,068,000
Sun, June 29, 2008      ABC         Germany vs. Spain     3,761,000
Sun, June 24, 2012      ESPN      England vs. Italy     2,968,000
Sun, June 10, 2012      ESPN      Spain vs. Italy     2,113,000
Wed, June 27, 2012     ESPN      Spain vs. Portugal     1,952,000
Sun, June 22, 2008      ESPN       Spain vs. Italy     1,911,000
Thu, June 28, 2012      ESPN      Germany vs. Italy     1,851,000
Sat, June 21, 2008        ABC         Netherlands vs. Russia     1,838,000
Sat, June 9, 2012          ESPN       Germany vs. Portugal     1,798,000
Sat, June 23, 2012        ESPN2     Spain vs. France     1,758,000

Considering the final week of the tournament coincided with Wimbledon, the Tour de France and various golf tournaments, the numbers actually mean something. It’s not like there was nothing else on TV. Some speculate that England’s entry into the quarterfinals helped garner the attention of their American cousins, or perhaps new viewers tuned in to learn what all the fuss was about with regard to Spain. Hard to know. Regardless, the objective data will make broadcasters and advertisers take note.

Over the course of 31 matches in the three-week tournament, an average of 1,300,000 viewers tuned in, versus the 859,000 viewer average in 2008.

Incidentally, these numbers reflect English language broadcast only. On Spanish-language TV, the final posted a 28% uptick in viewers, for an ESPN Deportes total of 1,125,000 viewers, making it the second highest-rated European soccer match ever on a Spanish-language sports cable network.

Euro 2012Preview

Il gran finale di Euro 2012: España contra Italia

July 1, 2012 — by Suman1


The 30 (24+4+2) matches of Euro 2012 over the past 23 days have led to the finale, later today in the Ukrainian capital’s Olympic Stadium:

Euro 2012 Final :

1 July 2012
Spain Spain Italy Italy
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Olympic Stadium, Kyiv (UKR)


We’ll be gathering to watch at CultFootball HQ West, which should make for a good viewing atmosphere–not least because of one us is partial to Spain (arising from a longtime affinity for Dutch total football, through to Barcelona starting in the ’90s under Cryuff (& with Cocu, Kluivert, Overmars), to the technical brilliance to today’s tiki-taka); while the other has a rooting roots for Gli Azzurri (Italian ancestors plus childhood Saturdays spent watching the Serie A match of the week on the broadcast Italian channel, not to mention years spent as a defender).  

We plan to be live on the site–if not actually live blogging (something we haven’t done since the Spain-Netherlands match almost exactly two years ago), at least live in the comments below.

It is a great matchup for the finale of what’s been a great tournament–hopefully it will be a grande finale, living up to the high expectations the footysphere has for it.  Here is Daniel Taylor’s lede to his match preview–“Spain hope to pass into history as Italy look to Pirlo“:

Euro 2012 has been a success in many ways but is still waiting for its first classic match in the knockout stages. If a good tournament wants to be remembered as a great one a lot depends on what happens in the Olympic Stadium here on Sunday and whether the two finalists can conjure up the occasion the competition probably deserves.

Spain against Italy certainly has the potential after what the two teams served up, as a kind of appetiser, when they had a first look at one another during the group stages in Gdansk three weeks ago. Spain demonstrated that night, as they have before and since, that they will almost certainly dominate the possession, but there are legitimate reasons for Italy to deduce that the holders can be at least vaguely susceptible to the right combination of smothering tactics and quick, incisive attacking.

Similarly from another of Guardian Football’s columnists–“Potent Italy may be saving their best until last | Paul Wilson“:

What a wonderful tournament. Everyone seems to be saying so, whether out there or following the action on television at home. Great goals, notable performances, a consistently high standard of football and unexpected results right up until the closing stages. Even the final is being eagerly anticipated, and that has not always been the case in recent years.

Euro 2012’s last twist pits the favourites, Spain, on the verge of winning an unprecedented third modern tournament in a row, against the dark horses, Italy, who made such short work of Germany in the semi-final they must have a decent chance of springing one last surprise.

