Friday, April 30, 2010

Tough Choices Ahead With Picking US Roster

Bob Bradley and his US National team coaching staff has some tough choices to make in picking the roster for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. A provisional roster of 30 players needs to be submitted by May 11, and then down to the final 23-man roster by June 1.

Jeffrey Marcus of the New York Times looks at the task ahead for Bradley.

“In a perfect world, we’d pick our 23 to come into camp now,” Bradley said in a meeting with reporters Thursday in Manhattan. “On one side, we feel good about the depth we’ve built up. On the other hand, there are guys at the moment who come into camp and there are questions.”

With somewhere between 16 and 18 spots "locked down" for the 23-player roster, Bradley will continue to monitor players, especially those recovering from injury, before deciding on the 26 to 28 players he will bring to training camp on May 15 in Princeton.

Kelly Whiteside of USA Today writes about some of the possibles who have been recovering from injury-

Forward Charlie Davies' situation remains the most intriguing. Davies is recovering from serious injuries suffered in an October car accident. He assumed full training this week with his French club, Sochaux. Still, Davies remains a longshot.

Bradley is heartened by Davies recovery, but also realistic. "The fact that Charlie is this far along is great, but certainly even being back in training, let's face it, there's different levels (of training)."

Top defender Oguchi Onyewu, who is returning from knee surgery, is expected to be ready for camp. As far as other major injuries, midfielder Jermaine Jones likely won't recover in time from a shin injury. Since forward is a position of concern, Bradley will be closely monitoring veteran Brian Ching, who is out with hamstring injury and has not resumed regular training.

Bradley was asked about two other forwards under consideration: Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle who have had fine club seasons. Buddle was voted Major League Soccer's Player of the Month on Thursday, after scoring seven goals in five games, leading the Los Angeles Galaxy to a 4-0-1 record during the MLS's first month.

"The easy thing to see so far this year is he's scored some incredible goals," Bradley said. "That part is not new, but it's been there of late. There's been a lot of maturing that has taken place in less obvious ways. He seems to be doing a lot of little things that make a difference for his team."

Gomez's goal scoring in the Mexican League has been impressive as well, as Bradley noted "his pure ability to strike the ball" which he demonstrated early in his MLS career has "come back a little."

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America quoted Bradley on how the rostered players tend to separate themselves in this process.

"There's an old expression that the team picks the team," he said. "That's pretty true because usually things establish themselves pretty well. Players know who are the ones that should be there, and that kind of thing."

Mourinho provides tactical model

Jose Mourinho put together a game plan against Barcelona that left the world's best team with little answers. Mourinho, ever the chess master, had his players so well-drilled that there was no stone unturned.

Tony Cascarino of the Times writes of how Mourinho's tactics could provide a lesson to be learned by managers of the Premier League.

There will be more failures in Europe to come unless Barclays Premier League managers wise up. Their problem is tactics, not talent.

Arsenal could have conceded a dozen goals over two legs against Barcelona, but Mourinho’s Inter held out for so long in the Nou Camp despite playing most of the game with ten men. It was only in the final minutes that cracks began to appear in a back line that had withstood incredible pressure from the greatest attacking force on the planet.

The game is like chess for Mourinho. His players are so well drilled that they know where to be at all times. Mourinho’s teams are versatile, and with that comes confidence, because the players are never insecure. They’re never wondering: what am I supposed to do now? There was no sense of despair when Thiago Motta was sent off last night. Inter adapted instantly.

Once Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been substituted, they pushed Barcelona wide and made them cross high balls, knowing that the home side posed no aerial threat. Inter were so certain of holding their shape that they weren’t afraid to concede possession. They closed down Barcelona’s passers, but didn’t get so tight that they could be duped. Until the end, all the holes were filled in and around the box so there was no space for a cute one-two to set Lionel Messi clear.

A Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger team couldn’t defend like that. There isn’t the organisation, discipline or awareness. It would be last-ditch stuff, panic stations. Nothing about Inter was desperate.

Tactics in England, even for foreign managers, means deciding on a formation and line-up, then taking off a forward for a defender if winning, or throwing caution to the wind if losing. It’s no longer good enough, and that will be increasingly true when the next generation, Mourinho disciples, emerge.

It’s no fluke that the tournament’s three best tacticians — Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Louis van Gaal — reached the last four. They adapt cleverly and decisively. The mentality in England still relies more on character: slugging opponents like it’s a boxing match.

