Archive | September 2011

Andre Villas-Boas: Philosopher and Crime Scene Investigator

Between smiles, the manager’s dark side slips through the crack.

Villas-Boas has closed the case on Fernando Torres with a smile.

Andre Villas-Boas joined José Mourinho’s Chelsea coaching staff as a scout in 2004. It was his job to analyze upcoming opponents and produce reports to be used in Chelsea’s strategic preparation. This report* on Newcastle in 2005, printed by the Times of London, is only one example (although the reports were likely put together and presented similarly from week to week), and offers insight into the development of the future manager. Newcastle’s strengths, weaknesses, patterns, and tendencies were interrogated and organized into categories: offense, defense, set plays, and a set of diagrams titled “Pattern Play and Offensive Combinations”.

Newcastle’s offensive organization is broken down into phases from back to front:

From 2nd to 3rd phase their build-up has also a pattern. Normally it involves a mixture of a direct approach, with short possession football. The fullbacks like to combine with the wingers in order to progress with the ball. If space is tight Owen will do shuffle movements to the wing (usually right side) to receive. Other pattern is when Emre and Parker come short to receive the ball and immediately release the strikers in depth…

The entire report unfolds in the same quantifiable objective manner, but the breakdown also contains qualitative descriptions. Newcastle is “attack-minded and aggressive”, “quick” going forward, “deadly”, and possesses “great vision.”

Also throughout, Villas-Boas makes psychological assessments. Newcastle has “motivation + great spirit”, an offensive transition with a “quick and aggressive change of attitude”, while on defense only a “medium change of attitude.” Psychology is already important him, its value determined by inclusion in the report. It is something for his manager to consider when calculating Chelsea’s game plan.

In addition, there are twenty-four diagrams that contribute to producing the most quantifiable and measurable picture from a set of collected data, yet the information includes descriptions and states of mind not easily reducible in this way.

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Arsenal’s Defensive Frailties Don’t Hold in loss to Blackburn

These guys are so new that they should be shaking hands with each other first.

Own goals are by nature accidental, unless it’s Serie A. Most of them are deflections, the goal scorer guilty of being the last object to make contact with the ball. In Arsenal’s loss to Blackburn, there were the two own goals, the first by Alex Song and the second by Laurent Koscielny. This says less about defensive frailty than about bad luck joining disastrous form simply for the sadistic pleasure of it.

Arsenal has had a history of giving up one-goal leads. Time and again, the defense can’t hold out because they have not been good enough either physically or mentally. But losing a one-goal lead early in the second half to Blackburn—the first of three unanswered goals—doesn’t follow suit. If it did, then the fact that two of the four starting defenders have played only one Premier League match between them and have never played together before at any point in their careers. Laurent Koscielny has one season behind him. The own goals are a misfortune of transition not pathology, which still doesn’t excuse the performance.


Sergio Agüero’s Umlaut

Sergio Agüero’s name on the back of his Athletico Madrid jersey had an umlaut. Unveiled at Manchester City in July, his baby blue jersey also had an umlaut.

His graphically rendered name on television broadcasts of Manchester City matches has no umlaut. When Google anticipates that his name is being typed into the search field, Sergio Agüero’s name has no umlaut, but his Wikipedia site spells his name with an umlaut. When the URL is bookmarked it will appear in its folder as, where an un-umlauted name looks like this:

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Manchester City “has come a long way, baby”

Two wins from two matches, Manchester City look like title contenders.

What is it Carlos? Have you become self-aware or is your agent near?

August 2008 marked year zero for Manchester City. The old identity was razed, while the hope that tradition can be reinjected into the pursuit of global domination—side effects include nausea, diarrhea, migraine, anger, befuddlement, and in some cases, infantilism. Without notable figures like Sven-Göran Eriksson and Noel Gallagher to confirm a history, the takeover of the club by Abu Dhabi United Group might have marked the club’s founding instead.

In these three years, City has steadily climbed the table, finishing tenth, fifth, and third. The ascent from nameless mid-table club to title-contending quasi-galacticos is the result of bottomless wealth clearing the path before it, as well as on occasion astute management.

Manchester City, the nouveau riche arriviste. If still a poor Mancusian’s Manchester United, if still lacking the sophistication and tradition of the elite clubs, if rough-edged from the ostentatious display of wealth and clumsy mastery of protocol and manners, then they can now at least command descriptions in French. Samir Nasri can help translate.

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Week Three: Some Post-match Feuilleton

Aston Villa and Wolverhampton discover the benefits of mutualism, intended or not; Arséne Wenger is rudely introduced to disaster capitalism; Viagra is not a Spanish word, but might as well be at Chelsea as Juan Mata looks to be the panacea (also not Spanish) for creative dysfunction; Tottenham, more Arsenal-esque than ever this season, fall short of equaling the humiliation.

Arsenal supporter after Manchester United scored their sixth goal and then a minute after that.

Aston Villa 0—Wolverhampton 0

Television announcers almost always note Fabio Capello’s attendance at Premier League matches. In attendance to scout and judge, the either stern or frightening Capello contributes texture to the broadcast’s atmosphere. Capello’s reputation as stern or frightening is played up into the myth of some transcendent austerity that has finally begun to show cracks during his time as England manager. The characterization becomes the perfect setup to argue that only the supreme importance of the England national team could  exert the necessary weight of pressure to crack this nut. But forty-six years since England won the World Cup is a diatnt menory that has moved past the burden of history into facoid. The reality is that England has been mediocre for some time. Ther should be much pressure to surpass this.

Capello is there at Villa Park. Thinking Okay, we’ll let’s have a look at him, the camera seeks him out of the crowd and we know he’s hard at work as he should be, if England is to sustain or emerge from mediocrity.

Much like the last time we saw him at some other game a week ago, he’s sitting motionless, staring out at a blade of grass, chin lying on his chest and hemmed by concentric rings of aged skin like a melted Elizabethan collar. If the apparent refusal to improve his poor English is a sign of unwillingness to integrate into English culture, then one should look elsewhere for proof of effort.

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Arséne Wenger Seeing What He Hadn’t Seen Before

 Arséne Wenger’s double take at the score and the reality.