Some more pregame reading from Michael Cox, aka @Zonal_Marking:


CommentaryEuro 2012

Euro 2012: Semifinals Wrapup

July 1, 2012 — by Suman2


After four relatively disappointing quarterfinal matches, we hoped the two semifinal matches would live up to high expectations. Here is Sid Lowe writing right after the quarterfinals ended and the semifinal matchups were set:

Spain versus Portugal, Germany versus Italy. The semi-finals couldn’t be better. Packed with plots and sub-plots, redemption and revenge, history oozes through them. There is something big, something historic, something right about these match-ups. For Spain, “historic” could be meant literally. They are chasing a unique treble: no one has won consecutive European, world and European titles before. The closest were West Germany; they lost the 1976 final to the Czechs when Antonin Panenka took the penalty that Andrea Pirlo emulated.

The first semifinal certainly had plots and sub-plots: the intra-Iberian rivalry, a close Round of 16 match at World Cup 2010, Cristiano Ronaldo trying to carry Portugal practically by himself, backed by Real Madrid teammates Pepe and Fábio Coentrão, going up against another set of Real Madrid teammates (their club and Spain’s captain Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Álvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos) combined with the core of archrival Barcelona (Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquest, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Pedro Rodríguez)–albeit lacking Ronaldo’s nemesis Lio Messi of course, but who was also a sub-plot to the tournament, as Ronaldo sought to finally accomplish with this tournament one of the few footballing successes Messi yet hasn’t.

The match itself was odd. The first half was compelling, as Portugal came out to play: pressing Spain, disrupting their usual strangehold on possession, making moves and getting the ball forward into some potentially dangerous positions.  Indeed, ZonalMarking headlined his match summary “Portugal upset Spain’s rhythm…”

But that was only the first half of the match–and the first half of ZM’s headline.  The 2nd half was desultory, with neither team creating much of interest. And for all of Portugal’s attempt to take the game to Spain, the 2nd half of ZM’s title was “..but fail to record a shot on target.”  That’s right–not a single shot on target for Portugal in 120 minutes of scoreless play.  Spain wasn’t much better in regulation. But contrary to the conventional wisdom that they might wilt given they were playing with two days less rest than Portugal, Spain found new life in extra time, thanks in great part to speedy wide forwards Pedro and Jesús Navas. (After Vincente del Bosque’s experiment of starting central striker Álvaro Negredo having failed. We still can’t believe striker Fernando Llorente hasn’t seen the field at all the entire tourament!)

It looked like Spain was going to repeat the feat of the World Cup final two years ago, with a winning goal in extra time–from Iniesta in particular, who couldn’t put a golden chance past Portuguese keeper Rui Patrício (who made a few big saves; plays for Sporting CP btw), created by a great attack and pass by Pedro. At this point Portugal looked spent, hanging on for penalties.

Like Italy-England three days earlier, penalties provided a memorable finish to an otherwise forgettable match. And like Italy-England, the shootout featured a Panenka, but from an unlikelier source than the cool Pirlo–here it was hard and hotheaded defender Sergio Ramos who surprised (especially after he skied his shot into the cheap seats in the shootout that ended Real Madrid Champions League campaign against Bayern in the spring). But there was more that will stick in the mind from this shootout: Nani pulling back Bruno Alves to take Portugal’s 3rd penalty; Alves then taking Portugal’s 4th, which he banged off the crossbar; Cesc stepping up to take Spain’s 5th, which he caromed in off the post, clinching the match for Spain, just as he hit the winning penalty in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals against Italy–and on this night leaving Cristiano Ronaldo at midfield shaking his head, not even having taken a kick, after being slotted for Portugal’s 5th shot!