Mourinho shows up as nonsense the idea that a manager is powerless on the touchline. This tie was full of twists and he always had an answer. Defensive yesterday, Inter were devastating in attack in the first leg.

They will play Bayern Munich in the final, yet the Germans are nowhere near as good as Manchester United. The difference is that Van Gaal, their head coach, outwitted his counterpart. Wenger, the Arsenal manager, is constantly said to have “no plan B”. How’s he ever going to win the Champions League when Mourinho has plans from A to Z?

Is Hodgson Manager of the Decade?

Finally, in the third part of the tale of three managers, Hughes writes of how Roy Hodgson is not only Manager of the Year, but by taking Fulham from the brink of relegation to a Europa League final, he might be manager of the decade.

Never mind manager of the year, as he will surely be ennobled in the next few weeks, in the space of a season Roy Hodgson may have done enough to be named manager of the decade. The Fulham manager has not only given his club’s fans nights of glory they had scarcely dreamed of and rehabilitated a seemingly moribund competition, he has some much-needed romance to a sport fixated with financial concerns. Not even Sir Alex Ferguson, who judged purely on trophies is the manager of the last two decades, can claim that.

Hodgson’s achievement in guiding Fulham to the Europa League final may be a glorious one-off, but it would be nice to think he could inspire some of his fellow managers to take cup competitions more seriously, and in doing so give something back to the supporters. Given the primacy of the Champions League and Premier League these days most clubs start the season with one of two objectives – a top-four finish or survival in the top-flight. This is perfectly understandable, but rather prosaic, and leaves little room for glory and the thrill of chasing silverware, which is surely the reason most of us fell in love with sport in the first place.

Hodgson has shown it need not be thus, and in doing has set an example to other clubs, who this morning should be asking themselves: if Fulham can reach a European cup final, then why not us?

The accolades continue to pour in for Hodgson, and goalscorer Simon Davies made a stab at it when he said: “The manager has been first class since he walked through the door two years ago.

“We were struggling, conceding goal after goal. But he kept us up in the last game of the season in 2008 and now we're in the final of the Europa League. That's quite a turnaround, that's quite a journey.

“Roy brought his knowledge and drilled into us the way he wanted us to play. He worked on our shape and you can see that we're very hard to play against.”

Sir Alex Ferguson, who has won the prize for the last three years and nine times in total, is convinced Hodgson should be honoured this time.

He said: “Roy should be Manager of the Year, there is absolutely no doubt about it. It is a miracle. Hopefully he does win it now but it is one of the best British performances of all time.”

Lack of Class on Mourinho's Part

Matt Hughes also references that despite Inter Milan's tremendous victory of advancing past Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League, that Jose Mourinho's behavior following the match magnified both the 'yin' and the 'yang' of 'The Special One'.

By guiding Inter Milan to their first European Cup final for 38 years Jose Mourinho can certainly claim to have enjoyed a successful season, yet paradoxically he may not have enhanced his reputation. The Portuguese boasted on Wednesday night that people would still be discussing Inter’s elimination of Barcelona in 40 years, but what will linger longest in the mind of this observer is Mourinho’s outrageously provocative and puerile posturing at the Nou Camp.

Although thoroughly entertaining as pantomimes often are, this is the side of Mourinho that is not missed. As he demonstrated once again by his ridiculous victory charge, the former Chelsea manager simply cannot avoid stirring up trouble and rubbing other people’s nose in it, an unpleasant side of his character that may cost him in the long-run.

Even during what threatens to be Inter’s most successful season of the modern era Mourinho has fallen out with almost everyone at the club, from president Massimo Moratti downwards to several players and fans. His inability to forge long-term relationships is reminiscent of his time at Stamford Bridge, and will have been noted by clubs elsewhere who otherwise may have wished to recruit him.

Many of them, particularly Manchester United, may conclude that they can do without the hassle and look elsewhere, towards Pep Guirdola for example. As he showed on Wednesday the Barcelona coach is a class act in victory or, very occasionally, defeat.

Ancelotti has not been given due praise

Three very successful managers who have been in the British papers quite a bit this week have been Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Roy Hodgson - and all three are very different from each other.

Matt Hughes of the Times argues that Ancelotti has not been given due praise for the modest efficiency with which he has led his side to the brink of a league and cup double.

It seems patently absurd that judgments on the abilities of a previously successful, experienced and intelligent manager should effectively boil down to one game at the end of a 38-match Premier League season, yet that is the case for Carlo Ancelotti this Sunday.

