Category Archives: soccer

The Decade of Longevity: Where Hip-Hop & Football Align

Take Your Pick

Tupac or Biggie? Barcelona or Real Madrid?

Hip-hop and football (soccer) are two cultural spheres from which people form intimate relationships. One’s favorite rapper or footballer is formed based on a huge web of interconnected influences: where someone grew up, the values they were raised to hold, and the style of their favorite rapper or footballer, amongst others.

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While everyone is entitled to having a favorite in anything, there is a collective understanding within any given cultural sphere of who is the best at what they do. The cream rises to the top, and those on top set the standard for everyone else to follow.

How Do We Know Who the Greatest Is?

Greatness consists of a powerful fusion of sentiment and statistics. Sentiment in hip-hop and football are measured based on subjectivity; the emotions evoked by someone’s ability, for example, are incalculable. Statistics in hip-hop and football, on the other hand, are strictly factual. In hip-hop, statistics can be how many streams, album sales, or Grammys a rapper has compiled. In football, statistics can be quantified by the number of goals, assists, or clean sheets a player has, as well as major titles or Ballon d’Ors a player has won.

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While sentiment and statistics are polar opposites in nature, they combine to form a compelling argument about who the greats are, and in this case, who the greats in hip-hop and football are.

This Generation’s Greatest

We currently live in a unique cultural period, both in hip-hop and football. This era, which can be marked by the turn of the decade, can be defined by one word: longevity. The two greatest rappers of the 2010s are Kendrick Lamar and Drake, and the two greatest footballers of the 2010s are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. What makes these four individuals so special is how long they’ve been performing at the highest level. It has rarely been seen in either sphere, making this past decade a special one.

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Interestingly enough, when you split the four men into groups of two, with the careers of Kendrick and Messi aligning in certain ways, as do those of Drake and Cristiano.

K Dot and La Pulga (The flea, Messi’s nickname)

Kendrick Lamar (Compton, California) and Lionel Messi (Rosario, Argentina) were born a week apart on June 17th and June 24th, 1987, respectively. Kendrick Lamar has lived in California his entire life, and Messi moved to Barcelona as a teenager, where he has lived for the majority of his life. Lamar and Messi are widely praised for their humility, coming from humble upbringings, letting their performances speak to their unparalleled talents.

They have taken on the occasional advertisement campaign or acting gig (Kendrick, briefly), but generally go unseen in the public eye or the tabloids. Perhaps this can be attributed in part to the fact that both men are in committed relationships to their high school sweethearts with whom they’ve had children. Regardless, the fact that folks can almost solely associate the two with their profession is a reflection of the dedication they’ve demonstrated in their careers.

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Of course, Lamar and Messi’s abilities have evolved over time, but all of the magic they’ve produced has been executed with the same underlying grace that has won them so many faithful fans. Their seemingly innate talent is considered to have a permeating effect, making those around them perform at a higher level, be it in the studio or on the pitch. It is due to this “effortless” ability that they are considered amongst the very best, if not the best, in the history of their respective crafts.

Drizzy and CR7

Drake (Toronto, Canada) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Madeira, Portugal) were born over a year apart on October 24th, 1986 and February 5th, 1985, respectively. Drake lived in Canada for some time before moving to Los Angeles, California, and Ronaldo has moved about throughout his career, initially leaving Portugal for Manchester, England as a teenager. These two also had humble upbringings, Ronaldo from poverty, and they have gone on to be the most marketable individuals in their respective crafts, taking on the persona of global ambassadors of sorts.

Drake and Ronaldo are constantly making noise in the press for one thing or another. Drake has come to be seen as the face of streaming giant Apple Music, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s business team has built a museum, a hotel, and underwear line all under Cristiano’s name, just to name a few business ventures. Their often excessive self-adoration, especially Ronaldo’s, has fueled much criticism over the years. Both men have had children with unknown mothers, irking the purest of fans, and both men have been accused of sexual assault. Although neither accusation was deemed true, it (understandably) holds an asterisk over their heads for some, cemented by the fact that the accusers in both cases were paid off.

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Despite the negative image bestowed upon them by the public, Drake and Cristiano Ronaldo are seen as two of the most hard-working professionals of all time in their respective industries. They have evolved on numerous occasions, which has been the key to maintaining their longevity at the top. Drake started out mainly as a rapper, but went on to become arguably the biggest pop artist in the world, much to the disapproval of his hardcore rap fans. Ronaldo started out as a flashy winger, and upon moving to Real Madrid became the best goal scorer in the world, causing some fans to call him a boring player without the flair. Both have been accused of depending on the talent around them in reaching the point that they are at, but this is simply petty and unfounded.

Not Everything Was The Same…

Obviously, the aforementioned comparisons are subject to all kinds of rebuttal.

First and foremost, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are objectively two of the ten best footballers of all time, and arguably in the top five of all time. On the other hand, while a large population of hip-hop fans would put Kendrick Lamar in their top 10 all-time list, Drake seems unlikely to appear on that list. He has produced countless hits and helped further the careers of dozens of artists, but he does not have a To Pimp a Butterfly or a Good Kid M.A.A.D City. Drake’s Take Care and Nothing Was The Same are amazing bodies of work, but some say they lack the depth that lifts most albums into the tier of classic. In all, his cultural impact has been immense, but his societal impact has been modest, whereas Kendrick’s singular ability to narrate the black experience in America has transcended the rap game.

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Second, Messi’s story with Argentina remains a dismal one. Despite having reached the final in multiple tournaments with his national team (including in the 2014 World Cup), Messi has returned to his club duties empty handed after each of those occasions. Kendrick Lamar, on the other hand, was the first non-jazz or classical musician to win the Pulitzer Prize, which one could argue is even more impressive than winning the World Cup. A considerable crowd of football fans argue that it’s impossible for Messi to be the best ever because of his shortcomings with Argentina, but many say that Messi’s achievements at the club level balance his legacy out.

Third, I can imagine that many hip-hop fans could disagree with the notion that Kendrick Lamar and Drake are the two best hip-hop artists of this past decade. The only artist who fans can genuinely argue in favor of over one of those two is Kanye West, which is a valid argument. After all, many credit Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreaks as Drake’s inspiration in expanding his sound beyond the realm of rap, and Kanye’s most critically acclaimed album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, came out in late 2010. It’s important to note, though, that Kanye’s influence in hip-hop began as early as the 1990s when he started out as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records before deciding to rap as well. Despite all of this, Drake’s musical success in the 2010s has been greater than Kanye’s.

