Friday, July 20, 2012

Seattle Sounders draw world-class crowds

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America writes of how the Seattle Sounders, who lead MLS in attendance for the fourth straight year, has seen it's attendance grow to the point that it now competes among the best clubs and leagues in the world.

The Sounders have led the MLS in attendnace for the past four years, dating back to their inaugural 2009 season, and now average nearly 40,000 fans. To see how Seattle's attendance compares to some major European leagues and for MLS team attendance rankings ...

* After 10 games, the Seattle Sounders are averaging 39,537 fans.

Here's how Seattle's current attendance average would rank in some major European leagues if compared to 2011-12 figures:

3rd in 18-team Dutch Eredivisie (League-wide: 19,516; No. 1, Ajax Amsterdam 50,044; No. 20, Excelsior 3,091).

3rd in 20-team French Ligue 1 (League-wide: 18,665; No. 1, Paris SG 41,921; No. 20, AC Ajaccio 6,918).

4th in 20-team Italian Serie A (League-wide: 23,459; No. 1, AC Milan 51,442; No. 20, Cagliari 9,692).

6th in 20-team Spain La Liga (League-wide: 30,272; No. 1, Barcelona 84,119; No. 20, Getafe 10,736)

8th in 20-team English Premier League (League-wide: 34,601; No. 1, Manchester United 75,387; No. 20, QPR 17,295).

13th in 18-team German Bundesliga (League-wide: 44,294; No. 1, Borussia Dortmund 80,521; No. 18, Freiburg 22,676).

* MLS league-wide attendance this season after 181 games is 18,736. MLS's highest season attendance averages were 17,872 in 2011 and 17,406 in its inaugural season of 1996.

* Seattle has set the all-time MLS attendance record in each of its first three MLS seasons: 2011 -- 38,496; 2010 -- 36,173; 2009 -- 30,897.

Bradley moves to Roma

The Serie A has always been considered the gold standard for tactics, midfield play, and team defending.  Those were all on display as Italy raced on to advance to the Euro 2012 Final, with the vision of Pirlo and grit of DeRossi on display.

That only highlights the significance of Michael Bradley joining DeRossi at Roma, and is a watershed moment for US Soccer.  Bradley is looking forward to proving himself on the highest levels of club soccer.

The 24-year-old American midfielder signed with Serie A side Roma on Sunday after standing out last season at Chievo Verona. It was a move Bradley called a "dream" when speaking to reporters on a conference call two days after the four-year deal move became official.

"To be here now and to have the chance to play for Roma, it's something that means an incredible amount to me," Bradley explained. "To be here at a club with so much tradition, so much passion, so much history, this is what I've always dreamed of. Now that I'm here I'm determined to give everything I have to help make this team and help make this club the best it can be."

One of the intriguing debates of Bradley's move to the Olimpico Stadium is his role. He has played holding midfielder for the past two clubs where he's played, Chievo and Gladbach in Germany. At Roma he will be teamed with De Rossi, one of the top-five players in the world at defensive midfielder, raising concerns of how the two players will mesh.

But Bradley believes he has unique attributes that will benefit him in fitting the squad and is ready for the challenge.

"If you're going to play at the highest possible level, to become the best player you can possible be, then you have to be ready to take these kind of challenges," said Bradley.

"Having the mentality and determination and commitment that says, 'Listen, no matter what, I'm going to go there, I'm going to fight every day, I'm going to show every person there that I'm a guy that has to be on the field in important moments,' that's a challenge."

Bradley also stated that Roma was excited by his work ethic and revealed he could feature more offensively this season.

"Being a midfielder who is in all parts of the game," said Bradley. "In attack, in defense, help win battles, control the game... that's what I'm about as a player."

Bradley last featured on offense for Dutch side Heerenveen, where he scored 16 goals in his final season at the club. In having the opportunity to play in a more advanced role, Bradley should be able to develop into a more complete central midfielder.

This is a massive move for both Bradley and US Soccer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

American TV ratings soar for Euros

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports on the outstanding ratings here in the United States for the 2012 European Championships.

Sunday's Euro 2012 quarterfinal between Italy and England drew the highest rating yet on ESPN: a 2.4 overnight rating. That's an increase of 50 percent from the Spain-Italy game at the same stage four years.

How does the Italy-England overnight rating compare? The rating for ESPN's New York Yankees-Mets game the same evening was only 2.7.

ESPN has enjoyed solid numbers through the tournament. Through the 24 matches in the group stage, ESPN’s live coverage averaged 1,002,000 viewers -- up 82 percent compared to the group stage matches in 2008.

The top 10 metered markets through the group stage include: New York (1.6), Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (1.6), Providence (1.3), Los Angeles (1.2), Washington, DC (1.2), Richmond, Va. (1.1), Atlanta (1.1), San Francisco (1.0), Jacksonville (1.0), and Austin, Texas (1.0).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mariner to lead Toronto FC

Paul Mariner has paid his dues as a player and coach, so I was excited to learn on Thursday that Toronto FC announced that Mariner will become the club's seventh head coach in franchise history.

The longtime New England Revolution assistant Mariner now takes the reins, as TFC return to action on June 16 at Sporting Kansas City before playing in Houston against the Dynamo on June 20.

"At the present moment, we've just got to try to change things a little bit," Mariner said. "Only a few minor adjustments need to be made, in my viewpoint. We've got a lot of work to do starting this week. Two very, very big games and very important games. You've just go to wait and see what happens. We're going to get results, it's just that simple."

Mariner was an assistant to head coach Steve Nicol for the Revolution's glory days from 2004-09, helping the Revs to three straight MLS Cup appearances between 2005-07. The Revolution qualified for the postseason every year Mariner was on the bench during his time on the job before he left to manage English Championship side Plymouth Argyle in 2009.

He returned to MLS during Toronto FC's overhaul in January 2011, named to his position as director of player development the same day Winter was named head coach.

"I'm a very modest man, but I've got unbelievable confidence in my own ability," Mariner said. "I know exactly what I'm doing in training this week. I know exactly what the team will be next weekend, barring injuries, I know how we're going to play. It's almost written what's going to occur. … I can't wait to get started."

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Brazil 4, USA 1

Despite the scoreline, the USA showed some encouraging signs in their 4-1 defeat against Brazil in Washington D.C. last night.

Regardless as to how well the USA played against Scotland over the weekend, you knew that they would be under signifcantly more pressure on both sides of the ball versus Brazil.  The same midfield that dominated the game for long stretches against Scotland had challenges being able to grab a hold of the game and dictate tempo.  Saying that, Michael Bradley once again shown positively that he can play a key role as a playmaker and fulcrum in the US midfield.  He continues shows poise in possession, as well as the ability to break things up in midfield.  Jose Torres and Jermaine Jones - two players who were standouts against Scotland - were up against it quite a bit in this match.  Inconsistent performances during the week present that they were maybe not as good as they appeared over the weekend, but also not as poor as they had shown last night.

I wouldn't jump off the US midifield bandwagon just yet - I remember a couple of years ago when the US played Spain in an exhibition and struggled, and a friend criticized how poor Bradley and Co. looked.  I reminded him that they were playing against SPAIN, and that any midfielders would have challenges agains the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.  I like what the US offers in midfield, and if Klinsmann can find the right compliments for Bradley, we could have the makings of something special.

Fabian Johnson appears to be a revelation to the US team at left back, and the US have sorely lacked a key contributor in that role for some time.  His ability to bomb down the left flank added combination to a Bradley through ball at the end of the first half, which resulted in a great cross to Hercules Gomez on his goal.

Tim Howard was called on to put out fires on numerous occasions, which is to be expected when playing against the top teams in the world.  US coach Jurgen Klinsmann refered to him as 'one of the top 5 goalkeepers in the world' in pre-game, and performances like last night continues to show why that is the case.

Gomez was a bright spot for the US, and created numerous chances all night.  A poacher in front of the goal at the domestic level in Mexico, he appears to be a perfect vice for Jozy Altidore in the #9 shirt.  He was dangerous throughout the match, and if we can get Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Altidore played in as compliments to him, the US attack could be in good shape.

The biggest holes in the US team appear to be in the heart of the defense - Gooch Onyewu really struggled, and Carlos Bocanegra didn't show much better.  I was hoping that Klinsmann would give Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst and Clarence Goodson more of a run to measure them against a top opponent, and hope that we'll see more of that prior to the start of qualifying.