So after four quarterfinal matches and one semifinal that less than impressed in footballing terms, it was left to a classic matchup in the last semifinal, which came through and provided a classic match. The memorable box score:
Although it Pirlo was again named Man of the Match, it was Balotelli’s evening. From Daniel Taylor’s match report, filed Thursday night from Warsaw:
It was the night Mario Balotelli announced himself as a serious, grown-up footballer, capable of shaping the bigger occasions. There have been plenty of times he has threatened it before but he has never shown so much efficiency and clinical, sometimes devastating, centre-forward play, or the unmistakable sense that he is unwilling to jeopardise all that raw ability with something far less endearing.
The outcome is that Italy will meet Spain at the Olympic Stadium, Kiev, on Sunday whereas Germany are denied a 14th appearance in the final of a major tournament and will be able to testify, in great detail, what a formidable opponent Balotelli is when his mind is clear and his only motivation is to demonstrate those qualities of penetration, directness and powerful finishing.
The two fantastic goals, which came largely against the run of play, and broke Germany’s spirit.  And the celebrations–it turns out “Il Postino” does celebrate, at least after a delivery like this:

And after a night like that:

“Tonight was the most beautiful of my life. I’ve waited for this moment so long, and it was even more special given that my mother came to watch and I so wanted to make her happy. After the game I went over to her and said: ‘Those goals are for you.'”


The details of the semifinal results, with links to’s match reports/facts:

27 June 2012
Portugal Portugal 0-0 Spain Spain
Spain win 4-2 on penalties
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR) – Stadium: Donbass Arena, Donetsk (UKR)

28 June 2012
Germany Germany 1-2 Italy Italy
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (FRA) – Stadium: National Stadium Warsaw, Warsaw (POL)


CommentaryEuro 2012

Euro 2012: Quarterfinals Wrapup

June 30, 2012 — by Suman


After a tremendously fun twelve days of Euro2012 group stage matches, we found the knockout phase over the past week a bit of a letdown. Well, until the 2nd semifinal match on Thursday.

(This was originally going to be a wrapup of the quarters and semis, but got long enough with just the quarters. See here for some thoughts on the semifinals.)

The quarterfinals were all one-sided, at least in terms of possession and chances created. Indeed, they fell into the Manichean proactive/reactive divide that Jonathan Wilson identified early in the tournament, in a column about “the flaw of tiki-taka“:

A clear pattern has emerged from the first round of group games at Euro 2012. Holland against Denmark, Germany against Portugal, Spain against Italy, Ireland against Croatia, France against England, the first half of Poland against Greece: each have featured one proactive team taking the game to the opposition; one reactive team sitting deep with compact lines absorbing the pressure, trying to restrict the opposition and looking to score either from counter-attacks or set-plays.

That was also the pattern that emerged in the quarterfinal games: Portugal proactive against a reactive Czech Republic, Germany against Greece, Spain against France, and Italy against England.

But of the proactives, only Germany was able to finish their chances, lighting up Greece for 4 goals (reinforcing the then-growing conventional wisdom that der Nationalmannschaft were the clear favorites to win the whole thing).

The only drama in the first quarterfinal, a week ago Thursday, was waiting to see if Cristiano Ronaldo would finally score, which he finally did with an admittedly spectacular header late in the game (reinforcing the then-growing sense that just maybe he could carry them to the final).

Last Saturday night in Donetsk, Spain unlocked the l’autobus the French had garé, scoring an early goal, and then spent the 70 minutes playing the recently much-maligned tiki-taka, before adding a late PK score (oddly, Xabi Alonso scored both goals, in what was his 100th cap).

In the last quarterfinal match, Sunday in Kyiv, Italy bossed the match (especially the much-praised deep-lying midfield capo Andrea Pirlo), but Gli Azzurri  couldn’t find their way to a finish against Roy Hodgson’s English bus.  It was scoreless through 120 minutes, all the way to penalties, which at least made for a tense end to the quarterfinals–a shootout that will be remembered for Pirlo’s audacious Panenka.

From Daniel Taylor’s writeup in the Guardian:

Italy had 815 passes compared with England’s 320. The shot count was 35-9. Italy had 20 on target, one more than England managed in their four games. Andrea Pirlo put together more passes, 117, than England’s entire midfield quartet of Gerrard, Milner, Scott Parker and Ashley Young.

It was a peacock-like spreading of Pirlo’s feathers. What a player he is and what a moment when he ambled forward for his penalty and popped the ball into the back of the net. Hart had tried everything to put off Italy’s penalty-takers. He eyeballed them. He stuck out his tongue, pulled faces, made silly noises. He did everything but drop his shorts and squirt water from a flower. Pirlo talked afterwards of deliberately setting out to bring him down a peg or two. So he went for the Panenka chip, named in honour of Antonin Panenka’s decisive penalty for Czechoslovakia against West Germany in the 1976 final. Of all the moments that encapsulated Sunday’s quarter-final, it was this: the man in the England shirt acting the fool while the serial champion put him in his place and the rest of the football world sniggered behind their hands.

