Tag Archives: Alan Black writer

Euro 2012 – Week One View from the San Francisco Sofa

15 Jun

Go charge at windmills if you think Spain has run out of energy.  The reigning champions still possess the power to blow defensive walls apart. Their little midfield cannon, Andres Iniesta, can lob at will. Barcelona’s Xavi, can spot the ball with illumination (is he not a Robert Downey Jr. doppelganger?) And Fernando Torres may have found his mojo. Spain could be unstoppable. Woe to opponents. They finished the Irish off yesterday. Bar owners in Poland are lamenting Ireland’s exit.  Stouts abandoned.

Gone are the relics of the Italian defensive system – score a quick goal and then build a ten men defensive wall worthy of design employed by the Emperor Hadrian. Unlock the new exciting Italian way. Think bunga-bunga party at Berlusconi’s villa; thrills and spills, plenty of play, action on the wings.  It may not guarantee wins but it beats being negative.

England and France battled to a low scoring tie in a parallel to the stalemate of the 100 Year War between the nations. The Brits just love waiting for something to happen. Throwing caution to the wind has never been an English soccer trait. Not to say that they won’t progress from their group but one gets the feeling that unless the word “attack” is added to the playbook, the EXIT sign may soon be flashing. And they can sing God Save the Queen as they leave.

The Russians are coming. Unable to conquer the world through the grayness of Marxist-Leninism, the best alternative is to conquer through soccer. Hosting and then winning the World Cup in 2018 is the prize. Consider Euro 2012 as a warm up for that event. No expense will be spared by Russia’s oligarchy to build a team ruthless with ambition and drive. Watching the Russians demolish the Czechs and contain the Poles this week had an ominous nostalgia about it. There is new confidence in Russian soccer.

A twitter feed tracked soccer media references to World War II. It wouldn’t be Europe without it. Germany and Holland never really got along after the unpleasantness. They clashed Wednesday in Group B. The Germans burst the dyke with a 2-1 win. While not dead, the Dutch need other results to go their way in the last group game. They need Germany to do them a favor and beat Denmark. Ask nicely and they might…forget it!

The Irish fans sang their anthem louder than anyone has ever sung an anthem. The Irish legions belted out the Soldier’s Song, so loud ripples ran on the River Liffey in Dublin. Playing in their first major tournament in ten years, the Irish fans brought the craic and a catholic sense of fun to the proceedings, (that’s catholic without the Vatican C). Too bad their players could not convert the ball into goals.

ESPN studio coverage has sparked with soccer culture clashes. America’s Alexi Lalas is never one to hold back in tackles. He took to task Germany’s former captain turned media guy, Michael Ballack, in possession of a precise calm delivery. Redhead Lalas got pissed after Ballack announced the USA would never win anything. Later, he hacked Irish pundit Tommy Smith to shreds over Ireland’s dismal performance against Croatia. Derision flew into the old onion bag. The bickering continues.

Remember the German octopus cum oracle that saw the future during World Cup 2010? He died. Stepping up to the crystal ball as a replacement is a psychic raccoon. A zookeeper in England claims the beast has visions of England winning. Millions cry: I’ll have what the raccoon is drinking! Never make predictions in soccer.

Money Makes the Ball Go Round

11 Jun

You play professional in one of the big three sports. Your real estate footprint is large and your fancy car is marvelous. Valet park every time. Your plate is the most expensive on the menu. When you get old and tottery it is unlikely you’ll be wandering around penniless on city streets. Investments will soften your end. And you earned it. Talent pushed you from the humble class to the wealthy one. Sports can do that. But if you play professional soccer in America, you may still eat at Sizzler and drive home to your modest apartment in a 2001 Honda. Don’t think too much about getting old.

Major League Soccer’s player salaries were published recently. Some earn less than forty grand a year. The median wage is about eight-five thousand. Six years ago, it was fifty thousand. Not a bad improvement considering incomes for US households have fallen seven per cent over the last decade. But when you compare it to the big three American sports, choosing a career in soccer pales by comparison – hoops can pay you about five million, three million for hardball and a couple of mill at the Grid Iron.

MLS teams play to a median of about three million dollars in total wages. In the English Premier League it hits nearly sixty million. This explains why most of America’s top talent plays overseas. LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan is the exception, arguably the best US player of his generation. Praise him for investing much of his career on the home front. Not too long ago, he was earning peanuts compared to the two million plus he pulls now. He can thank David Beckham.

Beckham arrived in MLS in 2007 and immediately liked the drive-thru at In-n-Out Burger. But he wasn’t willing to pull up in a 2001 Honda for his fix. His nickname was Goldenballs. He didn’t work for a few hundred grand unless it was by the week. MLS needed his brand if interest in the league were to grow. So they enacted the Beckham Rule – teams could now sign a couple of top drawer players and pay them salaries that would set them apart from the rest of their teammates. Class on the field met economic class in the locker room.

Back then, San Jose striker Alan Gordon played for the Galaxy. A second job as a youth team coach supplemented his thirty thousand a year income. Roommates were necessary. Job security was dependent on him banging in goals. Today, playing for the Quakes, he pulls in over one hundred grand. Comfortable but soccer players retire when they hit the mid-thirties. And what do you do then when all you know is the ball?

Zach Slaton, a contributor to Forbes, analyses soccer by the numbers. He believes MLS is moving in the right direction. “As with any rapidly expanding business (approximately fifty per cent increase in number of teams and a nearly seventy-one per cent increase in number of players since 2007), MLS has had to manage sustainable growth in player wages to keep the quality of play high and the cost of operating the league low,” he says, and with the median salary rising, “all of this means a family can at the least dream of seeing their young soccer-playing son making an upper-middle class income if he were to sign an MLS contract…most importantly, the family won’t be fearful of their child falling into the trappings of celebrity associated with other major US sports in pursuit of such a dream.” Soccer – the humble game of the middle class.