Why?

Our world is interconnected in far more ways than we have been conditioned to perceive.

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Being a massive fan of rap and football myself, it’s entertaining to think about the ways that these two massive cultural spheres overlap and bounce off of one another. Hip-hop and football are two entirely unique cultures, but they also have the power of creating community, both amongst like minded folks and amongst historically oppositional groups of people. These two art forms generate emotions, establish personalities, and set trends within our daily lives. Immortal memories and achievements have been made in both, and will continue to do so as long as we can figure out how to weather the impending climate catapult.

The more we push ourselves to recognize commonalities amidst more obvious differences, the more cohesive a global society we will live in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Premier League Top Four: The Contenders

September is almost here and the new Premier League season has finally kicked off. Several teams have strengthened their squad in the transfer window with hopes of securing a UEFA Champions League spot, awarded to the top four teams in the table. As time winds down, here is how competitive teams will stack up.

Fighting for a Spot in Europe

Leicester City: The Foxes’ competitiveness in 2020 all depends on how they will cope with the sale of Harry Maguire. The 2016 EPL champions made £80 million for the English international, a world-record fee for a center back. Still, Maguire’s presence on the back line was key to Leicester’s chances of breaking into the top four, but the Foxes have enough talent on their roster to change their identity following his departure. Leicester probably overpaid for attacker Ayoze Perez from Newcastle when they coughed up £30 million, but they know what they’re getting from the EPL regular. He will play behind Jamie Vardy in a supporting forward role upon Shinji Okazaki’s departure and Kelechi Iheanacho’s underwhelming performances.

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Perhaps Leicester’s most important move of the summer was signing Belgian international Youri Tielemans to a long-term permanent deal after a successful loan spell at the King Power stadium in 2019. The midfielder was receiving interest from top clubs in England, but Leicester still managed to secure his signature. Ricardo Pereira proved himself to be one of the signings of last summer at the right back spot, and Ben Chilwell could be the future of England at the left back spot. Wilfred Ndidi is no Ngolo Kante, but has an extremely bright future as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League, and showed his quality last weekend with a goal against Chelsea. The young James Maddison could be the club’s next maestro, as big clubs in England were looking to snatch him away from the King Power. Leicester has enough to finish in the upper half of the table, and could challenge for an even higher spot if a center back steps up in Maguire’s place.

Wolverhampton: After being promoted last season, Wolves put every team on notice with consistency in every position. Their heavy Portugese squad influence made headlines in last year’s transfer window, and the chemistry certainly paid dividends as they finished in the seventh spot and with a winning record against the EPL top six. They sealed the transfers of Leander Dendoncker and Raul Jimenez this summer, who both impressed in their loan spells last season. Jimenez, a Mexican international, is not flashy but loves to put the ball in the net at a consistent rate, while Dendoncker will likely start for the Belgian Red Devils in the future, being able to play as a center back and also as a defensive midfielder.

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The biggest headline by far for Wolves has to be the signing of Patrick Cutrone for £23 million from AC Milan. The young Italian striker is about to enter the prime of his career, and showed high-level promise at the San Siro. At the age of just 21, Cutrone has already made 90 caps for Milan, scoring 27 times primarily as a substitute. Wolves should give him plenty of opportunities to shine, and this is just the type of signing that manager Nuno Espírito Santo needs in order to break into the top six. Wolves played very well against the Premier League’s best teams last season, and look to continue that form following a draw against Manchester United this past weekend.

West Ham United: Every transfer window, West Ham spends like a top European club and ends up finishing mid-table. This window, the Hammers decided to be a bit more selective on their transfers, while still spending money where they deem acceptable. Longtime strikers Marko Arnautovic and Andy Carroll have departed the club – while they would have done well to receive more than just £20 million for Arnautovic, the player was forcing the move and there was not much that could have been done. Luckily, West Ham quickly replaced the Austrian international with Sebastian Haller, who had a strong season for Frankfurt. The tall French striker played second fiddle to Luka Jovic in Germany, but still managed to score 15 times in 29 caps in 2019, also tallying nine assists. Only Robert Lewandowski had more goal involvement in Germany last season, so there are high hopes that Haller lives up to the £45 million price tag that the Hammers agreed to pay. Pablo Fornals joins West Ham from Villareal, and shows plenty of promise from the attacking midfield spot. He is still young and will take some time to develop, but adds another dimension to West Ham’s attack. West Ham is dangerous in 2020, coming off of stellar seasons from Felipe Anderson on the wing and Lukasz Fabianski in goal. If Issa Diop and Declan Rice continue developing, West Ham could be a serious threat. It will also be interesting to see what Andriy Yarmolenko does with a full season and if Jack Wilshere can break into the squad.

Everton: The other team in Liverpool has been threatening to spend big on a player that will take them to the next level this transfer window. Everton lost Idrissa Gueye to PSG for almost £30 million, who was one of their three best players last season, next to Lucas Digne and Richarlison, but replaced him with Manchester City veteran Fabian Delph and Mainz CDM Jean-Philippe Gbamin. Delph is certainly a downgrade, but brings championship pedigree and will potentially make a difference in changing the team’s mentality. While they know the consistency that they’ll be getting from Delph, Gbamin offers a ceiling that is close to Gueye’s, giving the Toffees some flexibility. Lucas Digne had a career-changing season at LB after failing to make a real impact in previous stints at PSG, Roma and Barcelona.

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Richarlison solidified himself as the real deal after an impressive year with Watford the season prior, scoring 13 times in the league with Everton in 2019. They look to provide some goal-scoring support for the Brazilian international, which will be further bolstered by additions of Moise Kean from Juventus and Alex Iwobi from Arsenal. After failing to secure Wilfried Zaha’s signature, Everton managed to buy Iwobi on deadline day to round out a dangerous front three that features Bernardo and Richarlison. Kean is an affordable and the smart long-term move, especially considering that the purchase did not include a buy-back clause. Everton solidified a permanent move for Andre Gomes from Barcelona, who had a successful loan spell for them last season. Losing Ademola Lookman to RB Leipzig definitely stung, but they made over a 200% profit on a player who only scored four times for them in 48 caps. The Toffees have made the signings that they need to give themselves a chance of breaking into a spot that ensures European football.

