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Good Soccer Reads: Fixers in the Shadows, Pricing Fans Out…and Reeling Them In

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WPS 2009-July-08 Photo: JMR_Photography/Flickr

With this week’s Good Soccer Reads, as curated by the XI twitter feed, we look at the still-unfolding match-fixing scandal, Neymar’s possible fear of the unknown, young Americans Abroad, and more. If you want to receive the Good Soccer Reads e-mail digest weekly, be sure to subscribe now!

1. Soccer Fixing Inquiry Hinges on a Shadowy Singaporean

Gaia Pianigiani and Thomas Fuller | New York Times Goal Blog | February 13, 2013
As more information emerges concerning the worldwide match-fixing scandal that was recently uncovered, many reports have focused on one man, Tan Seet Eng, as the mastermind. But the implications stretch far wider.

There was frequent communication between those who dealt with players and the Singaporeans who transported the money for bribes. The most important call was between Mr. Tan and Vinko Saka, a former coach from Croatia who would tell Mr. Tan when a bribe was arranged.

“The picture is just not that of simple dishonesty of players and coaches at the local level, but rather one of an operative international network, eased by the ‘globalization’ of betting on the Internet, capable of convincing disloyal players ready to fix matches and earn easy money,” the inquiring judge, Guido Salvini, wrote in a statement.

“This cartel is probably not the only international cartel that works in this criminal field, but it’s the first one that has come to light.”

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2. Why Neymar is so Happy to Stay in Brazil

Tim Vickery | BBC Sport | February 11, 2013
One of the brightest young stars in the world game is Neymar, and with his accomplishments in Brazil, speculation is rampant the youngster will soon be moving to Europe. However, Tim Vickery provides several reasons why Neymar may not want to head abroad yet, and the psychological motivations are perhaps the most revealing.

I have the impression that ever since that competition [the 2009 U-17 World Cup], global football is something of a trauma in his young mind. For a player of his type, confidence is fundamental. But whenever I see Neymar one-on-one with a defender in top international games, I never believe he will win the duel and – for what it is worth – I have the impression he does not believe it either.

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3. Get Them to the Match: The NWSL and Connecting with Their Fans

JJ Duke | Our Game Magazine | January 30, 2013
The rosters are starting to come together in NWSL for the inaugural season, and the key question is how to ensure this effort at a women’s professional league is sustainable. Determining how to build a lasting fanbase is a priority for executives like Chicago Red Stars General Manager Alyse LaHue, as she told JJ Duke.

“The experience of our games will not be a juvenile one exclusively. A group of 20-somethings can come, hang out in the beer garden, be vocal during the game, and still feel welcome,” said LaHue. “Every game needs to be an ‘experience’ for fans of all ages, so there will be something for everyone. Young soccer players will be happy because they will have the opportunity to meet their idols after the game or get autographs, young adults will be able to drink beer and mingle with like-minded fans in the beer garden, and the overall game atmosphere and experience will not be focused towards one particular demographic, but inclusive for many.“

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4. The Kids are Alright: Young Americans Pushing for Bundesliga Chance

Brian Blickenstaff | ASN | February 11, 2013
Brian Blickenstaff recently spoke with two American teenagers, Russell Canouse and Zach Pfeffer, who are currently playing in Germany in Hoffenheim’s youth ranks. Although Academy systems have progressed in recent years in the United States and Canada, the stories of Canouse and Pfeffer demonstrate the sacrifices young promising players must make in order to become professionals.

Both players acknowledged that they’re missing out on a typical American youth—high school and college (they both plan on taking courses online)—but they felt lucky to be having such a rich cultural experience. What they have in Germany is just as formative as college and far more unique. “[Missing out on high school or college] is just part of wanting to be a professional soccer player,” said Pfeffer.

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5. Football and Ticketing: Counting the Cost of Putting Fans Last

Andy Mitten | The National | February 14, 2013
With television increasing the visibility of certain leagues around the world, those who actually attend matches – both home and away supporters – tend to feel the pinch of increased ticket prices and inconvenient kickoff times.

Fans are seldom at the top of the agenda in Spanish football. Kick-off times are changed up to 10 days before kick-off and played at unpopular times to suit the television audience. Barcelona kicked off at midday last week for the first time in 47 years. It is a time many fans are either at church or still just rising, given that Spain stays up late on Saturday night. Not for nothing are games not usually played in Spain’s midday sun, but when football started agreeing to huge television deals, Sir Alex Ferguson said: “When you shake hands with the devil, you have to pay the price. Television is god at the moment.”

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