May 17, 2005


Britain's fever pitch (Mark Rice-Oxley, 5/18/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

It's the biggest soccer club in the world, richer than Real Madrid, more successful than Barcelona, a name comparable to the New York Yankees or the Chicago Bulls in global sporting brands.

And on the field, few teams have bested Manchester United in recent years.

But after the injury of losing freekick prodigy and metrosexual icon David Beckham, the 127-year-old soccer club has been dealt the insult of losing ownership to an American billionaire, Malcolm Glazer.

Mr. Glazer - owner of the 2003 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers - last week went public with a $1.5 billion buyout, and mopped up the last few shares needed to control the club on Monday.

The response has been hysterical. Britons are lamenting the wanton commercialization of their national treasure that they say the Glazer era promises.

Fans are vowing a mass boycott to undermine the new owner.

Wow, he's only owned the team a few days and already the fans are acting like Americans: boycotting soccer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 17, 2005 8:18 PM

Alex Ferguson let Beckham go. There was no injury to United.

In fact they were instantly better off. Becks can do two things exceptionally, pass the ball and kick it from a deadball situation. Unfortunately, he's slower than your average baseball DH, and opposing fullbacks would gallop by him like he was standing still.

They replaced him with Cristiano Ronaldo, a better player nearly a decade younger, making a profit as well.

Also significant: Ronaldo was named after Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 17, 2005 8:49 PM

He can kick the ball? No wonder he's a star....

Posted by: oj at May 17, 2005 8:54 PM

Ok wiseguy. But there's more to football than kicking the ball. Counterintuitive, but true.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 17, 2005 9:04 PM


Posted by: oj at May 17, 2005 9:13 PM

Yes but also:

The ability to take a ball out of the air and do with it what you want.

Quick-thinking. These guys at the level of top-European clubs get one touch on the ball. They have to know what they want to do with it before they even get it.

Positioning and knowing when and where to make the correct runs. Especially important for forwards, who have to time their runs to beat the offsides traps sprung by the opposing defense.

Tackling. Timing here is very important as well. If you mistime, especially in defense, your man is either off to the races or you've brought him down and will be getting a yellow/red card from the ref, either sent off the pitch and/or suspended for later matches.

I think your view of soccer OJ probably originates from a combination of watching the attrocious 1994 world cup here in the US -- which was the worst soccer tourney ever -- and watching American 8 year olds play soccer.

The former was an unfortunate anomaly -- though international tourneys often suck -- these are after all all-star teams who play together on a handful of occasions -- and as for the latter, if people judged baseball by the fact that 8 year old pitchers require 20 tries to get the ball over the plate, no one would be a baseball fan.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 17, 2005 10:50 PM

One of the biggest turnoffs about soccer for many Americans has to be the way these grown men flop on the ground after phantom tackles and grab their knee/ankle and writhe around and scream like little girls. After the tantrum they get up and resume play as normal. It's frankly nauseating.

Posted by: John W. at May 17, 2005 11:32 PM

running. kicking.

Posted by: oj at May 18, 2005 12:08 AM

It's not just their great acting skills. As I said in another set of comments, can you image the World Series coming down to a home run derby, or the Superbowl a punt-pass&kick competition, if a game ends in a tie? That's the real problem with metric football— far too often the game becomes meaningless and the talents needed to win (penalty kicks) are rarely used in the game itself.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 18, 2005 12:08 AM

Jim, Ronaldo *may* be a better player, but the team has suffered since Beckham's departure, finishing out of first for the second consecutive year, this year almost 20 points behind the champions. Van Nistelrooy has not gotten near the service he had when Beckham was there, and United's attack is much more cramped without Beckham's pinpont long passes from deep in the right-side midfield. Not to mention his second-to-none workrate and willingness to track back and tackle.

United miss Beckham dearly.

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at May 18, 2005 12:13 AM

The game is more boring than Professional Bowling. It may involve considerable skill to be good at it, but so does drywalling.

Posted by: Pete at May 18, 2005 12:15 AM


Van Nistelrooy's drastic dropoff is only partly the fault of Becks being gone. He's had some long-term injuries the last 2 years and they've tried to rush him back in both cases. Plus he didn't rely nearly as much on Becks as say Yorke and Cole did.

For all his greatness as a passer, the enduring vision I have of him is of Roberto Carlos steaming by him all night in the Champion's League first leg in the Bernabeu 2003, semi-final was it? I'm convinced that is when they decided to sell him.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 18, 2005 12:24 AM


Woo-Hooooooo!!! A first-ever championship! Against our hated crosstown rivals!