Chelsea: Like Arsenal, initial expectations of an uneventful transfer window have been transcended. Their activity has naturally been limited by transfer ban, but they managed to do as well as they could considering the circumstances. Mateo Kovacic signed on full-time for Chelsea after a decent loan spell last season; they may not have made this move permanent if they didn’t have the transfer ban, but the attacking midfielder showed promise all season. Christian Pulisic joins from Borussia Dortmund after Chelsea agreed to purchase him in January, following a loan move to finish the year at Dortmund. He has shown plenty of ability in preseason, but is far from a Hazard replacement. The club also extended Callum Hudson-Odoi after fighting off interest from Bayern Munich, which was key in solidifying the future of the club. The teenager was showing plenty of promise prior to suffering a long-term injury at the end of 2019. Still, the winger has plenty of time to recover and return to form.

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Perhaps the most successful signing came in the form of their manager, as Chelsea appointed former club legend Frank Lampard. This was a great managerial signing for the London giants, but it may have come a bit early, as they didn’t have the opportunity to find a Hazard replacement. Given Chelsea’s history of sacking managers after just one unsuccessful season, Lampard may have been unintentionally set up to fail. The club has good players, especially with the heaps of loanees on their books – but Lampard needs to decide on a striker following Gonzalo Higuain and Alvaro Morata’s departures. Olivier Giroud is a decent option, but would serve the club more efficiently by coming off of the bench. Michy Batshuayi has been very effective in the opportunities that he has been given, but has been shown little belief in his abilities by Chelsea. Lampard has expressed a desire to go with the young Tammy Abraham, who scored 25 goals in 37 caps playing for Aston Villa in the Championship last season. Former Derby attacker Mason Mount has been shown plenty of trust in Lampard’s time so far, given that the gaffer coached him last season. After initially receiving plenty of hate, he was praised for his performance against Leicester City this past weekend after scoring a tenacious goal in the opening ten minutes. The options are there, but without Hazard to bail Chelsea out this season, they are in danger of losing a top-six spot without an elite player on the roster (aside from Ngolo Kante).

Manchester United: In classic Manchester United fashion, the Red Devils were linked with pretty much every big player on the planet, with little to show for it. After being linked with Toby Alderweireld since January, United decided not to bid for the Tottenham defender while his release clause was only £25 million. After the release clause was nullified, United decided to look to Harry Maguire to rebuff their lacking defense. His quality is unquestionable, but Leicester requested a world-record fee for his services, making for extremely high expectations. Maguire was eager for a move to Manchester and will look to secure the captain’s band. Eric Bailly has once again been injured for an extended period of time, leaving United with Maguire and Victor Lindelof to fill out the back line. Backup options of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have proved unreliable, leaving some doubt over the team’s depth. The Red Devils were in talks with Paulo Dybala and Bruno Fernandes, and both would have been excellent signings. Dybala originally began talks with Tottenham over a transfer, but United quickly became the favorites to sign him after Juventus showed interest for a swap deal involving Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker looked set to leave United for Juve after just two seasons with the club, but eventually signed with Inter Milan on an expensive deal.

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Their other successful transfers were Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Crystal Palace and Daniel James of Swansea. James showed plenty of promise in the Championship last season, but may not be ready for Premier League football just yet. His early-season goal may prove to be a curse, given that it should give him more playing time in too early of a stage in his career. Bissaka, on the other hand, put himself on the map last season as one of the world’s most promising right backs, and should come in immediately as a season-long starter. His £45 million is a little bit too steep for a player with only one good season under his belt, but has shown enough quality during the preseason for United fans to rest easy. Like Arsenal, their hopes to finish in a Champions League spot are hinged on how well their defense plays.

Guaranteed Top Six Finish

Arsenal: Arsenal’s transfer window started with an announcement that they would only have £40-45 million of spending money for the entirety of the summer, distressing Gunners fans around the world. Luckily, Arsenal’s board allocated them more funds, allowing them to seal a big money move for winger Nicolas Pepe for a club record fee of £72 million. Dani Ceballos joins the Gunners on a loan move from Real Madrid after he looked poised to join Tottenham on the other side of North London, and heavily impressed with a MOTM-caliber performance in his regular debut. They also signed promising center back William Saliba for £30 million. He will surely be a staple of the Arsenal defense for years to come, but returns to his previous club St. Etienne on a one-year loan deal to start. The French club likely would not have let the deal go through without the Gunners loaning him back, which spells bad news for their defense in 2020. Luckily, they secured David Luiz on a cheap signing; Luiz will look to make an impact in the starting lineup immediately, as the rest of their defensive options are comprised of Sokratis, Mustafi and Rob Holding. Their final signing of the transfer window came in the form of Celtic wingback Kieran Tierney, for whom they were negotiating during the entire summer. He should start immediately, but still needs to prove himself.

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Captian Laurent Koscielny has moved on to Bordeaux, leaving the dressing room without their leader. Players will have to step up and show their love for the shirt in order to fill this spot. While Arsenal’s front three now looks elite, they needed to spend more on their main position of need. The glaring weakness in their roster could leave them susceptible to falling short of expectations, which could mean a finish outside of the top six. Still, this team is going to score plenty of goals, and looks like a much better squad than Chelsea or Manchester United after the first few games.

Manchester City: City’s roster depth is unprecedented in the EPL. Guardiola’s squad purchased Rodri from Atletico Madrid early into the transfer window, solidifying the deep-lying midfield position as Fernandinho and David Silva grow with age. They let Fabian Delph sign for Everton for £8.5 million, and although they could have gotten more money for the first-team regular, he was never in Guardiola’s long-term plans. Vincent Kompany has ended his long stint with the club as its captain, returning to his Anderlecht, his boyhood club, as player-manager. Bayern Munich tried to snatch Leroy Sane away from City for the entirety of the transfer window, and despite confidence from pundits in Germany, the deal never went through. Sane’s major injury in preseason likely played a large part in his lack of movement away from the club, but City will still miss his speed on the wing. The incumbent champions head into the new season as co-front runners with Liverpool to win both the EPL and the Champions League.

Liverpool: Liverpool’s roster features the EPL’s best wingers, wingbacks, goalkeeper and center back. They clearly did not need to edit their squad very much, and Jurgen Klopp had been quoted stating that they didn’t expect to make any big-money transfers during the window. The truth is that they didn’t need to. Sure, they would benefit from bringing on another center back to pair with Virgil van Dijk (young transfer Sepp van den Berg may not be ready), but Fabinho has shown plenty of ability to successfully fill that spot in worst-case scenarios. Selling Dominic Solanke in January for around £20 million was a revelation, given that he only scored once in a Liverpool shirt in 21 appearances as a striker, and they will look to make the same kind of unprecedented profit from selling Welshman Harry Wilson in the next window. With Daniel Sturridge’s contract coming to an end, the Reds opted to turn to Divock Origi as a backup for Roberto Firmino, who scored several important goals at the end of last season. His natural position probably falls on the wing, but his speed and tenacity work well within the Reds’ system. The Champions League winners are ready to compete with Manchester City for the title, and bringing back almost the same team from last season will pay off in regards to the team’s chemistry.