This has been an encouraging week for the US, and hopefully they can build off some of these strong signs as we head into World Cup qualifying.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Houston leads MLS big attendance this week

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America reports on the continued rise of MLS attendance.  After the 12th week, the MLS average of 18,596 is starting to compare favorably with some of the top leagues in the world.

Week 12 featured 13 games that averaged 18,000-plus as Houston sold out its new stadium for the third straight game and Seattle packed them in for a midweek game. For MLS team attendance rankings ...

* The Portland Timbers sold out their 23rd straight game at their Jed-Wen Field -- a 1-1 tie with Vancouver.

* Houston's third game at its new BBVA Compass Stadium, a 2-1 win over defending champ Los Angeles, was a third straight sellout (22,039).

* Seattle drew 38,311 for last Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Columbus.

* Fireworks helped Columbus draw well above its average -- 16,024 for a 2-1 win over Chicago.

* The league-wide attendance after 120 games is 18,596, an increase of 6.4 percent from last year's average of 17,425 after Week 12.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

USA 5, Scotland 1

The US national team gave a thorough beating to Scotland on Saturday in Jacksonville, FL, and despite the match being only an exhibition, US fans came away with a tremendous amount of optimism heading into qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Fresh off exhibition victories over Italy and Scotland, the US now take on Brazil on Wednesday before starting qualifying in the CONCACAF region.

A combination of US pressure and warm temperatures had the Scots back on their heels right from the get-go, and before they could blink, the US had scored twice.

Whether you considered the US alignmen a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 or the 'Christmas tree' 4-3-2-1, the idea of having versatile midfielders to combine with center forward Terrence Boyd created a lot of movement and combination play that the US were able to exploit.  Landon Donovan and Jose Torres were constantly involved in the attacking third of the field, and Donovan was a one-man strike force as he recorded a hat trick; Michael Bradley scored a scorching blast from 25 yards out for the US 2nd goal; Jermaine Jones shed his destroying midfield role, to put in a performance of a true two-way midfielder - scoring once and setting up two others; Fabian Johnson combined well with Torres, and was able to get forward and penetrate down the US left flank - something that hasn't been seen to regularly or often in previous US teams.

US manager Jurgen Klinsmann will have more key attacking players at his disposal this week for final exhibition tune-ups against Brazil (Wednesday) and Canada (Sunday).  Clint Dempsey recovers from a groin injury and Jozy Altidore joing the squad.

Guardiola leads Barcelona to gold standard of football

Pep Guardiola led not only a dominant era of football for Barcelona, but also a revolution of the 'total football' that was preached by his mentor, Johan Cruyff.

As he steps away from his post at Barcelona at the ripe age of 41, Rob Hughes of the New York Times writes of how Guardiola had transformed Barca into the gold standard in world football.

The statistics do not lie. In the four years of Pep Guardiola’s short but unrivalled era as its coach, Barcelona accumulated 14 of the 19 trophies open to it at the highest level of soccer.

And now he is taking a sabbatical.

Few seem able to understand why a relatively young man, at 41, should walk away from the team that he has shared so much with. Even as Barça returned home over the weekend with the Copa del Rey, the King’s Cup, for the 30,000 fans at the stadium Camp Nou, there were telephone calls from the Chelsea owner, Roman A. Abramovich.

Just a week before, Chelsea took away Barcelona’s most treasured possession, the Champions League trophy. But the persistent oligarch wants to know if there is a price that could change Guardiola’s mind and persuade him to change his colors to Chelsea blue — and start the process of making the London club play like Barcelona.

In a way, it speaks volumes for Abramovich. He has what he always wanted, the “trophy with the big ears,” but he is willing to tear everything apart to turn pragmatism into perfection.

Abramovich wants not only to win but also to win with style.

With that, the Russian shows a real appreciation of Guardiola. It is the winning, the flow of the team, the entertainment and the expression of joy that Guardiola’s Barcelona stands for.

Beyond that, we saw just how human this story has been during the celebration on the field after Barcelona easily and elegantly beat Athletic Bilbao, 3-0, in the King’s Cup final on Friday.

One by one, and for one last time, the players who had earned the victory tried to persuade their coach, their boss, to lead them up the stairs to receive the trophy. One by one, Guardiola embraced them, but told them to go pick up their medals and bring the Cup down to the field, where he would party with them.

The stars are players, not the coach, players like: Lionel Messi, who Guardiola said was simply the best player he had ever seen or ever expected to see; Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, the masters of passing on this team; and Sergio Busquets, the midfield defensive player who plays the role closest to the one that Guardiola did during his 11 years with Barcelona’s senior club.

The walking wounded — the captain Carles Puyol and Daniel Alves and David Villa — shared the 14th celebration under his reign as coach. There was one missing, though he still was in Guardiola’s heart — Eric Abidal, the French defender who is continuing his recovery after a liver transplant about a month ago.

Whatever else is said, whatever accolades or criticisms are thrown at Barça, this human bond is the clearest definition of what Guardiola’s coaching is all about. He said he was exhausted after four years of it, and outsiders who have seen Alex Ferguson build and rebuild teams at Manchester United over 26 years are baffled by that explanation.
Abramovich, clearly, cannot comprehend the burnout theory.

But others, much closer to Guardiola, can. Johan Cruyff, the Dutchman who built a large part of the Barcelona philosophy that Guardiola was inculcated into as a boy, said last week: “With Guardiola, one cycle ends and another begins, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Exhaustion? Yes, of course. Terrible exhaustion.”
Cruyff, who coached the team on which Guardiola became a leader back in the 1990s, has become estranged from the Barcelona boardroom since Sandro Rosell ousted Joan Laporta as club president two years ago.
Laporta appointed Guardiola as coach; Rosell inherited him. But in the changed presidency, predominantly a change driven by commercialism, Cruyff said Guardiola’s situation became more pressured. “Previously,” Cruyff told El Periódico, a Barcelona newspaper, last Thursday, “he was surrounded by people with weight, who disappeared.
“He was more alone. Those who came in after the election had criticized the previous management. It creates conflict. From then on, the problem was all Pep’s. He had to deal with problems other than football. It exhausts you much more than you can imagine.” Guardiola will not say these things. He has handed over the team to Tito Vilanova, a boyhood friend since their days at the Barça academy, La Masia, and his trusted assistant throughout the success of the last four years.

Moments before the final whistle Friday, Guardiola hugged his friend in the dugout. It was the personal handover before the Champagne flowed and the goodbyes were said on the field. Vilanova, a quiet man, bore the look of an animal caught in the spotlight.

Invited to pick up the baton with arguably the most gifted team ever, how could he refuse? Like Guardiola, he is a Catalan. But even if Vilanova succeeds, anything he wins can only replicate what his friend achieved.

The fans would have the final say. Many have written on a mural at the Camp Nou stadium. One accolade from a couple from Mexico simply reads: “Pep, thank you for returning football to its essence.”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012 England EURO preview - How will Roy line up?

With the 2012 EUROS around the corner, Alistair Magowan of BBC Sport writes a great piece analyzing Roy Hodgson's tactical preferences, as well as potential lineups for England at the European Championships next month.

"Roy is a pure coach," Gallacher said. "You only get a week to train with the national team, so it is all about organisation, getting players thinking about the system you want to play. 

"I personally think it will discipline the players a bit more and make them a bit more mentally stronger. You only have four or five days to work with players to get your points across, but the players will understand him. He makes things very simple, but he does make you think."

A reliance on a specific system may fill the shortage in confidence suffered by the players that puzzled Capello during his reign.

But the biggest question, with Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp in mind and a track record which includes fallow periods at Inter Milan and Liverpool, is whether Hodgson is a galvaniser of good players rather than a motivator of top-level ones?

His successes at club level in Sweden, the Swiss and Finland national teams, and more recently with Fulham and West Brom, point to a manager who can create a framework where players know their jobs and can complete them with distinction.

When more liberty or creativity is needed by players who perform best free from the shackles, however, will the 64-year-old allow them that privilege?

Gallacher says in his experience, Hodgson never curbed attacking players' instincts. But former Swiss and Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz, who also played under Hodgson with Switzerland, says there is a question mark over his handling of big-name players.

"He was manager at Inter Milan and at Liverpool, two big clubs, and he didn't have massive success," the 37-year-old said. "But one thing I'm sure about is he knows the English mentality, which is very important. As a foreign manager they don't really know how to deal with English players, you have to know the English mentality and so for Roy it's a big plus."

