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Good Soccer Reads: Television debuts in America, tactics and finances in England

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Good Soccer Reads

In this week’s edition of Good Soccer Reads, compiled from the XI twitter feed, we highlight a new show on the American broadcast landscape, drinking the “hatorade,” a rare profile of Michael Bradley and more. If you want to receive the Good Soccer Reads e-mail digest weekly, be sure to subscribe now!

1. Commentary: Debut of ESPN FC shows promise, but may not offer what MLS fans want (yet)

Charles Boehm | MLSsoccer.com | August 12, 2013

Big changes are coming to the U.S. soccer television landscape, perhaps none bigger than NBC’s broadcasting of the English Premier League starting this week, and the end of Fox Soccer Channel, in favor of multi-sport networks Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2. A network that has long been a player in soccer broadcasting, ESPN, has tried to appeal to the increasing appetites for the sport by beginning a daily highlights and analysis show, ESPN FC, which began this week. While these shows can’t provide everything to everybody, Charles Boehm examines the debut of the show, particularly from an MLS lens, and finds the program could grow into its own, but it may not yet be a go-to destination for soccer fanatics.

It would be some 25 minutes before MLS topics were broached, with Alexi Lalas and former New England Revolution coach Steve Nicol replacing Burley and Hislop for a debate about Dempsey’s move back to MLS. This lack of prime placement may disappoint current fans of the league but might also simply be a reflection of ESPN’s demographic research.

The EPL seems to be king in ESPN FC‘s world – as it is in many nations across the globe – with the biggest clubs in Spain, Italy and Germany following close behind. Burley, the former Scottish international, left viewers with no doubts about that status quo when he opined that “An American going back to the MLS is not a story” anywhere but here.

If the Worldwide Leader’s new offering can introduce MLS to viewers who tune in looking for European footy news first, it could benefit the league, but it may also reinforce the traditional paradigm which pushes North America’s top flight well down the priority list based on old ideas about where, why and how the planet’s best soccer can be found. A “Messi or Ronaldo” discussion came off as similarly formulaic, even with the use of a real-time Twitter poll which was one of several conscious nods to the sport’s newest and most interactive social media vehicle.

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2. Catalonian Hatorade

Elliott Turner | The Classical | August 15, 2013

Barcelona is certainly the club of the current era, and the vast success, plus the distinctive style of play, has drawn many, many fans from around the globe (go to a random elementary or middle school and you are liable to see at least one Barca jersey). As the years have passed, and Barcelona’s success became more and more routine, those who have not pledged their undying support to the team have spoken up and complained about Barcelona’s style of play, their dominance, you name it. It is a normal feature of sports fandom, and with the club looking to be entering a period of transition, XI issue three contributor Elliott Turner discusses whether the complaints are justified, or if the novelty wore off and the “haters” aren’t appreciating a remarkable run for a club.

The world has this pretty messed up view of Americans as drone-loving imperialists who want to win at any costs. In reality, Americans are much more complex. We do love to win (who doesn’t?), yet many of us hate winners. For every Yankees fan, how many folks despise the pinstripes? How many of your favorite companies have gone through the Department of Justice anti-trust ringer? Thus, for the past few years, many Americans, myself included, have looked upon the success of FC Barcelona with suspicion and disdain. Now that the sun sets on the Catalan reign, we must ask ourselves: were we suspicious of monopolies, or just a bunch of haters?

Spanish soccer is the new Cold War. Instead of the Soviet Union versus the United States, we have FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. They are the two superpowers with massive amounts of revenue thanks to slanted TV deals. They’ve won a combined 54 La Ligas (out of 82). That number is even more skewed if you only look at La Ligas won since 1950. Both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are also heavily in debt. Why? Well, instead of ICBMs, the teams invest tens of millions in South American starlets. Some excel. Some flame out. It’s Neymar instead of nukes. Instead of the Bay of Pigs, Barca fans tossed a pig’s head at a player, Luis Figo, with the audacity to change sides.

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3. Kagawa, Wilshere, Toure and Dembele Could Define Tactical Shape of the Season

Jonathan Wilson | Bleacher Report | August 15, 2013

Tactics constantly change and evolve in soccer, for obvious reasons. Jonathan Wilson provides a tentative preview of how some of the major clubs in England could line up in midfield and attack this season. Guided by the important caveat that players and their skills must be taken into account when creating formations, Wilson’s predictions, complete with clear diagrams, show two variations that could become the in vogue style in the English Premier League…at least until the next tactical development comes around.