(Emphasis added, with a h/t to the English friend of ours who copied and pasted that last sentence to facebook midweek, prefaced with: “I know its ancient history now, but this sums up England’s lack of a game today.”)

The details of the quarterfinal results, with links to’s match reports/facts:

21 June 2012
Czech Republic Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal Portugal
Referee: Howard Webb (ENG) – Stadium: National Stadium Warsaw, Warsaw (POL)

22 June 2012
Germany Germany 4-2 Greece Greece
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN) – Stadium: Arena Gdansk, Gdansk (POL)

23 June 2012
Spain Spain 2-0 France France
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (ITA) – Stadium: Donbass Arena, Donetsk (UKR)

24 June 2012
England England 0-0 Italy Italy
Italy win 4-2 on penalties
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Olympic Stadium, Kyiv (UKR)

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Giroud Joins Arsenal, Ditches Nasri in Polkraine

June 27, 2012 — by Rob Kirby


All non-German Arsenal players exited the Euro 2012 tournament at the quarters, so no more Tomáš Rosický, no more Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott or even new signing Olivier Giroud, the 6’3 striker who scored the most goals in the Ligue 1 with Montpellier this past season. Giroud knows what it feels like to win titles and scores goals. The experience can only contribute promisingly to the operations of the club. Hopefully Giroud beds easily into the team and may his explosiveness out of the gate be everything one could hope for in the world of combustability. State of the Union: Arsenal, Polkraine 1 and Polkraine 2: Electric Vindaloo, we will miss you, but it’s hard to Arsenal it up properly Polkrainically with the spine of the team now largely absent.

Not to forget, of course, the first big new signing of the summer, Lukas Podolski, who quietly roars into the semis after he and Per Mertesacker quietly sat behaving themselves on the bench against Greece. Considering Rosický did something distinctly not good to his Achilles region and Walcott’s never-100% hamstring is again sub-100, one can appreciate Joachim Loew giving the guys whatever breathers they need. Mertesacker must be itching to get some time on the field, but that’s a different matter entirely.

Increasingly it looks like Germany/Spain in the finals and we’ll either see two newer players (Per and Poldi) lifting the trophy, or perhaps our former captain (good for him) and the main principals of the “Barca DNA” mafia (very bad people). I prefer Germany, and not just because it’s trendy right now to knock Spain’s Barcelona-based style of play. I grant either team permission to win the trophy, as long as the winning team goes fully at it and makes the event into a great final. Or Portugal. A Germany/Portugal matchup could be interesting. Oh right, we saw that already. It ends 1-0 to Germany, and Ronaldo does nothing of interest.

At the very least, please no Spain/Holland World Cup 2010 extra time action, unless it’s scoreless only until extra time where both teams drop the act and go batshit-crazy-nuts, racking up dozens of perfect downfield passes and goal after goal after goal. Or even just one mythic goal, but one that lends itself to a dozen interesting different camera angles. You get the full feel for how the goal action went down in incrementally more comprehensive views, even though it was just the one photogenic ball that crossed the goalpost plane. 12 different replay-as-new-play camera angles make for a 12-goal video replay frenzy.

In other, self-aggrandizing news, Nicklas Bendtner’s agent claims he’s attracting interest from major global clubs, so that’s clearly a done deal. I mean, he’s the agent. Meanwhile, Sebastien Squillaci reportedly is bound for Ligue 1, and we might be offloading Carlos Vela and Denilson to teams in La Liga. Overoptimistically, unwisely assuming all those go through, Johann Djourou and Andrey Arshavin both want new career moves, as well. First it looked like Arshavin to Zenit St. Petersburg, then he pissed everyone off by saying it was the Russian public’s fault for unrealistic expectations of Russia getting further than they did, or doing more in the match time they had. Then he apologized. So, maybe a Russian deal could still work, but apparently the Arshavins dig living in London, for what it’s worth. Where does that leave the man, then? QPR? West Ham? Fulham? Drop down a level and start raking in the bucks and that shimmery Crystal Palace adulation? As for Djourou, a mooted move to Turkey for the Swiss defender has popped up occasionally in the news.