We now return to your regularly-scheduled soccer-bashing already in progress. :-)

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 18, 2005 5:17 AM

Soccer story, must stay awake....................

Posted by: Bob at May 18, 2005 10:40 AM

Soccer players shoot at a goal the size of a New England state and they still can't score about 99% of the time. Compare what they do with what people who play Aussie Rules or Gaelic Football and you'll see the difference.

Soccer players don't even have to be in condition. Most of the game is conducted at a slow trot. Compared to hockey, rugby or basketball, let alone boxing, it's like a walk in the park.

Soccer doesn't even really have plays. It is just 22 guys chasing a round ball. Compare what goes on with the intricacy of hockey or rugby, or even good college basketball, and you'll see.

Toughness? In America, soccer is correctly a game for women and private school boys.

Posted by: bart at May 18, 2005 10:48 AM


Bart's on your side.

I win.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 18, 2005 11:28 AM


Yorke and Cole had each other to play off of. Van Nistelrooy had only Beckham. Yes, he's been injured, but that's only part of the reason for United's decline.

Even with the addition of two world-class players, Ronaldo and Rooney, United have suffered greatly in midfield without Beckham. Sure, Roberto Carlos made him look bad; but one bad day does not a player define. United's midfield is one-dimensional without Beckham.

Beckham was as key to United as were the three other great recent players -- Keane, Cantona and Schmeichel.

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at May 18, 2005 1:05 PM

Frankly, I couldn't care less about others' opinions of any sport, soccer included. OJ is welcome to hate soccer and American football, my girlfriend is welcome to hate basketball, etc. No skin off my back.

But opinions are one thing; facts are another. Like this:

"Soccer players don't even have to be in condition. Most of the game is conducted at a slow trot."

Do what?! I'd say, "You're kidding, right?" except it's already clear you're not. The notion that soccer players don't have to be in condition is ludicrous. Show me one soccer player outside some local 40-plus rec league who isn't in top-notch shape. They have to be. It's an exhausting, demanding game, played in two 45-minute stretches with a clock that doesn't stop. A grand total of two substitutions is permitted during a game, which means that at least nine guys get nothing but a quick halftime break.

And while the game might look like a "slow trot" when you're watching the long-camera TV view of a 110-yard-long field, it's actually one of the most uptempo sports around. It's a continuous -- again, nonstop -- blend of sprints and fast jogs. Even the defensive players do more than just lurk around their own goal; they're always making full-length runs up the field for various plays.

Which bring us to: "Soccer doesn't even really have plays."

This, too, is so inane I hardly know how to respond, except to say that it might be worth actually paying attention to a match some time. Shoot, simply play one of the myriad soccer video games out there, and see if even your fingers can keep up with the intricacy and complexity required to make a team get something done.

Again, I don't care if you don't like the game, any more than I care if you prefer Pepsi over Coke. But tossing out this sort of goofiness definitely demands rebuttal.

Posted by: SP at May 18, 2005 1:46 PM

Rio, rooney, Ronaldo and Heinze all missed nearly the first two months of the season.

If United had them for a full season, let alone a healthy Van N., they'd have pushed Chelski for the league.

As it is they still picked up over 70 points, which in most other seasons would have kept them in contention, if not given them the Prem.

I don't think they'd have done any better with Beckham.

(Schmeichel has never been replaced sadly. Nor has the Keano of old.)

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 18, 2005 2:45 PM


'And while the game may look like a slow trot..'

Who are going to believe, me or your own lyin' eyes? I've gone to several soccer games on Division I level in France and Germany, and I'm sorry, it's not at anywhere near the pace of hockey or basketball or rugby or Aussie Rules or Gaelic Rules let along boxing at the best levels. You simply do not have to be in the same level of condition to play soccer that you do many other sports. It is true it generally requires more conditioning than baseball or bowling or most positions in American football for that matter but so what?

Intricacy? Watch American football or rugby sometime. Even really good college basketball like the old Princeton offense under Pete Carill or the way an Al McGuire team would play defense. That's choreography. It can be truly brilliant how the 5 or 11 or 15 men work together. IN soccer at best two or three guys run around, some guy dumps the ball down the field, someone else chases it, nobody scores because nobody can aim the damn ball into a new the size of Vermont ad infinitum, ad nauseam. It has fewer plays than hockey and requires far less skill.

Video games? Now,really?

Posted by: bart at May 18, 2005 6:19 PM
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