Much of the answer will also boil down to what England need and who is available as they approach Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

Capello qualified for the 2010 World Cup and the European Championship with a group of players, who were largely disciplined and, once he figured out a system which was less rigid, swift on the counter attack. Now it is hoped that Hodgson can do a similar job in moulding a collection of promising talents with some of the more senior figures in the squad.

My prediction is that based on the players that Hodgson has at his disposal, that he will prefer to play a 4-2-3-1 to start the tournament.  Very few teams will play in this tournament without a crowded midfield to offer tactical flexibility, and I would expect to see Lampard and potentially Barry sitting in front of the back four.  Lampard has been an attacking midfielder for most of his career, but his ability to evolve from a #10 into a #8 this past season for Chelsea shows his versatility and flexibility.  That will allow the opportunity to play both Lampard and Gerrard on the field together - at least until Rooney comes back for the third match.

When Rooney comes back into the team, the challenge will be whether he will be deployed as a #9 in front of Gerrard, or his traditional role as a withdrawn striker off a central striker - as he plays with Manchester United (perhaps in a 4-4-1-1).  I like the idea of using combinations of players that know how to play together and have developed partnerships, so having Welbeck and Rooney along with Ashley Young would create a pretty potent attacking unit.  Whether Gerrard, Walcott, or someone else joins up with them on the right, this could be a good option for England. A lot will also depend on how England has fared in those first two matches. I am not a fan of trying to play Gerrard as a winger, but also know that his influence in the team might be cemented in those first two matches, and might be hard to take him off to make way for a lineup or alignment switch.  Conventional wisdom probably will see Rooney playing as the #9, which will unfortunately either leave him up high on his own, or see him drop back really deep or wide left - neither of those scenarios would put England in a desired shape.

Along the same lines of having that level of cohesion in attack, my prediction is that Hodgson will go with a Chelsea nucleus in his back line - using a partnership of Cahill and Terry together, with Ashley Cole on the left.  I am not a fan of Terry, but know that he wouldn't have been selected if they didn't see him in the team.  Expect to see those three play with either Glen Johnson or Phil Jones at right back, with Joe Hart as the #1.

Managing a national side is much different than a domestic club - less time to prepare, coach and teach.  My guess is that with Hodgson's experience managing internationally, that he will go for a group and alignment that will create the highest level of comfort for his players to put them in the best possible position to succeed.

2012 Champions League Recap

Chelsea's 2012 UEFA Champions League title was a storybook finish, and after looking back on the epic instant classic, the result seems even more Disney-esque.

Looking at the teams on paper, you would figure that it would be a contrast of two very different styles - knowing that Bayern Munich would come out and press Chelsea offensively, while Chelsea would have to absorb pressure and play off the counter.

Yellow and red card suspensions figured to have an influence on the teams on the field, as Chelsea were without several key contributors in Ramires, Meireles, Ivanovic and Terry.  Where Bayern was also missing a few starters to suspension, their lineup was more influenced by who was in the team as replacements. 

Their defense was constructed with Tymoshchuk moving back and playing centerback and with Toni Kroos deeper in midfield.  This allowed Thomas Muller to start in Kroos' role, giving Bayern a pretty potent attack with Muller, Robben and Ribery sitting underneath Gomez.

Chelsea opted to counter Lahm and Robben on Bayern's right flank by using Ryan Bertrand on the left flank - hoping that the combination of Bertrand (making his first UCL appearance) and Ashley Cole would neutralize the potent Bayern right flank.

Bayern came out of the gates as the aggressors, seeing more of the possession as well as scoring chances.  The fact that Bayern was able to create a lot of pressure without committing numbers forward also minimized Chelsea's ability to counter attack.  Bayern's front four created a lot of pressure with the ball, and not only did that keep Chelsea on their back foot, but it also minimized the number of counter opportunities through Drogba - who was often up front on his own.  Chelsea's alignment resembled more of a 4-4-1-1, and Mata was heavily outnumbered by Kroos and Schweinsteiger - which made it difficult for him to link up with Drogba.

Very similar to the Manchester United vs. Liverpool match that I had attended earlier this season, Kroos and Schweinsteiger were able to boss the midfield in much the same way that Scholes and Carrick were able to versus Liverpool.  Playing with their two best passers in tandem in front of Bayern's back four, they were able to keep a great rhythm and flow - keeping their dangerous attacking players involved by moving the ball and switching things out, while also joining up at the right time.

The combination of Schweinsteiger and Kroos making Mata and Co. chase in midfield, as well as the addition of the dynamic Muller, saw Bayern own the midfield battle for most of the match.  They were very unlucky to not have scored in the first half, with both Robben and Gomez missing genuine scoring chances.  Bayern's ability to take advantage of their numerical advantage in midfield - playing in the gaps and finding 2 v. 1 combinations - saw them dictate the tempo for most of the match.

Muller's attacking pressure that saw him initiate 4-5 scoring chances in the final 20 minutes of regulation was eventually rewarded, as he got on the end of a cross to score what appeared to be the eventual game-winner.

Muller eventually was substituted to bring on more steel in midfield with the inclusion of van Buyten, and without both Muller and an injured Ribery, and where defensive cover appeared were used to counter Chelsea's introduction of Torres and Malouda, Chelesa lost some of their momentum as well. 

Even with less attacking pressure and Chelsea chasing the game, you didn't think Chelsea would be able to even things until their corner kick in the 88th minute, where Didier Drogba became the star with his cracker of a header to put the match into extra time.

Drogba's dramatic goal, coupled with Cech's dramatic saves of PKs during the extra time and in PKs, saw perhaps the last stand of Mourinho's Chelsea - Drogba, Cech and Ashley Cole all were key contributors to their tremendous result.  Not only did several members of Chelsea's old guard stand out, but the central defending pairing of Gary Cahill and David Luiz continued to put out fires and snuff out scoring chances - providing a lynchpin for Chelsea's spin for years to come.

The 2012 UCL final will go straight to 'instant classic' level, and had all the things you want to see in a match of this caliber - great goals, tremendous PK saves, and a tactical chess match that allowed tacticians to appreciate the challenges that go with managing a game of this magnitude.

MIKE JACOBS COLUMN/Manchester City title highlights special EPL season

Courtesy of the Evansville Courier Press, May 20, 2012

As we come off perhaps the most exciting weekend in the history of the English Premier League a week ago, we need to look back on the Cinderella story and tremendous ascension of Manchester City.

Professional soccer – and specifically the EPL - continues to rise in popularity here in the United States, and the drama last weekend only added to that. Manchester City and Manchester United were tied on points heading into their final games, and with the tie breaker (goal differential) going to City, it meant the results from their games in the final weekend would ultimately determine the EPL champions. Both games being played at exactly the same time would add to this virtual game of Russian Roulette.
Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reported that a total of 1,348,000 viewers tuned in for the U.S. television coverage of the final day of the English Premier League season, a jump of 72 percent over 2011 final day viewing. The audience climbed to 987,000 on ESPN2 for the final 15 minutes, when City came back from 2-1 down to score twice in the final five minutes and finish ahead of Manchester United on goal difference for its first title in 44 years.

Regarded as ‘the noisy neighbors’, by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, City was able to position themselves as not only worth champions for this 2011-12 season, but as potential long-term rivals for years to come.

Manchester City’s rise to English Premier League supremacy this year, as well as their potential to maintain hold on that pole position, came down to several keys-

Spending spree – In 2008, Manchester City were bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group, which enabled the club the ability to spend millions of pounds on top class players. Since the arrival of new ownership, City has been able to add the likes of dynamic goal scorers in Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko; creative midfielders in Yaya Toure, David Silva and Samir Nasri; and defensive lynchpins in Vincent Kompany, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott.

Success soon followed. In 2011, Manchester City qualified for the European Champions League and won the FA Cup, and went on to eventually win the Premier League this season.

Managing egos – when this kind of spending goes on, the expectations are naturally going to rise. After a record amount of money spent during the 2008-09 season saw City unable to rise to higher than 10th place, notice was served to manager Mark Hughes. After spending over 100 million pounds that off-season and a slow start to the 2009-10 season, a coaching change was made with Hughes being replaced by Roberto Mancini. The Italian had a reputation for building clubs in Italy by taking Inter Milan to three consecutive league titles, and was able to lead City to 5th place (2009-10) and 3rd place (2010-11) finishes before winning the title this season.

Leading a star-studded cast is a more difficult job than it seems. As often as basketball coach Phil Jackson has been discredited by some for having the opportunity to coach the likes of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant throughout his career, he receives twice as many plaudits for being able to develop a level of buy-in from players with large pedigrees and potential large egos.