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Tottenham: While Spurs have retained Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld at present, they still have plenty of work to do. Eriksen seemed destined for a big money move to a powerhouse club willing to splash the cash, but he found himself in an awkward position of not being any team’s primary target but also being too good for Spurs to accept any unsuitable offer. Alderweireld could have gone for as little as £25 due to a contractual short-term release clause, until that clause expired at the end of last week. Spurs now value the consistent CB between £40-45, and he seems more willing to re-sign than Eriksen. With one year left on each of their deals, Spurs must make it a priority to re-negotiate their contracts. If the Danish CAM continues to refuse signing an extension, they must consider selling him at a cut-price to avoid losing him for free.

Adding Tanguy Ndombele is surely viewed as a great success, given that he was on plenty of big clubs’ radars and that he was Tottenham’s premier transfer target. He provides the type of quality and creativity from a deeper-lying midfield position that Tottenham has been missing since Moussa Dembele’s departure, and even before then. However, it seems as though chairman Daniel Levy could be up to his same old tricks, refusing to financially commit himself towards moving Tottenham into the elite category. They missed out on top players like Wilfried Zaha and Paulo Dybala amid competition from Everton and Manchester United respectively, and lost to Arsenal on transfer targets like Dani Ceballos and William Saliba earlier in the window. Teams who cannot even promise Champions League football should not be winning the signatures of so many players who have an option to join Tottenham, but therein lays the issue.

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Spurs supporters were sad to see Kieran Trippier leave for Atletico Madrid, but we all knew that he was not the long-term solution, especially after taking a step back last season. Kyle Walker-Peters is a much better wingback than people give him credit for, while Serge Aurier is quality on his day. Pochettino also fancies Juan Foyth in the right back spot, as he impressed from this position for Argentina in Copa America, and should see time at wingback upon his return from injury. Still, none of these players should adequately satisfy the side; Dani Alves was rumored with Tottenham in July, but chose to join Sao Paulo in Brazil. Spurs finally tied the knot on their seemingly inevitable transfers of Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, but failed to sell Danny Rose, leaving Sessegnon with competition. Lo Celso needed to be signed to a permanent deal, but the club only managed to successfully agree on a loan move. Although their current squad would likely produce European competition in 2021, Spurs would have done well to finish the transfer window in aggressive fashion if they were hoping to catch City and Liverpool in the race for the title.

Table Prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Tottenham
  3. Liverpool
  4. Arsenal
  5. Wolverhampton Wanderers
  6. Everton
  7. Manchester United
  8. Leicester City
  9. Chelsea
  10. West Ham United
  11. Bournemouth
  12. Burnley
  13. Watford
  14. Crystal Palace
  15. Aston Villa
  16. Newcastle United
  17. Brighton
  18. Sheffield United
  19. Southampton
  20. Norwich City

 

From Three Champions Leagues to Three Managers

While a contingency of Dutch football fans did predict that Ajax would pull off a massive upset at the Bernabeu on Tuesday night, only your neighborhood’s deluded Barca fan would have foreseen Real Madrid being humbled by a shock scoreline of 4-1 last week in the Champions League Round of 16.

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It may be the last thing that Madridistas want to hear right now, but my cousin, a die-hard Real Madrid fan, said it best: “Tuesday’s drubbing at the hands of Ajax is the best thing that’s happened to Los Merengues since becoming the first side in history to win the Champions League in three consecutive seasons.”

This season started off in Real ugly fashion for a number of reasons (see what I did there?), culminating at the Camp Nou stomping by Barcelona in October by a score of 5-1. That thrashing cost Julen Lopetegui his job, as he got the ax the following day after just three months in charge.

In came Santiago Solari.

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Solari was a different story from Lopetegui. A former Madridista himself, the Argentine was a decent footballer in his playing days, notably sending Roberto Carlos down the line in the buildup to Zidane’s masterful volley in the 2002 Champions League Final. Fast forward some years, and Lopetegui began working as an academy coach at Real in 2013.

With such strong family ties, Solari was always going to be well-received by the Real Madrid faithful. A former Real player like Zidane, he had a higher set of expectations for the future of the club. Plus, having previously worked with the youth teams (also like Zidane), he immediately injected young blood into the first team, most notably through his inclusion of teenage Brasilian phenom Vinicius Jr.

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Results were mixed: a 3-0 away defeat in the league to Eibar and a 3-0 home Champions League defeat to CSKA Moscow were contrasted by a successful Club World Cup. Four months in, Solari got an impressive away 1-1 draw at Barcelona and an even more impressive 3-1 away win against Atletico Madrid. Results aside, Los Blancos seemed to be rediscovering an identity that had gone missing during Lopetegui’s short tenure in charge.

That February form didn’t last too long though. In a matter of seven days from February 27th to March 5th, that “rediscovered identity” went out the window.

Three consecutive home defeats proved to be too much for the Real Madrid hierarchy to bear. Real lost 3-0 to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, and then again to their arch nemesis 1-0 in the league. Their horrific week then culminated with Real’s shock loss to Ajax, effectively ending their chances of winning an incredible fourth straight Champions League.

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Six days later, Solari was shown the door.

Welcome back, Zinedine Zidane.

The man needs no introduction. For those unfamiliar with the history of football, Zidane is the bald guy who headbutted an opponent in the biggest sports event in the world. To the football community, Zidane is one of the most talented and successful players in the history of the sport.

As of May 2018, Zidane is also the most successful coach in Champions League history, after winning three Champions League titles in less than three years as manager of Real Madrid. His re-hiring after only nine months away from the club came as a slight surprise, but nonetheless, it makes sense. Real Madrid needs silverware, and of the current coaches either in between teams or looking to start a new journey, Zidane is the most successful of the lot in the last five seasons.

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World class players know that silverware goes a long way in cementing their legacy. Zidane knew what it took to win as a player, and he quickly demonstrated that same ability as a manager. The opportunity to play under someone with such a thoroughly-documented winning mentality is a difficult one to pass up, no matter the team that they’re currently a part of.

While Zidane would probably be capable of overperforming with this current squad, he knows that his roster is in need of new life.