The Robin van Persie issue remains as uncertain and unresolved as ever, but the new signings represent on the one hand a direction out of the wastelands if Robin leaves, and on the other, our ambition to push forward, theoretically what Robin’s been waiting for. Either way, Robin will seek fame and fortune elsewhere or he’ll seek fame and fortune with Arsenal. It should be decided before long. That will in turn trigger activity on the Walcott front. If anything positive came out of the shambles of last year’s summer transfer market, the transfer activity thus far this summer has shown a fundamental difference in intention from the club.

What of the fates of Marouane Chamakh, Park Ju-Yung and wantaway Lukasz Fabianski? Diaby? Gervinho? Considering Diaby’s once again out injured, it doesn’t seem like too many clubs will be banging down that particular door. And one would think Gervinho still has a year to make it with the side, despite starting berths on the left hand side of attack drastically shrinking in availability lately. Podolski would seem the natural starter for the left, with Robin and/or Olivier Giroud in front (or Robin dropping back into the hole) and Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain duking it out for wide right. Gervinho will need a hefty and timely dose of good form to force his way into the starting XI. Fortunately for the Ivorian, he always seems like he’s just one skill away from really making it work with his jerky cutback style. He’s got goals in him, somewhere. Maybe he’ll find new ways of impressing as an impact sub, who knows.

Hopefully, long term injuries to Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere will heal apace, as will last-season injuries to Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin. Hopefully Rosický and Walcott soon recover from what seem shorter term injuries contracted from the Euros. And hopefully Mertesacker and Podolski continue to get into prime shape for the tournament’s finale, in which they combine for an astounding all-Arsenal goal to wipe the floor with Barca DNA.

Walcott returns from a good showing at Euro 2012, so presumably there will be another contract offer. Of course, Walcott may decide to not sign and kick off a delightfully neverending last-year-in-contract story for the next installment of news-overexposure hell. And Alex Song’s contract is winding down, too, so that too should provide some fun times. Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to a pay increase of 300%, which takes him up to £45,000 a week. For comparison, “flop” players Diaby, Denilson, Chamakh, Fabianski, Djourou, Arshavin, Vela,  Bendtner, et al  make more than that at this very moment, so it’s hard to say the Ox-Cham hasn’t earned it.

Anyhow, that’s all.

Enjoy the semis this week.

CommentaryEnglandEuro 2012EuropePhotography

Polkraine 2 (or, Arsenal Quarters Vindaloo)

June 21, 2012 — by Rob Kirby1


Arsenal captain Robin van Persie, Andrey Arshavin, Wojciech Szczesny and Nicklas Bendtner have all exited Euro 2012. Well, there goes that tournament…

But among those soldiering on in the competition, building upon performances covered in the first installment of the venerable State of the Union: Arsenal, Polkraine, four still remain (five did until today, of which more right now).

Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky sat out the quarterfinals against Portugal and will not return at a later stage as hoped,  as his countrymen did not prevail and his Achilles issue did not heal in time. The unfit Rosicky kept the fit contingent of the team company on the bench today, having returned from returning to Prague for treatment after the second Group A match against Greece, to no avail. He had not not trained since going off injured in that match and given his team’s exit today now targets recovery for the first team come August.

Lukas Podolski (most likely starting) and Per Mertesacker (most likely benching it) tackle Greece on Friday and will in all likelihood power on through to the semi-finals. Podolski scored a solid goal against the Danish in the final group stage match, taking his international tally to 44 in 100 international appearances, which is really pretty impressive.  Long may the goal record run.

On the French side of things, France centerback Philippe Mexes picked up a second yellow, so Koscielny may finally start against Spain in the quarterfinals on Saturday (lucky him!). Difficult opponents to line up against, the Spanish midfielder forwards will definitely test but not necessarily overwhelm the Arsenal player many thought should have been picked ahead of Mexes and Rami anyway.