Mancini did a great job of finding the right combination of players to mesh together throughout the season. Despite the temporary exodus of Tevez and the magnified disciplinary challenges that went along with the volatile Balotelli, Mancini was able to integrate this star-studded cast into a cohesive unit that appeared to buy into the idea of being a part of something bigger than themselves. He deserves a lot of credit for being able to mold this group into champions.

Manchester derby – a ‘derby’ is a match-up of two teams in relative proximity to each other, and no derby has been more contested over the past two seasons as the Manchester derby. City served notice by knocking out United in the FA Cup semifinals in 2011 en route to their FA Cup title, and defeating them twice in head to head matchups during the 2011-12 season signaled a changing of the guard in the north of England. City’s 6-1 victory over United this season at United’s home stadium, Old Trafford, was the worst defeat United had taken since 1955.

Manchester City’s 2011-12 English Premier League title served notice that they are deserving champions, and perhaps has the potential to sustain long-term success as well.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Popovich's culture in San Antonio is popular blueprint

Gregg Popovich may be the best coach in American professional sports today.

What Popovich has done goes far beyond guiding his San Antonio Spurs to the best record in the National Basketball Association this season. He has created a template for NBA success. His influence extends so far that his presence is likely to be felt in the NBA Finals even if the Spurs don't make it.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers or Los Angeles Clippers get in they all have key figures with significant ties to Popovich. For the Thunder it's general manager Sam Presti, who got his start in the NBA working in the Spurs' front office. For the Lakers and Clippers it's coaches Mike Brown, who was an assistant, and Vinny Del Negro, who played for Popovich.

Nonplayoff teams that reflect the Popovich effect include the Phoenix Suns (general manager Lance Blanks), the New Jersey Nets (coach Avery Johnson) and the New Orleans Hornets (general manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams).

J.A. Adande writes of the culture and formula that 'Pop' has created in San Antonio.

"Above all else, it's clear that the organization itself is the most important thing; as Pop would say, everyone has to get over themselves and put the organization and team first. The endurance of their organization is uncommon, I feel fortunate for the opportunity to have been a small part of it."

Del Negro said: "They had a culture that was about doing it the right way and having the right people and character, and understanding your role and job. Pop kept everybody accountable. 'This is how we need you to play and this is what we need you to do.'"Having that culture means putting a premium on players who fit that culture. No need to waste time looking at renegades who won't fit in. The Spurs consistently bring in impact rookies -- most notably Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili -- even though they haven't picked higher than 20th since they got Duncan.

It's not just a culture. The term the Spurs keep using is program, as in a college program. Example: "Pop has brought the vision to our program," Buford said. "Everyone who has come through our program understands the things that are important: character and selfless people who want to be part of a team. Want to be part of something bigger than themselves."

As for building a team, Popovich's front-office background lets him think with a long-term perspective. He oversees most free-agent decisions, while leaving the drafting to Buford and the scouting staff. Most coaches need to think short-term, because their job status can change in the time it takes to refresh the NBA standings page on your web browser. Thinking long-term enabled Popovich to work long-term, to become the most tenured active coach in American major pro sports, to be so entrenched he easily survived a first-round exit from last year's playoffs that would have sent many lesser coaches packing.

"Our program starts with our ownership, with Peter Holt and his group," Popovich said at the news conference to announce his coaching award. "They set a tone for all of us, and I'm the beneficiary of all of their talents."

That's Pop, being all modest again. The attitude is so pervasive in the franchise that Buford even called back to make sure this article wouldn't make the Spurs sound as if they were taking credit for a system that made them superior to everyone else. They want to assert that everything is player-based.

"The guys that played here are the reasons that our program has been allowed to be built," Buford said.

It's not a false modesty. Popovich isn't obsessed with credit. He thinks so little of individual accolades that he didn't even wear a tie to coach the game when he was presented his trophy at half court.

But make no mistake, it's about Popovich.

"His people-managing skills, they're off the charts," Brown said. "You watch how he handles different situations with people, whether it's people in the front office or players 1-15 or people that work for him and you try to copy that, to a certain degree, if you can."

Is Mourinho the greatest coach of all time?

The Portuguese claimed his seventh league title in 10 years last week as he led Real Madrid to Liga success over Barcelona. Is he now the best trainer to ever grace the game?

Ben Hayward writes of Mourinho's most recent accomplishments, and tries to gauge where he sits historically now among the world's greatest coaches.

Those seven successes in 10 years, and just nine full campaigns, make Mourinho one of the most decorated coaches in the history of the game. He has also now tasted title triumphs in four different countries, winning in his native Portugal before subsequently sealing success in Europe's three major leagues - England, Italy and now Spain. But this one was sweeter: it had been the hardest of all, he later claimed. And to win it, he had brought down his fiercest foes, Barcelona, a team tagged by many observers as the best in history.

But if Barca are seen as the best side to ever grace the game, what of the coach who has defeated them on three separate occasions, in Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League? No other tactician has toppled the Catalans quite like Mourinho has managed to. So if Barca are the greatest team, is Jose the finest coach in history?

It is always difficult to compare coaches and teams from different eras of the game, but Mourinho's numbers speak for themselves. Barely a decade into his coaching career, the Portuguese is one of just a few bosses to have claimed titles in four countries, the only one to have clinched championships in the three most prestigious leagues and one of just three to have won Champions League crowns at two different clubs. His is undoubtedly a winning formula.

“The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” 

- Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys

For more quotes from Landry, go to

Winning more important than role to Wade

Dwayne Wade's biggest assist this season for the Miami Heat had less to do with a pass on the basketball court, and more to his ability to accept a role that would put his team in the best possible position to win a championship. Israel Gutierrez of ESPN writes how Wade is willing to check his ego at the door to enable his team to contend for an NBA title.

LeBron looked like the two-time MVP he was in Cleveland. Only, frighteningly enough, even more efficient.

It was 32 points, nine assists and seven rebounds against New Jersey. Then 33, 10 and five against the Spurs. And 31, eight and eight against the Lakers. And there were more just like that. If LeBron could do that while dominating the ball, Wade thought, why exactly is it necessary for him to get equal touches?

There wasn't a good answer.

So Wade gave in. He fought off his ego and decided he'd take the supporting role in this potential blockbuster flick.

He told LeBron to play like the MVP he was.

And whaddya know? LeBron's MVP again.

"I just had some time to sit back and think a lot," Wade said. "I just realized what we're playing for, and what I'm playing for.

"LeBron is probably the most talented player we've seen in a while, but how good can we be? Are we going to be good if me and him are both scoring 27 a night? Yeah, we're gonna be good, but it would be too much, 'OK, it's your turn, now it's your turn.'

"I wanted to give him the opportunity where he didn't have to think about that. It's kind of like I told him, 'Listen, I'll find my way. Don't worry about me. I'll be there. But you go out and be the player that we want you to be.'"

It's not as if Wade ever truly fought the idea of handing the reins of the Heat franchise to LeBron.

But this team, this town, was all Wade's for seven years, so he knew no other way. There was a sense in South Florida that LeBron was coming to join Wade's party, Wade's family, and it would be presumptuous and rude of LeBron to assume a greater role.

So they essentially took turns doing what they knew best. There were times when it looked fluid. But there were other times, even deep into the playoffs, when they still looked like two superb talents waiting for their turn at-bat.

"I thought me and him did a good job of trying to communicate and talk, but it was still unnatural because we're both so used to it being our show," Wade said.

And it was all OK, because despite some sensationalized bumps along the way, the Heat made it to the NBA Finals and twice held a lead in the series.

But the surprising collapse that followed brought to light the inefficiency of that strategy. If this union were going to work to its full potential, it would require someone understanding how it could.

For Wade, that meant understanding LeBron a whole lot better.

It was during those Finals that Wade started the process, even if that wasn't his intention. It remains one of the standout moments of that series, in the final minutes of Game 3 in Dallas -- a game the Heat would go on to win -- when Wade looked to be scolding LeBron for not being aggressive enough, for giving in to a slump he'd found himself in and not trying hard enough to make a difference in the game.

It might have been the first time LeBron had ever been treated like that by a teammate, at least in that public a setting. And maybe he didn't like it much. He certainly never managed to shake that inexplicable mental fog he was in through the final four games of the series. But all Wade was doing was trying to get a reaction from his teammate. Trying to convince him he was too good to submit to a funk, or a fear, or whatever it was that had taken control of LeBron at that point.