A win at Liverpool to keep Chelsea in charge of the title race and Ancelotti will be lauded as one of the best in his field, but drop points to leave Manchester United in control of their own destiny and he will be written off as a nearly-man. The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in between, but football does not deal in shades of grey. The stakes could scarcely be higher.

In conversation with a colleague yesterday we concluded that Ancelotti has not been given the credit he deserves for doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances in his first season at Chelsea, in which his squad has been crippled by injuries and he has been given barely a penny to spend by a previously lavish owner, Roman Abramovich. We also agreed that this was unfair, yet in keeping with this modest man’s seeming absence of ego you will not hear one word of complaint from Ancelotti himself. The Italian has the highest of standards and knows that his target has not yet been attained.

Just seven days ago Ancelotti stated that this season could only be judged a success for Chelsea if they win the Premier League, which brings us back to the importance of Sunday’s trip to Anfield. In such an inconsistent season, where there has clearly been no outstanding team, neither Manchester United, Chelsea nor any other of the Big Four for that matter can take any pride in finishing second, as Ancelotti knows only too well.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Forlan ends Liverpool's hopes of European glory

Atletico Madrid ended Liverpool's hopes of Europa League glory with an away goals success after extra-time at Anfield.

Diego Forlan, the goalscorer of Atletico's first-leg lead, came back to haunt the Reds in and will now face Fulham in the Hamburg final.

Liverpool, who saw the tie enter an additional 30 minutes after Alberto Aquilani's 44th minute strike, thought they were on their way to an all-English showpiece against the Cottagers when Yossi Benayoun grabbed a 95th minute lead.

Forlan, the former Manchester United man who was much derided during his time in English football, had the last word however, as he struck in the 102nd minute to put an end to the Merseyside team's involvement in the competition.

Fulham's magical run to the Europa League Final

Roy Hodgson and Fulham's magical run continues into the Europa League Final after a 2-1 come from behind victory over Hamburg tonight.

The Cottagers defeated Hamburg 2-1 in London in their semi-final second leg on Thursday night to book a trip to their German opponents' home ground on 12th May for a showdown with Atletico Madrid, who defeated Liverpool on away goals.

For Fulham, goals from Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera, which cancelled out Mladen Petric's stunning free-kick, offer time in the spotlight after years in the shadow of London neighbours Chelsea.

Hodgson, a strong contender for the Manager of the Season, also acknowledges a major turnaround in fortunes at Craven Cottage after guiding the club to a last day escape from Premier League relegation in 2008.

"This club has had some bad times and we've looked into the abyss once or twice," said the former Inter Milan and Switzerland boss, who has seen his side eliminate Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus and Wolfsburg in the knockout rounds.

Urgency vs. Desperation

I always try to stress to our players the difference between urgency and desperation:

is immediate action, but with thought; desperation is also immediate action, but reckless.

Great teams have the ability to play with urgency at all times, and to treat matches like they are 'cup finals'.

Manchester United's Darren Fletcher on United's focus and urgency in the late stages of key matches -

"We keep believing in the way we play. We don’t get desperate. We throw players forward but the play isn’t desperate, it’s not just long balls into the box."

"We believe in passing, getting it wide and creating the right opportunities. Sometimes the fans might want the ball forward early, but 50-50 balls aren’t good enough. You need to keep playing football and create good scoring chances."

Subotic to Man Utd?

Former United States youth international Neven Subotic, now a member of the Serbian national team, has been linked recently with a move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United.

Hans-Joachim Watzke, the Borussia Dortmund manager, has explained what it would require from Manchester United to sign Neven Subotic, the young Serbian defender who has been linked with a move to Old Trafford.

"If Manchester want him, they have to sign over two oil fields to us," Watzke said. "Or cart over at least two big lorries tightly packed full of English banknotes."

"We have no intention to sell the player, he is under contract."

Subotic claims he is not thinking about a move away from Dortmund, insisting he is happy at the club.

"It is no secret I am enjoying being a player of Borussia Dortmund," said Subotic.

"I feel bloody good being a part of the squad and have the big ambition to be sucessful with the club in Europe, too.

"Therefore I am actually not thinking about a transfer away from Borussia Dortmund."

Benitez Future in Doubt

Rafael Benítez claimed last night that no one at Liverpool has attempted to talk him into remaining at Anfield in spite of mounting interest from Juventus.