Eden Hazard, who is entering the last year in his contract at Chelsea, seems like the most sensible major signing to make this summer. Hazard has made clear his interest in playing for Zidane at Real Madrid, and his success in England has made him worthy of running the show for Real. This would allow Gareth Bale, who has looked unhappy at various points throughout his time in Madrid, to finally leave.

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Beyond Hazard, players like Kylian Mbappé, Neymar, Mauro Icardi, Milan Škriniar, and N’Golo Kanté are just a few names who Zidane could potentially sign. There is enough money in the bank for Florentino Perez to sign at least two players of the highest caliber. No matter who Real Madrid signs, they’ll be happy to have a winner at the helm.

At the end of the day, Real Madrid fans have Ajax to thank for Zinedine Zidane’s return to the Bernabeu.

Only time will tell what magic Zizou conjures up this time around.

10 Trends to Keep an Eye on in the Second Half of the 2019 Premier League Season

1. Fullham’s Relegation Battle

Claudio Ranieri returned to the Premier League to take over as Fullham’s manager on November 14, 2018. Despite picking up a quick victory in his first match, Ranieri has amassed a total record of 2-3-7. While Fullham was just promoted, the footballing world expected the Lily Whites to compete right away, especially after spending £100 million this summer. Now, sitting in the 19th spot and seven points away from surviving relegation, it is time to panic for Fullham FC. It is difficult to imagine that any potential new January signings would provide a form-changing boost, though the Ryan Babel signing from Beşiktaş looks promising. Aleksandar Mitrović proved early into the season that he is a legitimate Premier League striker. Ryan Sessegnon must live up to his wonder-kid status, Jean Michaël Seri must live up to a price tag that had top six clubs looking for his signature this summer, and André Schürrle must show his Dortmund pedigree. Any hope of escaping relegation will depend on Ranieri’s ability to galvanize his group of talented players for the second half of the season.

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2. Wolves’ Top 6 Challenge

Wolverhampton Wanderers have proven to be the most interesting team in the Premier League this season. In nine matches this season against the top six, they hold a 3-3-3 record, showing that they can compete with any other team in the league. They currently sit in 8th place, but could find their way out of a 12-point deficit from the top 6 with only four difficult fixtures left on their EPL schedule. Additionally, after defeating Liverpool in the FA Cup, they face an easy 4th round draw to move on in the competition. Manager Nuno Espírito Santo has effectively gotten all of his players on the same page after overhauling their roster coming into the Premier League, which is unsurprising given his Portuguese background combined with the eight Portuguese players that they have listed on their 24-man roster. This includes key contributors like Diogo Jota, Rúben Neves, Rui Patricio, João Moutinho and Hélder Costa. This unique combination of team chemistry and natural talent could make for a surprising run for the Wolves in 2019.

3. Homegrown Player Rule as a Factor for Less January Transfer Activity

In an effort to make the EPL more competitive for clubs that don’t have as many funds as the high rollers and in hopes of bringing up more homegrown talent, the Premier League mandates that a maximum of 17 non-“homegrown” players could be on a 25-man roster at a time. For a player to be considered homegrown, they must have spent a significant amount of time at an English or Welsh academy, and/or be English or Welsh. For example, players like Paul Pogba and Hector Bellerin spent two years in an English club’s academy, meaning they can be considered homegrown. This has proven harmful in transfer activity, as teams are able to take advantage of other clubs’ ability to pay large amounts and necessity for English talent. This past summer, Aston Villa tried making Tottenham overpay for Jack Grealish, which they were unwilling to do. This January, history is repeating itself as we see players like Callum Wilson of Bournmouth being labeled with a £40 price tag. Given the stingy nature that we have recently seen from teams like Spurs, Manchester United and Arsenal, we may be in for an uneventful transfer window.

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Chelsea target Callum Wilson (right) has a far greater price tag than his play would dictate.

4. Manchester United’s Manager Sweepstakes

Caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s success since taking over has made it difficult to look elsewhere for a long-term manager solution. Names like Mauricio Pochettino, Zinedine Zidane, Massimiliano Allegri and Gareth Southgate have caught the attention of United’s front office, but how could they demote a manager with a perfect record after half a season of turmoil? Higher ups are likely looking for any reason to demote Solskjær, so we can only expect him to keep the reins if other candidates refuse or if he continues his unfounded streak. Given the club’s current success, the best course of action would be to wait and see how things play out.

5. Is Sarri the Answer for Chelsea?

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri may have deflected his recent woes with the sale of Álvaro Morata and purchase of Gonzalo Higuaín, but it remains to be seen if Higuain has enough left in the tank to regularly contribute for a top-flight Premier League club. Sarri’s possessive footballing strategy has its drawbacks, and his lack of a consistent striker leaves him to rely offensively on Eden Hazard too frequently. While his fullbacks have quality, they lack the requisite pace to play on the wings simultaneously, which opens the pitch up for opposing wingers. A wide attacking team like Liverpool would surely expose Chealsea’s faults, which is why Antonio Conte played César Azpilicueta at the center-back position in his tenure as manager. Chelsea is trending downward, but Higuain’s arrival could hopefully change that. Please stop loaning Michy Batshuayi.

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6. Manchester City’s Cup Involvement

It comes as no surprise that, aside from Liverpool, their biggest competition is themselves. Manchester City is still contending in the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup, the Champions League and the Premier League. While the prospect of winning four cups in one season seems exciting, its completion would surely take a toll on the fatigue of the club’s players. A deep run in the Champions League appears likely, but could impact the fitness of the team’s top players for the Premier League. City must keep winning domestic games to keep up with Liverpool, and this could prove difficult if Pep Guardiola doesn’t get his tactics right.

7. Liverpool’s Wonder Season could Still End as a Flop

Call me a pessimist, but I can’t help but think about the possibility of Liverpool finishing without any silverware this season. Liverpool have crashed out of both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup, leaving a Champions League matchup against a formidable (but Müller-less) Bayern Munich squad and a league lead of four points. A Champions League fallout would likely mean a strong domestic finish, so it is hard to believe that Liverpool will not walk away with ANYTHING at the end of May. Still, it could happen. The team has shown flashes of lacking defensive options, having had to sub in a teenager against Wolves after a Lovren injury, and having had to play Fabinho is the center back role in the following games. Still, a world-class front three, a top-three center back and goalkeeper and an electrifying manager should keep them in contention both domestically and in the Champions League.