"I don't remember what I said to him, but I know my message I was trying to get across," Wade said. "I know the game of basketball, and I know the ball doesn't go in the way you want it to all the time and your rhythm might be a little messed up. But the one thing that I was trying to get from him was for him to make some kind of game-changing plays, because he's so gifted. I was just trying to beat it in his head as much as I could at that time.

"I don't know if he's ever had anyone really be on him like that, or confident enough that they could say something to him. I think he appreciated it later, and I think that's why our relationship now is so much stronger."

If James did indeed appreciate that tongue-lashing after the fact, it's in large part because Wade began to understand LeBron better.

They'd been friends for years, but Wade never truly recognized the stresses that come with being LeBron James.

The brutal heckling. The constant criticism. The intense pressure.

"I read Twitter," Wade said. "When I turn on the TV, I know everything comes back to LeBron James being a punch line. It's just everything that piles up, and I'm like, 'How does he deal with it without having, really, someone who can be his outlet?' I'm the closest thing to his outlet, and sometimes I don't get it."

So Wade's goal became simple. Make LeBron comfortable.

If he doesn't have a safe place within his own team, where would he find one? And you know what makes LeBron comfortable? Dominating on the basketball court. Not waiting his turn to dominate. Just doing it as often as possible. Putting up MVP performances.

The moment of clarity Wade had in early January would help make LeBron completely relax. Even after LeBron insisted coming into the season that he was a new, improved man, it would still take Wade's concession to make LeBron really feel like himself in Miami.

"I see the way he fixes his jersey, the way he lays everything out before a game. He's the most mental athlete I've ever seen," Wade said, meaning of course that LeBron was cerebral and maybe a little obsessive, but not insane.

"I didn't want to be a part of messing with his mental at all. I wanted to ease it."

For Wade, that meant less touches. That meant finding a rhythm in his midrange game would be significantly more difficult. That meant a drop in scoring. But all for the right cause.

"It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in sports was to, in a sense, take a step back," Wade said. "A lot of people don't understand. They'll say, 'Why would you do that?' To me, I want more success from winning. I don't want another scoring title. I'm just trying to win.

Friday, May 18, 2012

MIKE JACOBS COLUMN/'Tiger Mother' spotlights parenting styles

Coaching and parenting is not ‘cookie cutter’ from the standpoint that all children can’t be coached or taught in the same fashion. In Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” we learn a valuable lesson about how expectations and demands on our children and players can vary.

Chua, who was born in Champaign, Illinois to parents who were of Chinese ethnicity from the Philippines and had emigrated to the United States, writes of her relentless commitment to make her two daughters successful. She raised her children in a strict manner, which she felt was contrary to what she interpreted as modern American standards.

An excerpt from her book references what she deemed as a cultural difference in parenting among Chinese parents and American parents-

“A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do: attend a sleepover; have a playdate; be in a school play; complain about not being in a school play; watch TV or play computer games; choose their own extracurricular activities; get any grade less than an A; not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama; play any instrument other than the piano or violin; not play the piano or violin.”

Chua used the term “Chinese mother” loosely- she had met a very successful Caucasian male from South Dakota, and after sharing stories of their childhood, decided that his working-class father had definitely been a ‘Chinese mother’. Conversely, she also referenced mothers of Chinese heritage- almost always born in the West- who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise.

She references “Western parents” regularly in the book, and that was termed loosely. Chua felt Western parents come in all varieties, and that Westerners are far more diverse in their parenting styles than the Chinese. Some Western parents are strict, where others are lax. It’s important to know that when she uses the term “Western parents,” she is of course not referring to all Western parents—just as “Chinese mother” doesn’t refer to all Chinese mothers.

All the same, Chua described that even when ‘Western parents’ think they’re being strict, that they usually don’t come close to being ‘Chinese mothers’. As an example, she cited Western friends who consider themselves strict when they make their children practice their musical instruments thirty minutes every day. For a Chinese mother, she felt the first hour is the easy part - It’s hours two and three that get tough.

Chua also referenced that despite a level of discomfort when discussing cultural stereotypes, that there are tons of studies that show significant differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. She cited that in one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children.” In comparison, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting,” and that if children did not excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.”

Where Chua had implemented this strict parenting regime for her own children, she stressed in an interview on that there has to be a balance between parenting philosophies.

“As we head into the 21st century and global competition gets intense, simply emphasizing hard work and memorizing and long hours is not going to be enough.”

She criticized Americans for “deferring too quickly to their young kids’ choices”, but at the same time called on Asian parents at the other extreme to lessen their grasp once their kids become old enough.

“To me this type of parenting should be when kids are very young. I think it actually should start to end when they are around 11, 12, or 13,” said Chua, adding she mistakenly “went too far with it” with her daughters.

Whether the successful model for a parent is a ‘Chinese mother’ or ‘Western parent’ is for you to determine, but I do think that what can be drawn from the idea of ‘the Chinese mother’ is the higher level of expectations and demands. If we permit our children or players to be complacent or quit when things get tough, how will they ever learn? If they don’t set high standards for themselves, how can we hold them accountable to accomplish more for themselves? A foundation of hard work and commitment can create success in most areas.

I don’t know that I would describe myself as a ‘Chinese mother’, but I do think there are some core values that can be adapted from that style and applied to our own youth athletes.

Can United maintain competitive standards?

How does Manchester United finishing without any domestic silverware or European success factor into the long-term future of the club?

Associate Press reports on Thursday showed that Manchester United revealed earnings dropping and cash reserves being halved in the first three months of the year.
United was deposed as Premier League champions by Manchester City on Sunday and eliminated from the lucrative Champions League at the group stage in December.

The quarterly accounts show that earnings for the club owned by the American Glazer family dipped by almost 10 percent year-on-year to 20.4 million pounds ($32.3 million) and revenue dipped by six percent by 70.8 million pounds ($112.1 million).

United’s cash reserves also dropped from 50.9 million pounds (then $80 million) at the end of 2011 to 25.6 million pounds (then $41 million) by March 31. The figure had stood at 150.6 million pounds (then $238 million) at the end of 2010.

“I do think everyone at the club, from (manager) Alex (Ferguson) down, agree we underperformed in Europe this year,” United chief executive David Gill said earlier this week.

Despite earnings and cash reserves being cut in half, the 19-time English champions have been ranked football’s most valuable club for eight years in a row by Forbes magazine, which valued them at $2.24 billion last month.

The club remains English football’s biggest moneymaker, with enhanced sponsorship deals offsetting the drop in revenue from failing to advance further in the Champions League.

In fact, commercial revenue rose 15 percent year-on-year to 27.3 million pounds ($43.4 million) and exceeded match-day revenue, including ticket sales, in the first three months of 2012.

“We should recognize we’re a very successful club, one of the top three in terms of turnover in world football, and it generates a lot of cash to invest in players,” Gill said. “We will continue to do so and our style is both buying players and giving youth a chance.”

United continues to invest in developing Old Trafford and its training ground while spending more on its squad, with wages rising by 9 percent year-on-year to 112.4 million pounds ($178 million).

“This increase largely relates to growth in player remuneration, driven by new player acquisitions and further contractual negotiations together with increased costs and headcount arising from the continued growth in our sponsorship and commercial operations,” United’s quarterly report says.

The club’s debt, resulting from the 2005 takeover by Glazers, has been cut by 61 million pounds year-on-year to 423.3 million pounds ($673.8 million) despite incurring 18.2 million pounds ($28.8 million) in interest payments in three months.

So what does this mean?  Manchester United are able to continue to do business as usual, but have proven to be more frugal with spending than their domestic rivals in Manchester City and Chelsea.

Manchester United chief executive David Gill is confident United will be able to challenge their big-spending rivals in the transfer market this summer.

However, Gill admits his club could quite easily be 'out-muscled' by Manchester City when going for certain targets and concedes they may have to resort to charm to persuade some players to snub the millions on offer at the Etihad Stadium.
'We believe we can compete,' Gill said.

'Our turnover and our cash profits demonstrate we can invest in players as necessary. Other clubs may pay slightly more but we pay very good salaries.

'The romance of United is there for everyone to see.

'A player coming to Manchester United has the benefit of working under Sir Alex Ferguson, playing in front of 76,000 every week, and there is our history and heritage and the commercial spin-offs.

'We shouldn't be shy or embarrassed or worried about not being able to attract top players because I firmly believe we can.

'You can play with great players in a fantastic environment. That's a very good package so why wouldn't you choose that?'