Speculation about Benítez’s future has heightened in recent weeks because of the increasing likelihood of Liverpool losing their status as a top-four club and the intensification of Juventus’s very public efforts to convince the Spaniard that he should quit the Barclays Premier League for Serie A.

But the Liverpool manager is still waiting to meet Martin Broughton, the club’s new chairman, almost a fortnight after he was appointed.

Benítez has refused to rule himself out of the running for the Juventus coaching role and that he has implicitly questioned the determination of his employers to retain his services beyond this season will only add to the uncertainty over his position.

Benítez also revealed his irritation at seeing a steady succession of rival managers linked with his post at Anfield, particularly because Liverpool could end a hugely disappointing campaign on a high if they overcome a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Atlético Madrid tonight to reach next month’s Europa League final in Hamburg.

“No one has spoken to me [about my future],” Benítez said. “For one year I have been listening to stories about Martin O’Neill taking my job or Jürgen Klinsmann, José Mourinho, Frank Rijkaard or Guus Hiddink. I have to keep doing my job. All I can do is focus on the next game.”

Gardner calls for style over substance for Champions League Final

Paul Gardner, much the advocate for style over substance, has this to say about the UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan-

So what can we expect from a Bayern Munich vs. Inter Milan final? For a start, we can expect that it will be viewed as a battle of the coaches, Louis van Gaal vs. Jose Mourinho. A billing the sport can do without, for these are two of the least lovable characters in soccer. Mourinho got in first and dubbed himself “the special one” -- but you know van Gaal would like that title too. Two men in love with their own image, two men with a string of trophies to their names.

Both have won the European title before -- van Gaal with Ajax in 1995, Mourinho with Porto in 2004. And both are eminently capable of behaving like idiots on the sidelines. I counted 18 short camera takes of Mourinho yesterday. Increase that for the final, double it up because Louis the Great must get equal time, and you’ve got something like 40-plus telecast interruptions. Hardly something to look forward to.

Nor is the prospect that the final will be dominated by rigid -- mostly defensive -- tactics. The forbidding phrase “well-organized” hovers unpleasantly over this game. The hope -- not too strong a one where these two coaches are concerned -- is that the players can run the game. Less organization and more soccer would be nice -- and that could happen, because there will be plenty of attacking skill on the field. And should the game be a delight to watch, that wouldn’t be the first time this perverse sport has confounded expectations.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bayern's 'spine' is on the flanks

Gabriele Marcotti of the Times writes about how Bayern's strength on their flanks is more critical for their team's success than their 'spine'-

I think I may have touched upon this before, but watching Bayern recently brought it all back. Footballspeak is filled with cliches and one of the absolute dumbest goes like this: "To win you need a strong spine. Your goalkeeper, your central defenders, central midfield and a strong centre-forward... no good team will be lacking in those departments!"

I can just see some grizzled cliche-merchant spouting it off on my TV or radio or filling column inches with this idiocy.

Why is it so foolish? Well, for a start, it's extremely unlikely that a good team WILL NOT have at least three or four good players playing in central positions, for the simple fact that in the most common formations - 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 - seven of the eleven outfield players play in the middle and are therefore part of the spine. (In 3-5-2 there are actually nine players who can be considered part of "the spine"). So when 7 out of 11 players are part of "the spine" it stands to reason that at least 3 or 4 of them are going to be "pretty good", especially on a "good team".

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. And therefore utterly meaningless.

You'll not find very many good teams that have six or seven useless guys between goal, central defence, central midfield and up front. If they had that many ordinary players, they simply wouldn't be good.

That said, there are concrete examples to back up my point. Look at Bayern, Champions League finalists. Their three best players are arguably Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery (when fit) and Phillip Lahm. Two wingers and a full back, not one of them part of the "mythical" spine.

So who is part of "the spine"? Goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt is only starting because Michael Rensing was so awful earlier this year (before this season, the ageing Butt hadn't been a regular for several seasons): he's ordinary at best.

Martin De Michelis and Daniel Van Buyten in central defence are OK, but nothing special. Bastian Schweinsteiger is great, but Mark Van Bommel, while very experienced and canny, is also an ageing player who misses games through injury and who the club were looking to dump not so long ago.

Youngster Thomas Muller has been a revelation admittedly, but Bayern have had a rotating cast of centre forwards (usually Miroslav Klose or Mario Gomez, sometimes Ivica Olic). It's not a slight on Bayern, it's just that their most important players are not part of the "all-important" spine.