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8. Tottenham’s Stadium Move

Dele Alli and Harry Kane are both out of commission until March, and Hueng Min Son is away on international duty. Lucas Moura is also dealing with an injury, leaving Spurs with very few attacking options at the moment. Fernando Llorente has scored more domestic goals for other teams this season than for Spurs, so they would do well to pick up an offensive threat before the January transfer deadline ends. However, it is difficult to expect Daniel Levy to reach into his pockets given the stingy attitude that he showed over the summer. The only hope for Tottenham’s next few months of fixtures is for their form to take a positive turn. This could take effect through a move to their new White Hart Lane, which has continuously pushed forward its grand opening date. Spurs have grown accustomed to calling Wembley their home over the past few seasons, but a move to their new stadium could provide the spark that Spurs need to continue challenging in all four levels of competition.

9. Özil’s Arsenal Involvement

Unai Emery’s squad is starting to show some life this season, but watching their play through 90 minutes makes it obvious that this team is missing the requisite creativity and flair in the middle of the pitch to take their team to the next level. The problem with fielding Mesut Özil as the playmaker of the team is that it often seems as though the team rides or dies with his performance. If Özil picks out the right pass for a goal off of the counterattack, the team will be successful. However, if he overthinks a simple ball, it could produce a costly turnover. This kind of make-or-break quality is shared by players like Paul Pogba who are involved on so many parts of the pitch that their level of play is integral. The truth is that Arsenal do not have the quality to finish in a Champions League spot without Özil’s influence in the middle, but if Unai Emery is unwilling to take that risk, he may very well find his team regressing in the final stretch of the season.

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10. The VAR Discussion Escalates

Everybody knows that VAR will eventually be instituted in all high-level footballing competitions – the question is simple when. Managers like Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho have spoken out about different problems that they have with VAR, scaling from the extra time that should be given due to its implementation, to the effect that it would have on the emotion of the game. Other managers have expressed a disinterest or ambivalence in the subject, expressing their understanding for the technological development of sport. Some managers have even expressed their enthusiasm for its institution. While providing video review for key moments in matches would certainly increase the percentage of correct calls, it does indeed disrupt the flow of the game and present its own issues that some fans would have initial issues with. In light of recent calls in the Premier League, it will be interesting to see how soon its implementation will come.

The Klopp Effect: How Jürgen Klopp Turned Liverpool into a Contender

A Change Felt Around The World

There was something different about Liverpool throughout the 2017/2018 Premier League and Champions League campaign. Belief seemingly instantly permeated throughout Anfield. Each player oozed pride, glory and class – no matter the size of the stage. Plenty of factors contributed to this generation of confidence and success, but one factor made all the difference. It didn’t come from the supporters, although we would love to think it was. It didn’t come from the updated stadium or the New Balance kits. It didn’t come from the purchase of £75 million center back, Virgil Van Dijk. It even wasn’t the arrival of Mohamed Salah, our Egyptian King (despite the pivotal role that he played throughout the campaign). The main reason for such lucrative success came from Jurgen Klopp, also known as “The Normal One”.

Despite his nickname, any football pundit can attest to the fact that Klopp is far from “normal”. Compared to recent managers like Brendan Rodgers, Roy Hodgson and King Kenny, Klopp has supplied each individual player with so much more confidence, hunger and will to compete in every minute of play. It feels different watching a side whose manager wants it more than most of the opposing players. Jurgen Klopp’s character and knowledge is unmatched in the premiership, and maybe even in Europe – is he the best manager in Europe? I wouldn’t disagree if you said yes.

But just how is the self-proclaimed “normal one” turning this Liverpool side around? Let’s dive in.

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His Personality

We haven’t seen the same amount of poise in each Liverpool individual since Steven Gerrard took his kit off for the last time. Jurgen Klopp is the natural leader that the rest of the players so desperately needed. He doesn’t just pick a starting eleven and discuss this week’s tactics with his players; Klopp has seemingly become a mentor and a friend to the boys. It is the constant communication and reinforcement of his belief and support that pushes his side along. His playful, exciting personality seems to carry over to every individual in the club. Every match, week in and week out, we see an inspiration that is undoubtedly created from the motivational German.

Liverpool has some of the youngest midfielders and outside backs in the Premier League and they drive balls and dive into tackles as if they have seen five or six years of top level experience. With young lads with incredible potential like Trent Alexander-Arnold (19), Andrew Robertson (24), and Dominic Solanke (20), Jurgen Klopp can transform these Reds into top-drawer footballers. This doesn’t simply include his inexperienced players; Mohamed Salah had previously transferred from Chelsea to Roma, where he barely saw time on the pitch in his first premier league stint. With just a little bit of trust and support from Klopp, Salah has been constantly breaking records, already winning the golden boot for the premier league in 2018.

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The way that Klopp carries himself, speaks to media reporters and works with every individual is fascinating. He is a pleasure to listen to, despite the slight language barrier. Jurgen Klopp consistently jokes with the media throughout his interviews and tends to make light of any serious subject, which takes weight off of his players’ shoulders. When it comes to reprimanding and creating change, everything is private. In the public eye, Klopp willingly takes the blame for every mistake made by a member of the club or suggests that entire club is at fault for the mistake.

Take a look at the amount of character that he exhibits in this clip. He celebrates every significant event as if he has scored his first goal in his professional career. It’s not just the athletes that he is affecting; it reaches the supporters as well. Seeing a manager with this much emotion and pride towards his side brings a love to the team that has long been missing since he took his role as manager.

Attracting The Best In The World

Because of his history of success and leadership in football, players are starting to flock towards Liverpool. Many of these footballers have taken offers from Liverpool over clubs of larger magnitude like Manchester United and Barcelona, because international stars desire to play for someone with his passion for the sport. Klopp has single-handedly created the acquisitions for key parts of this successful team:

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Mané, Karius, Matip, Klavan, Wijnaldum, Salah, Solanke, Robertson, Van Dijk and Ox are all included on this list. This includes over half of the starting eleven for Liverpool’s starting eleven in the recent Champions League final. In fact, Mané and Salah were two of the leading scorers in the English Premier League and Champions League. Karius had a strong season in the EPL, despite showing weak play in the Champions League Final. We’ve even recently signed the talented Fabinho, who had interest from Barcelona and other top clubs around the world. He will join Naby Keita on a squad that looks to be even stronger next year, with several other signings expected to be announced throughout the summer. Now THAT is the Klopp Effect at its finest.