Last summer Ferguson thought he had pulled off a transfer coup by persuading Samir Nasri to move to Old Trafford after the France midfielder decided to leave Arsenal.
But the 24-year-old opted instead to join City in a deal that reportedly saw his wage soar to £175,000 a week.

Gill admits United may lose out on some signings this summer if a player's wage is a major factor in the transfer.

'If a player says 'I'm relaxed I can either go to City, United or Chelsea and it will just come down to a money thing' then they may out-muscle us,' Gill said.

'But that's their choice. We say: 'fine, have our own parameters'. We have to make sure our salary ranges are appropriate.'

This process of being more frugal with spending was magnified when Manchester United sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in 2009 for a transfer worth £80 million (€93.9 million/$131.6 million), and not replacing him with a big signing. 

Despite taking a more fiscally responsible approach with the money made from the Ronaldo transfer, United still finished with a championship in 2010-11, and two runner-up finishes in 2009-10 and 2011-12 (with this past season ending with a tie for the highest number of points earned).

United appears to be taking a more responsible approach to spending the past 2-3 years, and the hope is that they can maintain their high standards of domestic and European success without being compromised with financial challenges.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Neville joins England coaching staff

England manager Roy Hodgson has hired former Manchester United captain Gary Neville as an assistant coach.

The 37-year-old former England defender has worked as a TV commentator since retiring in 2011 but holds UEFA coaching qualifications and has signed a four-year contract with the Football Association.

Neville won eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and the Champions League with United, making 85 England appearances along the way and playing for his country at five major tournaments.

Hodgson says "at my first meeting with The FA, I explained that Gary was someone I wanted as part of my staff."

Neville joins Ray Lewington, Ray Clemence and Dave Watson in Hodgson’s staff for the European Championship.

MLS Attendance Continues to Rise

The Montreal Impact drew 60,860 fans, a Canadian pro soccer record, for its 1-1 tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy at Olympic Stadium. The Houston Dynamo sold out its opener at BBVA Compass Stadium with 22,039 fans on hand for its 1-0 win over D.C. United. For MLS team attendance rankings ...

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America reports on the continued rise of MLS attendance.

* The Seattle Sounders drew another crowd in excess of 39,000 as 39,312 fans watched their 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake.

* On the other hand, New England, New York, Columbus and FC Dallas all drew crowds of less than 13,000 games.

* The league-wide attendance after 94 games is 18,815, an increase of 8.7 percent from last year's average of 17,318 after Week 10.

Who will Klinsmann select for World Cup qualifiers?

As we await Jurgen Klinsmann's expected announcement today on who he is calling into a camp that also begins Tuesday in Orlando, Fla, there are a number of domestic and foreign options available to the US coach. Klinsmann figures to announce which foreign-based players will be available today, with the rest of the squad being named Sunday after another weekend of MLS action.
Klinsmann is expected to bring in 29 players and cut the squad down to 23 before camp breaks ahead of the first of five games, a friendly against Scotland May 26 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America takes a look at the candidates to get called in to help lead the US in World Cup qualifying.

GOALKEEPERS. The No. 1 and No. 2 goalies remain Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa). Howard, 33, signed a new four-year deal with Everton. Guzan is one of the few foreign-based who was not starting consistently, but he was excellent when he did fill in for Shay Given at Villa.
DEFENDERS. Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby) and Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim) are locks.
Edgar Castillo (Tijuana), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa) and Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers) should get recalls based on their play this spring.
Klinsmann will probably bring in Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon), based on his seniority, but he could not have been too pleased to see Onyewu's comeback from a knee injury at Sporting cut short by a red card against Portuguese champion Porto.
The versatile Danny Williams (partially torn muscle in his shoulder) will be missed if his shoulder isn't ready.
Michael Parkhurst is competing for the Danish league title, which is both good and bad news for the Wake Forest product. Klinsmann is big on bringing in players taking on key roles for their clubs, but Nordsjaelland won't finish until May 23, two days before camp ends.
MIDFIELDERS. Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04) and Maurice Edu (Rangers) will be fighting for the two holding midfielder spots.
Besides Corona, DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla) and Jose Torres (Pachuca) could be recalled from their Mexican clubs.
Sacha Kljestan will be the only foreign-based player to return with a league title if Klinsmann calls him in from Belgium's Anderlecht. Until now, though, Kljestan has been pretty far down Klinsmann's depth chart in midfield.
FORWARDS. Clint Dempsey (23 goals in all competitions for Fulham) and Jozy Altidore (19 for AZ) are both coming off their best seasons in Europe.
And the streaky Herculez Gomez (18 goals in all competitions for Estudiantes Tecos and Santos this season) should get called in after the Torneo Clausura final against Monterrey even though his playing time in the last month has been limited.

There are a number of foreign-based options available, and we'll all be curious to see who gets called in today.

The Strangest Secret

I had spent a lot of time the past couple of months thinking about the power of positive energy, and how your own attitude can positively or negatively affect the group of people you interact with each day.

Mac Anderson of Simple Truths sent along an excerpt from 'The Strangest Secret' by Earl Nightingale in his email newsletter, and it's pretty amazing and simple to see how you reap what you sow.

George Bernard Shaw said, "People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, they make them."

Well, it's pretty apparent, isn't it? And every person who discovered this believed (for a while) that he was the first one to work it out. We become what we think about.

Conversely, the person who has no goal, who doesn't know where he's going, and whose thoughts must therefore be thoughts of confusion, anxiety and worry—his life becomes one of frustration, fear, anxiety and worry. And if he thinks about nothing... he becomes nothing.

How does it work? Why do we become what we think about? Well, I'll tell you how it works, as far as we know. To do this, I want to tell you about a situation that parallels the human mind.

Suppose a farmer has some land, and it's good, fertile land. The land gives the farmer a choice; he may plant in that land whatever he chooses. The land doesn't care. It's up to the farmer to make the decision.

We're comparing the human mind with the land because the mind, like the land, doesn't care what you plant in it. It will return what you plant, but it doesn't care what you plant.

Now, let's say that the farmer has two seeds in his hand—one is a seed of corn, the other is nightshade, a deadly poison. He digs two little holes in the earth and he plants both seeds—one corn, the other nightshade. He covers up the holes, waters and takes care of the land...and what will happen? Invariably, the land will return what was planted.

As it's written in the Bible, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."

Remember the land doesn't care. It will return poison in just as wonderful abundance as it will corn. So up come the two plants—one corn, one poison.

The human mind is far more fertile, far more incredible and mysterious than the land, but it works the same way. It doesn't care what we plant...success...or failure. A concrete, worthwhile goal...or confusion, misunderstanding, fear, anxiety and so on. But what we plant must return to us.

You see, the human mind is the last great unexplored continent on earth. It contains riches beyond our wildest dreams. It will return anything we want to plant.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bradley finding his footing in Egypt

When soccer riots broke out in Egypt in February, Bob Bradley did not hesitate to speak out despite having only just arrived as the new coach of the national team.

It didn't matter that the American had been in Egypt less than six months or was still coming to terms with the country's post-revolution politics.

He felt he needed to make his views clear on the events of Feb. 1, when up to 74 people were killed when supporters of two rival clubs clashed. The cause remains murky. Several police officers have been charged with helping supporters of Port Said's Al-Masry club attack rivals from Cairo's Al-Ahly.

"It became apparent this was way more than rival fans who didn't get along," said Bradley, whose team was in Dubai for several exhibitions before the team's 2014 World Cup qualifiers in June.

"As the coach of national team, you have responsibility," he said. "The national team has to be connected to people, represent the people. There is a responsibility when something like this happens. You can't just ignore what took place. You can't have your head in the sand and totally ignore it."

Bradley's willingness to be heard on the issue has helped make his months on the job a success so far.

Although he barely speaks Arabic, never coached abroad and was replacing a legend in Hassan Shehata, fans and pundits have given him high grades. They have praised his technical skills, his experience and the commitment to returning Egypt to the World Cup for the first time in 24 years.

"This is our goal, our mission," Bradley said of reaching the 2014 World Cup. "Every time we get together, we are focused on what it will take to get to this World Cup. This is something that will drive us all."

This was a coaching appointment that could have gone bad quickly. Bradley was fired by the U.S. in June after his team lost to Mexico in the Gold Cup final. Even though he had helped the U.S. reach the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup, critics felt the team's progress had stalled. He was replaced by former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Bradley arrived at a difficult time for Egypt and its soccer team. The country was still reeling from an uprising that forced long-term president Hosni Mubarak from office.