And, incidentally, Bayern are not some kind of weird one-off. Look at last season's Barcelona, when they won the Champions League and were hailed as one of the greatest sides ever.

Yes, the "spine" included Samuel Eto'o, Andres Iniesta and Xavi. But it also featured Rafa Marquez and Victor Valdes. Whereas Leo Messi and Dani Alves, arguably two of Barca's three best players, were not part of it.

What Makes Mourinho Special

Jose Mourinho is perhaps the great manager of his generation, but he is a complex figure.

He gets criticized for his ego, his brash style when dealing with the media, and the idea of compromising 'the beautiful game' for results.

The reality is that Mourinho does all the things that you want in a manager, both from a tactical and man-management standpoint.

Sam Lyon of BBC Sport uncovers what really makes 'the Special One' special.

For a man with a CV that bursts at the seams, Jose Mourinho remains something of a polemical figure in football.

Few would deny he can be an inspirational, astute and effervescent coach, even fewer that he is one of the game's winners.

But still the 47-year-old can divide opinion. If it's not the Portuguese's brash approach in the media, it's the accusation that he values substance over style.

He may be able to boast five league titles, seven other domestic trophies, a Champions League and a Uefa Cup, but some are less convinced he upholds the values of "the beautiful game" or that his media performances do not occasionally lean too far towards football's dark arts.

Yet talk to those who have worked in and around Mourinho and it is difficult to find someone with a bad word to say against him.

A former Chelsea insider describes him as "an absolute gentleman who is always happy to lend an ear, always willing to offer advice and help, and a man who works unbelievably hard for his club."

And stack up the testimonies of those willing to pay tribute to Mourinho, and the less convincing his critics become.

Argentina legend and now manager Maradona calls Mourinho "the complete trainer" who "has everything: he knows how to talk to the players, the press, the dressing room. For me he is the best."

And as for those who consider the Portuguese one-dimensional tactically, the Chelsea insider, who worked closely with Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, says: "Look closely and you realise style is hugely important to Jose.

"The two times he won the league with Chelsea, he did so in the main playing cracking football, with pace and width, and scoring more goals than anyone in the league.

"When that flowing football wasn't possible - because of player availability or the opposition, perhaps - then you saw his teams grind it out."

Inter have moved to a more fluid 4-3-3/4-5-1 this season - and in doing so underlining a flexibility in terms of tactics and team shape for which Mourinho is not always credited.

Inter have scored more goals than any other side in Serie A this season, averaging just under two a game.

"When Mourinho arrived in England from Porto he was pretty quickly labelled as a 4-4-2 coach but he is actually very fluid tactically," says Foot. "He proved that at Chelsea when he settled on the 4-3-3 formation that helped them to two titles and he has done similarly at Inter this season.

"He assesses the squad and outlines a formation and style of play that suits the players at his disposal."

As Inter's quarter-final defeat of Chelsea in the Champions League showed, Mourinho is fully capable of altering his team and their philosophy if he believes it will give them an advantage over the opposition.

On that occasion, it was a case of attack being the best form of defence as he deployed Eto'o, Milito, Goran Pandev and Sneijder in an ambitious starting line-up that confounded not just the critics but the opposition.

Inter won 1-0, 3-1 on aggregate, but it could have been more against their exalted rivals, and it prompted the Guardian's Richard Williams to compare Mourinho to the most successful Inter coach of all time - Helenio Herrera, the man known simply as "Il Mago", the magician.

Just like the team his side face on Tuesday, Mourinho insists his players press the opposition all over the pitch, stretch their backline at every opportunity, and refuse to give the opponent's best players room to play.

"Mourinho's teams are always so fit, so strong," says Foot. "Mourinho is the ultimate believer in earning the right to play football. The work he expects players to do without the ball is just as important as their work with the ball, definitely."

European football expert Graham Hunter says: "He is completely calculated, very scientific and very deliberate about everything he does. He is utterly thorough in his analysis, preparation and thinking ahead of a game."

You can bet, therefore, that a plan will have been devised about how to stop Barca playmaker and arguably the best player in the world, Lionel Messi.

"What Mourinho does from day one, and is absolutely key, is that he gives the players a cause to fight for," the Chelsea insider tells me. "Players go that extra yard for him because of that cause.

"If you buy into it Mourinho will back you all the way, if you don't, there's no place for you at the club. The team always comes ahead of the individual."