His Style Of Play: Heavy Metal Football

“Heavy metal football” is truly a great depiction of what Klopp has brought to the Liverpool starting eleven. Constant pressure is applied with the likes of Mané and Salah on the wings, which allows Liverpool to fly from end to end, not giving opposing backs a rest. Bobby Firmino runs around like a mad man when an opposing defense is keeping possession. Behind him, Milner, Hendo, and Ox or Wijnaldum are the engines that match up with opposing midfielders of any level. It’s a fearless side that closes down any inter play as soon as possible.

The young and quick outside backs make forceful runs up the wing and challenge every winger to truly beat them when the time comes. Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have grown to become difficult defenders to get by. Our strong center backs, Lovren and Van Dijk, are both towering, physical defenders. Their presence in the air and their strong, threatening tackles do not allow opposing strikers to have the confidence to turn when they are positioned behind them. Lovren was initially shy going into tackles until the German came into Melwood and boosted his abilities year to year. He has gone from giving up most 50-50 balls in the air in his first few campaigns to keeping arguably the best player in the world in his pocket. Being able to shut down Ronaldo in the biggest game of his career was great to see for any Liverpool supporter.

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The wingers and outside backs release so quickly when the ball is won, that it is almost impossible to keep up with them. Mané and Salah are rotating, Bobby is checking, and our outside back duo is charging down the outside of the pitch. It’s quick and it’s dangerous. Klopp has convinced these individuals of a winning system and they have all bought in because of Klopp’s belief, trust, and support.

There’s plenty more to do for the Reds to be dominant in the premier league, but I fully believe that Klopp is capable of transforming this team into a dynasty.

He has convinced his players that they will never walk alone. He is our belief and encouragement. He is “The Normal One”.

He is Jurgen Klopp.

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Winners and Losers of World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying has come to an end and 32 teams have proven their worth to participate in Russia 2018. Like always, there are teams who qualified at the top of their group and showed amazing growth and potential leading to the World Cup Finals. To contrast, there are also teams who failed to qualify that shocked the world. We will be taking a look at the winners and losers of this year’s qualifying leading up to the World Cup this summer.

Winner: Brazil

After a disappointing 2014 World Cup performance and 2016 Copa America campaign, Brazilians looked to the board of directors and demanded change. Eight-time Copa America champions aren’t supposed to get eliminated in the group stages, but that’s exactly what happened. Brazilians sitting in Gillette Stadium on a windy June night were stunned as the Canaries were eliminated at the hands of Peru by a score of 1-0. In the following days, to every Brazilian’s relief, Dunga was fired, and a new manager was appointed. Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, better known as Tite was selected. Coaching Brazil is difficult because the fans demand perfection, but Tite was up to the task. The 56-year old has a history of success as in managing Corinthians to Copa Libertadores glory in 2012 and beating Chelsea in the Club World Cup final in December that same year. In 2015, Tite guided Corinthians to a Brasileiro championship by racking up a tournament-best 81 points out of a possible 114. Tite is a manager of the people and of the media, which is rare for a coach of Brazil. They say that when the coach has the same starting eleven as the people on the street, that Brazil will win again, Tite has been doing exactly that in World Cup Qualifying. He has been experimenting with young talents such as Gabriel Jesus, Luan, Alex Sandro, Ederson and Marquinhos, while also taking chances on veterans like Renato Augusto and Paulinho, which has seemed to pay off. The media loves him, the fans love him, the players love him and it shows on the field.

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Brazil finished on top of CONMEBOL qualifying with 41 points (10 points clear of second place Uruguay), scoring the most goals (41), and giving up the least amount of goals (11). The Brazilian samba way of playing is back, and the team is playing more fluidly than they ever did under Dunga. Brazil has also earned the number two ranking in the world according to FIFA. If Brazil can translate the performances from this past year to the World Cup, the spectators are truly in for some magic.

Loser: Chile

For the past three years, Chile has been on top of the soccer world. They won two straight Copa America finals (2015, 2016), beating Argentina on penalties both times, and advanced to the Confederation Cup Final this past summer (losing to Germany 1-0). They were in good shape to be in Russia next year, until the second half of qualifying. Chile finished their last five games with one win, one draw, three losses and overall poor performances. To be in the last three major tournament finals and not qualify for the World Cup is a disgrace.

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You can blame it on a lack of leadership, bad coaching, or whatever you want, but nonetheless, Chile will miss out on its first World Cup since 2006. This outcome caused confusion and heartbreak to several Chileans including Arturo Vidal, who retired, then unretired from international play stating, “This is not the end. Realistically, though, it is – Chile’s golden age is over. For Chile’s big three: Alexis (28), Vidal (30), and Vargas (27), this is the end. This was supposed to be the end of a great run. The Word Cup in Russia was going to be their finish line and whether they ran across the line in first place or not, fans would still applaud. Their efforts over the past four years will stick with fans forever, but they will unfortunately not have the sendoff they would have liked.

Winner: Germany

As of now, Germany is the best team in the world. Going 10-0-0 in Group C while scoring 43 goals and only conceding four has been impressive to say the least. Although their qualifying group wasn’t extremely challenging, the Germans put on a clinic in almost every match. This past summer, Germany defeated Chile 1-0 to lift its first Confederation Cup. Numerous awards were handed out to the Germans. Julian Draxler won the golden ball, Leon Goretzka won the bronze ball, Timo Werner won the golden boot, and Lars Stindl won the silver boot. Most of these players that Joachim Low brought to the Confederation Cup were very young, and this team was considered to be Germany’s B-squad. This only means that Germany’s future is bright – possibly brighter than the present.

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Germany was very convincing in World Cup Qualifying, thus being named the number one team in the world by FIFA a couple of weeks ago. Toni Kroos, who came off of two excellent seasons with Real Madrid in winning the Champions League and La Liga this past year, will be Germany’s number one man in the midfield. His vision and tempo have proved to help Los Blancos be successful. Hopefully, he can replicate his stellar club play to the international stage when he hooks up with Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil in their upcoming friendlies.

Loser: Netherlands

The Netherlands were rejuvenated after their World Cup run in 2010. With the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, they were a fun team to watch. After finishing fourth in group play and missing out on Euro 2016 action, soccer fans were starting to doubt the Dutch, as their core golden age players were getting old. The Dutch had a strong start to World Cup Qualifying, but dropped crucial points including an embarrassing 4-0 loss to France and a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria and would ultimately lead to their exclusion from Russia 2018. This is the end of an era for the Oranje and definitely a disappointment for the veteran players.