Only this week did approval come from the interior ministry for Egypt to host its opening World Cup qualifier against Mozambique at Borg El-Arab Stadium in Alexandria on June 1. It was unclear if fans would be allowed to attend. Egyptian clubs have played continental matches behind closed doors since the Feb. 1 riot, while the national league remains in abeyance.

Bradley also was tasked with reviving a team that missed out on the 2010 World Cup and then the African Cup of Nations for the first time in 33 years.

"There is very good talent." Bradley said. "There is the passion of the whole country and there is motivation of the players especially of the ones who are getting toward the end of their careers and haven't yet been to the World Cup."

Known for his scientific, methodical ways, the American rarely raises his voice and shows little emotion on the sidelines.

"I'm happy to work with a big name like Bob Bradley," goalkeeper Essam El Hadary said. "In these circumstances, we are doing very well with him. He is treating all the players like brothers and we will do our best to qualify for the World Cup."

The team's style of play is still a work in progress, as Bradley assesses the options ahead of the start of World Cup qualifiers in June.

"He still experimenting with several formations, and he is yet to settle on the ideal line up," said Hatem Maher, senior sports editor at Ahram Online who follows the team. "But one prominent change is that he does not rely on a traditional 3-5-2 formation, which was mainly used by Shehata who preferred to play with a sweeper. In recent friendlies, Bradley opted to field many attacking midfielders with only one holding midfielder."

After losing to Brazil in his first match, the team has been unbeaten in its past seven exhibitions. The most recent camp in Dubai showed a team that was still finding its footing - showcasing a potent attack in a 3-2 win over Nigeria but looking sloppy in the last 10 minutes of a drab draw against Iraq.

"When you build a team, there are different periods," Bradley said. "In this period, it's still getting a feel for the group, establishing good ideas of how we play, establishing good mentality.

"Once the foundation is built in each area, it's sharpening things up to the highest level. It's getting close to that time."

Among the biggest challenges facing Bradley has been the political chaos in Egypt. The league started late in 2011 because of the protests, was suspended so players could prepare for Olympic qualifiers, then the Feb. 1 riot hit and the league was shut down.

The fans - some holding posters memorializing riot victims at the Dubai exhibition with Iraq - sympathize with Bradley's challenges.

"It's made things very challenging," he said of the riots. "You have players from Al-Ahly in the stadium who saw people die, not just people but their fans die. Immediately after that happened, there were players who said they wouldn't play anymore."

"He was very (respectful) of those who got killed in Egypt," said Hiatham Abdul, who works in a Dubai restaurant. "We like his style. He is kind of personal. We like him so much."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hodgson named England manager

Roy Hodgson has been appointed England manager on a four-year contract.

The West Brom boss succeeds Fabio Capello after talks with the Football Association on Monday and Tuesday.

He will remain in charge of the Baggies for their last two games of the Premier League season.

The 64-year-old will lead his country after managing 18 teams, including three national sides, during a coaching career spanning 36 years.

"Let's hope we can get everybody behind us and make certain that we work as a team and help the team get the results everyone in England expects and wants," said Hodgson.

TV viewing records shattered by Manchester derby

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports on the outstanding TV ratings for the Manchester derby, and how the growing popularity of soccer in the United States can be measured by it's growing TV audience.

Monday’s Manchester derby between Manchester City over Manchester United for the English Premier League lead on ESPN set an EPL record for the largest viewing audience ever on U.S. cable television. The game was seen by an average of 1.033 million viewers, based on a 0.8 rating, according to Nielsen.

The five most-viewed Premiership matches on U.S. cable TV:


April 30, 2012, ESPN: Man. City vs. Man. United, 1,033,000

Dec. 27, 2010, ESPN2: Chelsea vs. Arsenal, 610,000

Feb. 11, 2012, ESPN2: Liverpool vs. Manchester United, 588,000

Feb. 6, 2011, Fox Soccer: Liverpool vs. Chelsea, 579,000

Dec. 13, 2010, ESPN2: Arsenal vs. Manchester United, 570,000

Additionally, the City-United match was the most-viewed EPL telecast on ESPN Deportes, earning a 4.0 Hispanic coverage rating, which represents 273,000 Hispanic viewers, P2+.

On ESPN3 and WatchESPN, an average minute audience of nearly 87,200 people watched the derby.

MORE TV NUMBERS. The four semifinal games in the UEFA Champions League averaged 1.033 million viewers each, according to Nielsen. That's an increase of 29 percent from the 2011 audiences.

Combined, FX and Fox Deportes drew 1.236 million total viewers, making the Real Madrid-Bayern Munich second leg the most-watched UEFA Champions League non-final match in history.

The return leg between Barcelona and Chelsea recorded 438,000 total viewers on Fox Soccer and 545,000 on Fox Deportes for 983,000 total viewers.

Fox Sports is broadcasting the Bayern Munich-Chelsea final live at 2 p.m. ET on May 19.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

City in driver's seat after 'fair result'

Manchester City is in the driver's seat right now in the pursuit of an English Premier League title, and earned that with a fair result in yesterday's Manchester derby versus Manchester United.

Yesterday's derby had all the feelings that were evoked awaiting a big Mike Tyson prize fight when he was in his prime - everyone tuned in, and awaited the sight of something special.  An estimated 650 million television viewers tuned in to see this heavyweight bout - in comparison, 167 million people watched the Super Bowl this year.  The game was being billed as 'the greatest EPL match in history'.

The 1-0 City victory was decided in first half injury time when captain Vincent Kompany headed home the eventual game-winner, but to fair, United was never really threatening in the match.

Where City started their same lineup they had used in previous matches - including the attacking arsenal of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Samir Nasri - Sir Alex Ferguson went with an alignment to absorb City's pressure.  His 4-5-1 alignment included Wayne Rooney as the center forward, and Park Ji-Sung deployed as a central midfielder to combat and blot out City's box-to-box Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure.  United has played in this fashion in the past in matches where they may have been overwhelmed (Barcelona in 2009 & 2011 UEFA Champions League final), and despite having few attacking options because of the numbers used behind the ball, the hope was to break out on the counter attack - figuring Nani versus Clichy on United's right flank might be the way to catch City.

Unfortunately, the combination of City's pressure and ability to retain the ball for long stretches - coupled with United being forced to chase and get disconnected once they won the ball - left the defending champions searching for answers after Kompany's goal at the late stages of the first half.

The following questions came up in the first half, and Ferguson tried to answer them with substitutions in the second half-

* Rooney as the #9 - Roon is at his best when he plays underneath a central striker and is allowed to play in a free role; on his own as the lone striker, he tended to drift deep into midfield or out into the channels.  This didn't trouble City at all, as they had extra cover at the back with Lescott.  It really negated the things that Rooney likes to do on the field (and which is why I always get testy when offered the idea of Rooney playing that role for England - he is a #10, and not a #9).  Sir Alex brought on Welbeck in the second half and enabled Rooney to play in his more traditional role.

*  Giggs on left/Park in central midfield - I was not surprised to see Park included, as he has played in virtually every big match United has been in over his career; Sir Alex has a tremendous amount of trust in him, and rightfully so - the guy can run all day, and if you tacked a paint brush to his back, he would paint the whole field.  Unfortunately, that, coupled with deploying Giggs on the left flank, left Antonio Valencia on the bench.  Valencia has been United's most dangerous player not named Rooney over the second half of the season, and could have helped United in a territorial battle - pushing City's back line deeper into their own half of the field as he would have threatened to penetrate.  You can see the instant respect that Mancini had for Valencia - Mancini was obviously nervous about the threat of Valencia, and brought on Micah Richards for Silva (Kompany shuffling across slightly, Lescott becoming a left-centre-back/left-back, and Clichy becoming a left-back/left-wing-back. Clichy stuck tight to Valencia, and Lescott offered support behind).

The match was a very different game to the 6-1 thrashing earlier in the season, but United was not very threatening at any point in the match.  Even when Ferguson tried to bring players on to create more dangerous opportunities, Mancini responded by countering his chess moves. City didn’t concede a single shot on target, even with United trailing for 45 minutes, and whether that be due to City's staunch defending or United's inability to grab onto the ball and create dangerous chances on the break, the scoreline proved to be a fair result.
United might not have lost if they’d defended that corner better, but in the end of the day, they didn't deserve 3 points.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Futbolr Manchester Derby Contest

Futbolr Manchester Derby Contest: 1st to Predict score & scorers wins free Futbolr Shirt Enter

Manchester derby figures to be one of biggest in history

Sandy Macaskill of the New York Times writes of the Manchester derby between Manchester United and Manchester City, and how this football match is bigger than any in recent memory.