The talented Mario Balotelli has found that out to his cost, after he was excluded from the squad by Mourinho after a falling-out. Only after a public apology following a month as an outcast did Mourinho bring the youngster back into the Inter fold.

The Inter players' belief has swelled under Mourinho and the confidence that the Portuguese instills in his teams has given them the feeling that they are capable of beating anyone.

"We have worked so hard on our mental approach under Mourinho to convince ourselves we are a great team," reveals Dejan Stankovic, while Sneijder says: "Jose is a fantastic trainer. He knows exactly how to manage both on an individual level and for the whole team.

If there is a psychological advantage to be gained, Mourinho will pursue it with a magical verbal slight of hand like no-one else .

"That is why I am not scared about the semi-final. He will give us information nobody else can give us. That is the power of Mourinho."

"Mourinho loves the dealings with the press, mainly because he's so good at manipulating them. He uses them to deflect attention from his team's failings, to ease the pressure on his players, or even to pile the pressure on officials."

"If there is a psychological advantage to be gained, Mourinho will pursue it with a magical verbal slight of hand like no-one else."

Mourinho closer to mission accomplished

Jose Mourinho achieved his latest European masterpiece as his Inter Milan reached their first UEFA Champions League final despite a 1-0 semi-final second-leg defeat at Barcelona.

Inter defended to the death, and were really put to the ultimate test of battling Barcelona's precision and ball-movement with only 10 men for over an hour.

However, a numerical disadvantage in manpower did little to damage Inter, who maintained a tight defensive formation that stifled the guile of Lionel Messi and Xavi with relative ease.

The Serie A leaders continued to frustrate their hosts in the second half as Pep Guardiola failed to conjure a Plan B, before Pique created a nail-biting conclusion with a cool finish in the 84th minute.

Barcelona, though, could not find the necessary second on the night as a Bojan strike was debatably ruled out to mean that their 'obsession', in the words of Mourinho, of retaining their title in the Bernabeu came to an end.

Mourinho's reaction at the final whistle said it all as he sprinted around the Nou Camp pitch with his hands aloft, a pointed salute to the Barca supporters and media critics who had labelled him "The Translator" in mocking tribute to his time at the club in the 1990s.

This was further testimony to the Portuguese manager's claims to be "The Special One" as his side's tactics, belief and resolve withstood a home onslaught that saw Barca run out of ideas.

Mourinho hailed his side's Champions League semi-final victory over holders Barcelona as "the greatest moment of my career".

"For the players, me, the fans, it's the greatest," said the Portuguese, whose team will face Bayern Munich in the 22 May final in Madrid.

"I've won the Champions League (with Porto in 2004) but today was better."

Kirovski the forgotten star of U.S. soccer

There are few Americans that have accomplished as much in the game as Jovan Kirovski. Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune chronicles the career of the former American star.

Signed by Manchester United at age 16. Transferred to Germany’s Borussia Dortmund when he wasn’t granted a British work permit and won a UEFA Champions League title. Signed a big-money deal with legendary Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon. Later played three seasons in England.

Scored in an Olympics.

Made 62 appearances for the senior national team, beginning at age 18 and appearing at least once for the next 10 years as well.

And the most impressive part?

The résumé belongs to an American soccer player.

Joseph in substance abuse program

Shalrie Joseph is regarded by many to be the elite player in Major League Soccer, and both the MLS and New England Revolution were dealt a major blow today when it was released that Joseph will not be with the team while he is involved in the Major League Soccer substance abuse and behavioral health program, according to team sources.

The Revolution announced Monday Joseph would be taking an “indefinite leave of absence to attend to a personal matter,’’ stating he left the team last Saturday.

At the time, Revolution vice president of player personnel Michael Burns and Joseph’s agent, Ron Waxman, confirmed the leave of absence was not soccer-related, and did not involve contract problems or injury.

Joseph sustained a hip flexor strain before the season opener and has played in only one of the Revolution’s five games. He was listed as probable before Saturday’s game but did not suit up for a 2-1 loss to Colorado.

League policy regarding drug testing restricts comments by team administrators. Said Burns yesterday, “I can’t confirm or deny anything.’’

Joseph, a 31-year-old who has excelled at several positions on the team, joined the Revolution in 2003.

Who Gets What in USSF

According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post and the most recent U.S. Soccer Federation tax statement made available for public review, national team coach Bob Bradley earned $499,025 between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009. He also received $23,898 from the USSF and other organizations (not specified) for a total of $522,923.