Winner: Peru

After knocking off Brazil in the group stages of 2016 Copa America competition, Peru’s future was looking bright. The Peruvian team finished in fifth place in CONMEBOL Qualifying with 26 points, barely edging out Chile on goal differential. Led by Sao Paulo FC midfielder Christian Cueva, Peru’s attack and chemistry has been convincing. Striker Paolo Guerrero has been another standout for Peru. The 33-year old plays for Flamengo in Brazil and is a highly rated striker amongst viewers of the Brasileiro Serie A. Failing a doping test in early November ruled him out for 30 days, thus missing the qualifying leg against New Zealand. Although the drug he used was undisclosed, a close source of ESPN Brazil said that it was a social drug. With all of this chaos going on and Peru missing their number one striker, they somehow pulled through and will be in Russia 2018. Their fans are one of a kind and I’m sure that they can pull off some surprises next summer.

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Loser: USA

Not much needs to be said about this one. The USA puts millions of dollars into their program and still didn’t qualify for the World Cup. As if the entire planet doesn’t have enough to poke fun at when it comes to the United States, they had to add getting knocked out of Russia 2018 by Trinidad to it. US Soccer took back their old coach in begging fashion, and he did a mediocre job and made a fool of himself on international television by stating, “I would love to see one of these hotshot teams from Europe come here and play in our CONCACAF qualifying and really get a taste of this and see what that’s about.”

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The only thing he did was put more pressure on his team and made the United States the laughing stock of the soccer world after they failed to qualify. After defeating Panama and putting on an excellent performance in Orlando, everyone expected them to bring the same energy to Trinidad, but that wasn’t the case at all. Everyone watching expected them to qualify in “USA fashion” in the last game at the last possible moment, but that didn’t happen either. The team simply didn’t show up and got exactly what they deserved, so now they will be watching the World Cup with the rest of us this summer – at home. The team was lead by Christian Pulisic, who is a kid. He’s 19 years old and hands down the best player on the squad. Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who are supposed to lead by example, were ghosts for most of qualifying and especially in the last game. Some serious soul searching needs to be done within the program if the United States wants to be taken seriously by the rest of the world and by those “European hotshots”.

Loser: Italy

Italy is a four-time World Cup champion and has been a European powerhouse for generations. In the past few years, Italy has been known for their great defense, especially under Antonio Conte. The shape of the midfield and defense is what got them to the quarterfinal of the European Championships last summer. Key results against big teams like Belgium and Spain gave life to the Italians, but they would eventually be eliminated by Germany in penalty kicks. Italy finished second to Spain in a very weak qualifying group. They were matched up against Sweden in a two-leg playoff. Losing the first game in Sweden 1-0 (even though they dominated ball possession along with the game), Italy desperately needed a result in the second leg. Unfortunately for the Italians, they couldn’t get a goal and would ultimately miss out on their first World Cup since 1958.

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Head coach Gian Piero Ventura received much criticism on his tactics as well as for his lack of charisma. He was often compared to the previous manager, Antonio Conte, and it was never going to end well. Italy desperately needed a playmaker and Napoli midfielder Jorginho was waiting patiently. He failed to get a call up from Brazil so he and his agent waited on Italy. Ventura would eventually call up Jorginho for the qualifying playoff against New Zealand and after seeing his performance it was obvious that Ventura could have used him earlier. Anyone who watched the game saw how he controlled the midfield and looked so comfortable along with his Italian counterparts. Italy was missing a playmaker, but it was too late. Players like Buffon, De Rossi, and Chiellini have most likely played their last game for the Azzurri.

 

Moving On: USA’s World Cup Qualifying Catastrophe

Whether you think that the United States got unlucky in their 2-1 defeat to Trinidad or whether you think that they simply got outworked and were lazy on the pitch, one thing is certain: it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on from the old way of doing things. The old coaches, the old players, the old tactics – everything old needs to go and it couldn’t be any more obvious. The excuses are aggravating and the fans deserve more from the team. Nobody wants to hear that it’s tough to get points in Trinidad, Costa Rica or Mexico; if the United States wants to be a top international team someday, it shouldn’t matter where they play.

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“Hotshot teams from Europe” (Bruce Arena) like Germany and Spain don’t care where they play, because if they’re truly good enough, they’ll get results no matter what, and if they did play in the CONCACAF division, we all know that they would finish at the top of the group with a sizable goal differential. Millions of dollars go into the program, and the United States was simply not prepared enough and didn’t show up to play in the qualifying round. The United States could only pull out 12 points in 10 matches and at best played at a mediocre level away from home. It was shameful and they let down an entire nation. The younger generation will not be able to watch them this summer and be inspired by the glory and happiness that the World Cup can bring a country.

Bruce Arena coached the national team from 1998 until 2006, when he was fired because the United States’ failure to make it out of the group stage in the World Cup. Hiring him back after letting go of Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t make any sense at that time. It’s the equivalent of taking your ex back after getting cheated on. It didn’t work out the first time, so why would it work now? What kind of epiphany could he possibly have had that convinced US Soccer that he was the man for the job? Sometimes you need to leave the past in the past, and the USMNT simply could not do so.

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One can’t simply point fingers at the coaching staff, though. The players looked like they wished they were somewhere else Tuesday night, the complete opposite to that of the team that was on the field in Orlando just four days prior. In the first half, the United States looked jet-lagged and created minimal opportunities.

A wise man once said, “If your play isn’t entertaining for the fans, then you aren’t playing the game right.” That couldn’t have been any more true Tuesday night. The first half was a bore, and they tried to fix their mistakes too late. The United States didn’t come to play and they got what they deserved, and now it’s time to move forward.

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This all starts with the youth teams. Ever since the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, the game of soccer has expanded exponentially in this country and kids from New York to California want to get involved. The cost, however, if you’re playing for a team outside of high school can get to be a bit expensive depending on what route is taken. MLS academy teams are fully funded, but with other academy and premier teams, that isn’t always the case. To be apart of the Dallas Texans U14 and U18 academy teams, the cost will run you around $2,000. The price is equivalent for many academy and premier teams across the country. Youth coaches also need to teach tactics earlier on that kids will take into the high school level where they truly learn to hone their skills. They need to stop teaching the kids perfection based on endurance and how to act like robots, and start teaching creativity. When the United States go to the World Cup, fans of other countries compliment the team, not necessarily on their skills, but rather on their work ethic. It’s time for that to change, and it all starts with building skills during a player’s youth.

As fans and supporters of the US national team, we all have different perspectives and ideas pertaining to how to improve the team. Whether your philosophy differs from your neighbor, one thing is evident: change needs to be made and it needs to be made now.