Lastly, on Sunday England prevailed 1-0 against the Ukraine, playing a well-disciplined defense against a surprisingly entertaining Ukrainian side. The match lacked any real tangible impact from substitutes Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the Rooney-reunited team won their group, and in so doing escaped the Spanish in the draw, throwing the French to Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 defending champions instead. Next up, Italy.

For England, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott impressed in the group stages overall, if not the final match in particular. Italy could present an interesting matchup for the young Englanders and their elders in the final quarterfinal. Congratulations to the two of them for the progressing, though, and may neither of the pair empulverize himself in the upcoming fixture against notoriously fair-play Italy.

To revisit the Euro 21012 departure personnel:

Van Persie’s heading up of the early exits is for most the most eyebrow-raising, particularly for those able to single-eyebrow-raise and who thought van Persie and the Dutch would not only emerge from the group of death but also make it to the semi-finals or even further. Robin travels homeward, or perhaps vacationward, and soon must definitively resolve the Arsenal contract issue. More and more I feel he should go if he really can’t commit to the team for two years. Pay him a market wage for someone who just won Player of the Year, most definitely. Promise him additional signings to inject the team with commensurate quality and actually do it. But if after the money waving and promise making and subtle allusions to loyalty during those many weeks and years on the Emirates physio tables, if it’s not enough it’s not enough. And if so, we need to address the remainder of the transfer window as such. The signing of Podolski and the links with Olivier Giroud and Yann M’Vila are a good start, regardless of the fact that neither of the two French links are by any means a lock (especially in the latter case, which was seemingly a lock at the end of the season).

Van Persie had a somewhat disappointing three matches, missing many opportunities, although he did get in a good wrong-leg right-footed strike against Germany that deserves props. Some argue that two defensive midfielders wasn’t the positive play for the Holland team, some point to the early stage omissions of Klaus-Jann Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart, but at the end of the day, the best Arsenal player and biggest Arsenal question mark comes back the non-Euro 2012 world with many questions unanswered and hopefully soon decides to definitely choose to stay or go, with particular regard to the matter of stay or leaving. Whatever it is, the sooner settled, the better.

Arshavin put in a good showing at the tournament, meaning that we may be seeing the last of Andrey, in an effort to give the already reluctant Arsenal player a way out that’s mutually beneficial. Glad for him that he’s turning his fortunes around. Some reports say he may prefer another England team to his recent successful homecoming at Zenit St. Petersburg. So be it. So long as someone pays a decent amount of money to take over his contract and the associated high wages, all good.

Szczesny had a tournament he’d probably rather forget. Playing in his home nation, he got red carded in match 1, which gave a penalty away against Greece. He watched his replacement block the penalty, to his relief, but Poland’s playing of 10 men against 11 certainly didn’t help the Poland team in the bid to get more than a point that day, when three would have set them in good stead in a winnable group in front of a home crowd. He did not make it into the side for the final match against the Czechs, but thankfully no injuries came to the goalie and his ego seems tough enough to absorb the moment and learn from it.

To help secure Spain’s spot in the quarterfinals, former captain Cesc Fabregas got a great downfield pass from Xavi that he looped over a defender’s head to Andres Iniesta who squared to Jesus Navas, who then preschooled it up with smash-in exuberance in Spain’s 1-0 victory over Croatia. Would that the Catalan midfielder was still with the London team. Onward and upward, though, I guess. Apparently, Cesc and Eduardo exchanged shirts after the match. The good old days…

On the transfer horizon front, the continuance of the French side in the competition after their toothless 2-0 loss to Sweden in the final group stage match means that we can perhaps see more and better from long-running targets M’Vila and Giroud in the tournament—against Spain, no less. Not being much of a Ligue 1 follower, I have only seen them in a few performances, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do against Spain.

And last of all the yokels, Nicklas Bendtner. The car-crashing egomaniac Bendtner is a good striker—better than Chamakh, definitely–but he doesn’t want to be an Arsenal player, so that sort of mandates he move on, because he’s not worth the prima donna business. Credit to him, though, that he’s whipped the media into a Bendtnerian frenzy and further publicized his already well-publicized wantaway status. The forward is doing his absolute best to attract more attention, and it’s a skill he knows well. The Paddy Power “lucky underwear” stunt earned him a fine of €100,000, as well as a one competitive match ban, but it also made him the talk of the town and tabloids, which is how Bendtner always expected his life to be, anyway. Any any rate, the soccer betting site swiftly announced they’d pay his fine, after having tweeted a picture minutes after the moment transpired of Bendtner lowering his shorts and raising his jersey to reveal the Paddy Power waistband. Bizarre. But crafty.