The previous year, Bradley earned $452,500 plus $24,070 ($476,570). Bradley's four-year contract expires in December 2010.

In stark contrast, England Manager Fabio Capello, Bradley's foe in the World Cup opener June 12 in South Africa, has a base salary valued at $7.6 million.

Peter Nowak, Bradley's top assistant who since left the USSF to guide the MLS expansion Philadelphia Union, was paid $230,025 between April 2008 and March 2009 (which included the Beijing Olympics), plus $23,676 in additional compensation ($253,701 total).

Pia Sundhage, coach of the women's national team, received $257,000 in salary and $11,892 extra ($268,892). Thomas Rongen, who oversees the men's under-20 program, earned $150,133 overall.

The highest-paid USSF official is chief executive Dan Flynn at $646,066. President Sunil Gulati, whose full-time job is teaching at Columbia University, is not compensated by the USSF.

As a tax-exempt, non-profit organization, the USSF is required to release its financial statement annually. Bradley's bonuses earned for qualifying for the World Cup last fall were negotiated privately and won't be known until the next tax year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mourinho's defining moment

It would be strange to refer to Jose Mourinho as an under-achiever. The 'Special One' has won the UEFA Champions League with Porto, the English Premier League twice with Chelsea and is on the verge of winning back-to-back Serie A titles with Inter Milan.

Now on the eve of his second-leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal versus Barcelona, Phil Minshull of BBC Sport writes about the title that Mourinho craves, not being able to celebrate with Porto, and the potential rematch with Louis Van Gaal.

It seems rather begrudging to say that 'The Special One' could be considered an under-achiever after twice winning the Premier League while at Stamford Bridge and also the Serie A title last season.

He is closing in on a second successive Serie A crown, too. Inter lead Roma by two points with three games remaining after the latter's shock 2-1 loss at home to an inspired Sampdoria.

However, it is the Champions League which Mourinho and Inter fans crave. A second success, after winning with Porto in 2004, will give the Portuguese's career the validation it needs and present him with another chance to savour victory on Europe's top stage.

He was unable to do that first time around, famously leaving Porto for Chelsea before being able to celebrate the triumph with his team and fans in the Dragao.

"I won the Champions League trophy but I never had time to touch it, I just kissed it," he said, upon his arrival in London. "I didn't have time to have my photo taken with it, that's why I want to win it again."

It did not happen during his time at Stamford Bridge but it may with Inter.

Joining the Nerazzurri in the summer of 2008 after a nine-month sabbatical, Mourinho revealed: "The challenge for me is simple. I always want to do well, always want to win. I don't need anybody else to establish the challenge for me."

He stopped short of promising outright to Inter fans that their glory days in Europe would return and they would finally regain the bragging rights from local rivals Milan.

However, winning the Champions League has clearly been top of his agenda. The last of Inter's two European Cup triumphs came in 1965, while their last appearance in a final was back in 1972.

By contrast, Milan have won two of their seven European titles in the last decade and also made a third final, that unforgettable game against Liverpool in 2005.

Inter's failure to match Milan in recent years ultimately cost Roberto Mancini his job, despite three successive league titles.

If Inter fall short on Wednesday, it could result in Mourinho being encouraged to leave the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, even if Moratti has to pay off some or all of the remaining two years of his contract.

Mourinho is widely believed to be the world's highest paid coach. A salary of €9.5m a year puts him in the unusual situation of being paid more than any of the players at Inter, including the likes of Samuel Eto'o.

Curiously, if both Inter and Bayern Munich fulfil the bookies' predictions and make the final, it could bring about an intriguing clash of personalities in the next few weeks.

Much has been written about Mourinho's relationship with Barcelona, but, if Inter and Bayern face off at the Bernabeu on 22 May, it will be the first time he has faced his former boss from his time at the Nou Camp, Louis Van Gaal.

Mourinho was Van Gaal's translator and assistant when the Dutchman became Barca boss in 1997 but, as an unwanted leftover from the regime of Bobby Robson, found himself surplus to requirements the following summer.

I wonder if Van Gaal has read the interview that Mourinho gave to Champions, Uefa's official magazine, in the summer of 2004 after taking over at Chelsea?