Predicting tactical trends for the season to come before any of the sides have actually played a competitive match inevitably means offering hostages to fortune, but it does seem that at least three and perhaps four of the sides likely to be challenging for Champions League qualification could be shaping up to play—or could at least have the option of—operating with a 4-2-1-3.

Numerical designations are always crude—no more than building blocks for the start of debate—and it should be said straight away that the 4-2-1-3 is only fractionally removed from the 4-2-3-1. Perhaps it’s best thought of as a cross between that formation and a 4-3-3—or, to put it another way, a hybrid of the two formations that have dominated football at the highest level for the past couple of seasons.

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4. Arsenal – Money Don’t Matter 2 Night

Kieron O’Connor | The Swiss Ramble | August 12, 2013

One of the big mysteries of this offseason has been the lack of transfer spending by Arsenal, a club that has appeared to fall behind the elite clubs of England and Europe year after year and yet still find a way into the Champions League. Can Arsenal really afford to splash the cash for marquee players, and they are just holding back for some inexplicable reason? Kieron O’Connor, aka “The Swiss Rambler” breaks down Arsenal’s finances in impressive fashion, and finds that although the club can certainly spend on new players, there are plenty of obligations that must be considered, obligations that aren’t usually at the forefront of fans’ minds.

Although Arsenal performed creditably, the fact is that they never threatened a challenge in the major competitions and were dumped unceremoniously out of the domestic cups by lower league opposition. Therefore, the need to strengthen was obvious to all and sundry. A couple of injuries to key players would highlight the threadbare nature of the squad, which would then have to rely on youngsters, who may well be talented, but are untested in the heat of battle, pre-season friendlies not being the best indicator.
As INXS once said, it’s enough to mystify me, especially given the bullish comments from Ivan Gazidis in June. Ah, those heady days of (early) summer, when Arsenal’s chief executive boasted, “This year we are beginning to see something we have been planning for some time, which is the escalation in our financial firepower.” He continued, “We have a certain amount of money which we’ve held in reserve. We also have new revenue streams coming on board and all of these things mean we can do some things which would excite you.”
But specifically what could this mean? For example, could Arsenal now pay a £25 million transfer fees and wages of £200,000 for one world class player? Gazidis pulled no punches, “Of course we could do that. We could do more than that.”

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5. America’s Most Important Soccer Player Conquers The Old World

Luke O’Brien | Deadspin | August 13, 2013

To conclude the digest this week, we turn to a profile of USMNT and Roma midfielder Michael Bradley, a player who has matured into one of the most important in American soccer. Despite his strong reputation on the field, Bradley remains something of a mystery off the field, and the profile sheds some light on the player. Still, a great deal of mystery remains, presumably because Bradley is a private, guarded person, and a confrontation with Bradley’s father and former USMNT coach Bob Bradley shows there is still some reluctance to really open up at this point.

Even from the last row of the upper deck, Michael Bradley was easy to spot. At six feet two, Bradley has long legs, short arms, and a truculent, upright running style not unlike that of a large rooster. His commanding demeanor has earned him various martial nicknames here such as Il Generale and Il Marine. The Italian press dubbed him Captain America during a standout season for Chievo Verona last season. Other monikers, such as Lex Luthor, Alien, and Megamind, have to do with his bulbous bald head, easily his most recognizable feature.

When Roma acquired Bradley for €3.75 million in 2012, some grousing went up that the team’s American owners only wanted to use the now-26-year-old center midfielder to secure a foothold in the U.S. market, which he undoubtedly provides. But Bradley soon earned a starting spot under Czech-Italian coach Zdenek Zeman, who let him bomb forward as a box-to-box intermedio the way he often does for the U.S. men’s national team. Bradley played well—so well at times that he made the pricier Daniele De Rossi look expendable. In February, however, Zeman lost his job, and Bradley’s role grew less certain under interim coach Aurelio Andreazzoli (since replaced with Frenchman Rudi Garcia). Fewer starts. Less bombing forward.

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