As demonstrated in the fine structure outlined in the following, one wonders about the purpose of the UEFA:

€20,000 Porto in Feb 2012, for racial abuse and monkey hoots from fans against visiting players
€40,000 Arsene Wenger in March 2012, for berating the official in the tunnel
€100,000 Nicklas Bendtner, this week, guerilla marketing underwear betting company advertising stunt/”lucky underwear”

Bendtner drew the worst fine. Go figure. He did it intentionally, fair enough, and assuming his defense that they were simply his “lucky underwear” fails to exonerate him in the UEFA kangaroo court, the decision stands.

The rest of the tournament still holds a possibility of a readjustment of UEFA’s policies. Unless they’re utterly out of touch with the people side of European soccer—their constituents, as it were—they will hopefully get back to a more balaced ratio of crime and punishment. If you go hard, go hard. Just be consistent. UEFA doesn’t have to be a leading beacon in human rights, but the easy-to-implement measures of equal payout really aren’t that tough. First fix the €20,000 Porto precedent. Make any incidents currently under review somewhere, anywhere, more in line and along the lines of the Bendtner fine.

For updated reference, in fairness, UEFA has just fined the Croatia FA €80,000 for racist chants against Mario Balotelli in the Croatia/Italy match in Group C. Again Balotelli, of “Why always me?” t-shirt fame. So many plugs, but back to the point,first Porto in the Europa fixture, now the Euros a half-year late. He’s clearly a flashpoint for frustrated opposition fans, but in a rarely employed comment in context to Balotelli, he’s the injured party not the cause this time.

The sum of €80,000 still conspicuously amounts to less than the Bendtner incident but represents a punishment more in keeping with a monetarily punitive response to racism at Euro 2012. Again the tournament still has legs and UEFA may likely have another opportunity to demonstrate their stance to punishing improper conduct, so we’ll see what happens. At this point, news outlets have covered it to death. The next weeks should clarify how UEFA plans to handle racism policywide, let alone at its own biggest sponsored event. Certainly on the face of it, the situation smacks of an organization that sees racism as a softer crime than unsanctioned marketing and has done a poor job of handling the controversy in a better way. Bendtner is an idiot—a €100,000 fine seems fine to me. He had to know that he was going to get busted. But as for UEFA, hopefully they will set a more appropriate benchmark for meting of fines when the time comes, which doesn’t seem long off, sadly.

Changing gears to a speed more transfer-minded, France’s prolonged participation in the tournament prolongs the viewing of possible future Arsenal players but delays any actual dealmaking with them. As is the nature of the game, every kickass thing one of the target Gallic “possibles” does confirms the suspicions of goodness, if not greatness, but inherently inflates the price, causing a whole new benefit-risk Arsene self-sitdown.

So for expediency’s sake, maybe they could just put in a solid, semi-emphatic performance, but not one that causes the future to turn out outrageously expensive. In other words, validate with entertainment the valuable time spent watching, but ensure the results that best behoove Arsenal. Which then greenlights the general influx of solid players and creates a comfortable signing environment for the talented new-signing folks.

Meanwhile, the Import/Export player development department officials look to pull some entrepreneurial stunts and focus on the other main task at hand. Namely, how best to offload Vela, Bendtner, Chamakh, Park, Denilson, Djourou, Fabianski and Squillaci, while throughout plays the perennial soap opera medical story line of Abou Diaby. Call It a Day, or Long Shot Bet That Broken Sucker’ll Come Crushingly Good—The Diaby/Wenger Story.  Hopefully the book publishes in a market where long titles are in vogue.

But back to actual Euro 2012 reality, the German crew seems to have the best shot at progessing to the semis and beyond. If Podolski and Mertesacker do behold silverware at tournament’s end, may it be the first of many this next twelve months. (The same goes to AOC, Walcott, Rosicky and Koscielny, but let’s be serious here.)