"During the day I worked as a loyal assistant but I arrived home to my wife a critic. I'd go on about how Van Gaal does this and if it were me, I'd do that," said Mourinho.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How Ancelotti has transformed Chelsea

In less than ten months Ancelotti has given Chelsea the new identity that their owner craved, transforming a group of pragmatic professionals in Jose Mourinho's mold into great entertainers who have thrilled their fans by scoring 60 goals in 18 home matches. More impressively, Ancelotti has achieved this change with the same players as his predecessors — Yuri Zhirkov was his only significant signing last summer — and the Russia full back has barely featured.

So how has he done it? Unlike Mourinho, whose myth and memory still cast a shadow over Stamford Bridge, Ancelotti is not given to grand gestures or sweeping changes for the sake of it, but he has made several subtle refinements to a talented squad. Matt Hughes of the Times breaks down the subtle changes that has helped Ancelotti put his stamp on Stamford Bridge.

Strike Partnership - Ancelotti set the tone for the new attacking Chelsea in the first game of the season against Hull City by pairing Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka in a new diamond formation, a bold move rarely risked by those who managed the side before him. Although Ancelotti has since reverted to 4-3-3, Drogba and Anelka have remained in the side, producing their best performances since the France striker joined the club 2½ years ago.

Anelka’s goals have dried up since the end of January, but he was prolific in the first half of the season and with three matches remaining Drogba has already equalled his record haul of 33.

Deferring to Frank Lampard - Ancelotti started with Lampard at the top of the diamond, but soon changed tack after sensing the England midfield player was more comfortable making late runs from deep. “He has the quality to play at the tip, but for him it was better to start the action a little bit deeper,” Ancelotti said. Lampard has responded with his most prolific return of 25 goals, all the more remarkable given that he has been operating as a defensive midfield player for England.

Liberating Florent Malouda - The France winger has been Chelsea’s most improved performer and has attributed his renaissance to the confidence given to him by Ancelotti. Malouda’s pace, crossing ability and close control have given Chelsea an added dimension as he demonstrated in the win over Manchester United this month, restoring a devastating threat down the left not seen since the days of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff.

Game for a laugh - Notwithstanding these tactical switches and examples of shrewd man-management, Ancelotti’s most important contribution has been to alter the mood at the club, with the result that playing for and even watching Chelsea has become fun again. “We work hard on the training ground, but off [it] we are fairly light-hearted,” Lampard said. As a serial joker Ancelotti uses humour — often of the smutty variety — to keep his players relaxed and encourages them to express themselves on the field for the full 90 minutes.

Quick recoveries - Chelsea are as resilient as ever, as they have demonstrated by responding to setbacks in an impressive fashion. It is four years since they lost successive Premier League matches and Ancelotti has ensured that any blips remain just that. The 7-0 defeat of Stoke City eight days after defeat by Tottenham Hotspur is symptomatic of how they react in adversity, which bodes well for Sunday’s trip to Anfield, where Ancelotti will attempt to lay the ghost of Mourinho on the ground that caused him so much suffering. If he can, Chelsea’s new identity seems sure to be immortalised in silverware.

Rangers praise Smith for glory

Walter Smith led Rangers FC to their second consecutive Scottish Premier League title this 2009-10 season, and has cemented his place among the great managers ever in the Scottish game.

Not only has Smith led Rangers to a second SPL championship in a row, but in total has won six trophies and a European final in three years.

Click here to listen to the SPL champion talk about how special this season was.

"It's always nice to win, especially back-to-back championships. You can win one. I think the sign of a good team and a good spirit is that you can go on and win at least another one and we've managed to do that. Our players are tired, they're feeling it but they got there in the end."

van Gaal returns among Europe's elite

It is 15 years since Bayern Munich manager Louis van Gaal got his hands on the Champions League trophy for the first and so far only time.

That golden moment came when Ajax, the team he led to both European and domestic glory during a heady seven-year tenure, beat AC Milan 1-0 thanks to an 85th-minute goal from Patrick Kluivert.

On Tuesday, the 58-year-old Van Gaal will move a step closer to reliving those glory years of the 1990s if his Bundesliga leaders see off Lyon in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.

"Bayern are a top European club, one of the best run clubs on and off the field that I've seen in professional football," he said. "And you need a big-time manager who can handle big-time players."

That ability to handle star players was displayed in the first leg victory against Lyon after the architect of their run, Arjen Robben, stormed off after being substituted. Rather than trying to placate his countryman, Van Gaal let him know in no uncertain terms that his behaviour was unacceptable.

"He's come here with a very good reputation and he's doing it his way," added Woodcock. "The players can see that and feel that, and the players have to keep themselves in line."