MANCHESTER, England — Slanting rain and a vicious wind sent ripples and eddies across the puddles forming outside Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Workers spilled out of two satellite television trucks, ferrying cables and cameras into the stadium to prepare for what could be the most anticipated match in Premier League history.

On Monday, those cameras will broadcast the game between Manchester United and Manchester City to 650 million homes in 203 territories. Sixteen overseas broadcasters have applied to cover the game, seven more than worked the recent Clásico in Spain between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

More people are expected to watch Monday’s match between City and United than the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich in May, and yet this is not even a title decider. With United only 3 points ahead in the standings, and with two matches left for each after Monday’s showdown, the winner is not guaranteed the title.

Derby matches in British soccer are always frenetic affairs, but this is no normal squabble over the garden hedge. Henry Winter, a writer for The Telegraph, called it “the most seismic local tear-up in the history of English football.” He added, “This is neighbors at war, fighting for the right to be regional and national champions as the world watches.”

United and City first played, under different names, in 1881. But for the first time since the late 1960s, United’s rule over the city is in question.

United’s record of success has made it a team that is easy to dislike, but that has not always been the case. On Feb. 6, 1958, an airplane carrying the United team crashed on takeoff in Munich, killing eight players and three staff members. Public sympathy and support snowballed as United completed the 1957-58 season without its seriously injured manager, Matt Busby, and with a patched-together collection of crash survivors and new players. Incredibly, the team almost won the F.A. Cup, losing in the final.

United suffered a downturn in the ’70s and ’80s, but Busby’s torch was taken up by Manager Alex Ferguson in 1986. Under Ferguson’s leadership, United has won 12 league titles and 2 European Cups. This season United is competing for its 20th league title over all.

City enjoyed a period of success in the late 1960s and early ’70s, but it has long lived in United’s shadow. It has not won the highest league in the country since 1968, “but the pendulum is swinging,” according to Peter Spencer, sports editor of The Manchester Evening News.

While United is owned by the Glazer family, Americans who have saddled the club with debt, City has been taken over by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the brother of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

City has spent more than $1 billion on player transfers, and was rewarded last year by qualifying for the Champions League and winning the F.A. Cup, the club’s first major trophy in three decades. Times are good in east Manchester, but they may not last. Next season, UEFA, the game’s European governing body, is introducing Financial Fair Play rules, which stipulate that clubs can spend only what they earn. If properly enforced, the rules could slow City’s revival significantly.

For supporters on either side of the Manchester divide, these are issues to be dealt with when the time comes. Their horizon is set at Monday evening.

“Going in to work next Tuesday morning will be the most important day of their lives, for both sets of supporters,” Ferguson said.

The anticipation has been swelling ahead of a match filled with plot lines. Foremost among them is the tale of Carlos Tévez, the former United striker who transferred to City in 2009, squabbled with Manager Roberto Mancini this season and went AWOL to his native Argentina in November. Tévez returned in February, made peace with Mancini, and has scored four goals in his last three games.

And then there are the mind games. Ferguson has finally acknowledged that City is United’s biggest rival, rather than Liverpool, after calling City “a small club with a small mentality” in recent years. He called the match “the derby game of all derby games.”

If it was meant to get Mancini ruffled, it did not work. On Saturday morning, he was radiating relaxation. “We don’t have pressure; we don’t have anything to lose,” Mancini said.

How is it possible to stay so cool, calm and collected in the spotlight? a reporter asked. After all, by Monday, The Manchester Evening News will have written 100 pages on just this one game. Forget former glory; the paper has told both sets of players that they will be “legends or losers.”

“It is impossible to worry about a Monday game” on Saturday, Mancini said. “On Monday, it will be different.”

At Etihad Stadium, City fans emerged out of the deluge for tours of the stadium. Among them was Peter Reid, who made 103 appearances for City as a defensive midfielder, and who managed the team from 1990 to 1993. Now 55, Reid was escorting dignitaries from Abu Dhabi around the stadium.

A former England international, he played against Argentina in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal in Mexico, the match in which Diego Maradona scored two of the most famous goals in soccer history: a shimmering run through five players for the so-called Goal of the Century, and the infamous Hand of God goal.

“I’ve played in the World Cup,” he said, “and honestly, this match is up there.”

Bulls and Basketball an Obsession for Thibodeau

Greg Bishop of the New York Times writes about the life of Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, and how he got to where he is today.  Coach Thibodeau’s dream to become an NBA head coach became true two years ago when he became the head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

Ever since the first coach forced players to run wind sprints, the profession for grown-ups who work in track suits has produced an inordinate share of the obsessed, the eccentric and the paranoid. Consider Thibodeau at the extreme. One of his former players, Nate Bryant, described the way Thibodeau approached his craft as an “addiction, without question.”
And the most prominent manifestation of that addiction, as described by two dozen friends, family members, former players and associates, always comes back to video. Every person Thibodeau ever met, it seems, has a tale of the tape.
First story: when Bryant arrived early at Salem State in the early 1980s, his dorm was not ready. He stayed in Thibodeau’s apartment, which was mostly empty, save for a couch, a TV and a VCR. The athletic department did not install its own video system for 10 years. In that time, Thibodeau watched many hundreds of hours of tape. And perhaps even a few movies.

Fifth story: An assistant at Thibodeau’s alma mater, New Britain High School, went to visit him at Harvard, where he was an assistant after leaving Salem State. He could hardly see Thibodeau behind the tapes stacked atop his desk.

Fourteenth story: when one of his Harvard players visited Thibodeau in Minnesota, where he first entered the N.B.A. as an assistant in 1989, the player found the refrigerator empty. The player and his wife went to a Timberwolves game, then returned to the apartment, where Thibodeau taught the player’s wife how to break down game film.
The player was Arne Duncan, now the secretary of education. He pushed Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls’ chairman, to interview and hire Thibodeau.
“This is his life,” Duncan said. “For better or worse, he doesn’t have a lot of other interests. Maybe he has no other interests.”

HOW we communicate is as important as WHAT we say when building successful teams

Alex "Sandy" Pentland is the director of MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory, and he wrote a fascinating article on communication and effective patterns of communication. Through enormous amounts of research, Pentland makes an impressive case for the importance of communication in building successful teams.

Our data show that great teams:

•Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.

•Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don't do both.

•Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as "asides" during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.

•Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

You'll notice that none of the factors outlined above concern the substance of a team's communication. As I said, our badges only capture how people communicate — tone of voice, gesticulation, how one faces others in the group, and how much people talk and listen. They do not capture what people communicate.

This is purposeful. From the beginning, I suspected that the ineffable buzz of high-performing teams wasn't more about the how of communication than the what. My hypothesis was that the ancient biological patterns of signaling that humans developed in the millennia before we developed language — which is a relatively recent development — still dominate our communication. I was buoyed in this idea by research on just how sophisticated non-verbal communication can be across the animal kingdom. Bees, for example, use a marvelous system of dancing competitions to decide where to get their pollen.

According to our data, it's as true for humans as for bees: How we communicate turns out to be the most important predictor of team success, and as important as all other factors combined, including intelligence, personality, skill, and content of discussions. The old adage that it's not what you say, but how you say it, turns out to be mathematically correct.

Just how powerful these patterns of communication are can be surprising. For example, we can predict with eerie precision whether a team will perform well or not, and we can predict with a high rate of success whether or not team members will report they've had a "productive" or "creative" day based solely on the data from the sociometric badges. If this seems like a statistical parlor trick, it's not. By adjusting group behavior based on this data, we've documented improved teamwork.

Many people are uncomfortable with this. It suggests that a kind of biological determinism, that people who naturally display the good communication patterns will "win" and anyone not blessed with this innate talent will drag a team down. In fact, that's not the case at all. In our work we've found that these patterns of communication are highly trainable, and that personality traits we usually chalk up to the "it" factor — personal charisma, for example — are actually teachable skills. Data is an amazingly powerful tool for objectifying what would normally seem subjective. Time and again I've seen data become an incontrovertible ally to team members who may otherwise be afraid to voice their feelings about the team dynamics. They can finally say "I'm not being heard" and they have the data to back them up.

People should feel empowered by the idea of a science of team building, The idea that we can transmute the guess work of putting a team together into a rigorous methodology, and then continuously improve teams is exciting. Nothing will be more powerful, I believe, in eventually changing how organizations work.