The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Newsflash

Sultan Ibragimov retires. Little known fact is that it was actually in the 6th round of the Klitschko fight; it just took 17 months for anyone to notice.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Boxing | Leave a comment

Kick Save And A Beauty

Odom rejoins Lakers

And cooler heads prevail as the Lakers un-pull their previous offer and Odom realizes he’s not going to get a better one for a better situation. It’s interesting that this got put back together just as people were starting to enter doom-and-gloom on the Lakers territory, a la Bill Simmons’ last column. Without Odom and with so many other strengthened contenders that was a totally justifiable outlook, and it’s almost as if everyone involved with the situation simultaneously thought “wait, what the hell are we doing?” and picked up the phone. The deal itself is eminently fair for a 29 year old major cog on a title winner who’s been almost unnaturally consistent on a year-by-year basis, and will be expiring just about the time the window closes on this Lakers core. The rare bit of NBA business in which everyone can be happy with the outcome, except rivals.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Other NBA | , | Leave a comment

Pascal’s Midfielder- Worth a Wager

Matuidi, Vieira to sign?

Quick thoughts:

1. I’ve had my say on Vieira, and my opinion hasn’t changed… unless Matuidi comes as well. If the idea is to have Vieira as spiritual leader and godfather to a young midfield (and not a cheapo starting option), than if Vieira is completely on board with that concept it could be a brilliant move. Risky, dangerous, unlikely to happen…but there’s a real upside if everyone is on the same page. It makes even more sense if Wenger thinks that Song’s future is at least in part at center back.

2. There’s two major downsides and two major upsides to Blaise Matuidi. On the downside he’s again one of the cheapest of all options and paying the quoted price for him would still leave the team heavily in the black for the God-knows-how-manyth transfer window in a row, so some of the serious questions about the club’s financial dealings remain unanswered (not that it’s the job of any one transfer to answer them). He’s also yet another juvenile Frenchman with limited top-level experience and none in the Premier League, so it’s hard to project how he’ll perform especially in year 1. However, those downsides are trumped by two enormous upsides: he solidifies options if nothing else at the defensive midfield position and helps to insure the club against the inevitable plague of injuries which will (and have already begun) to happen; and more importantly than anything else it demonstrates for the first time in God knows how long some real evolution in Arsene Wenger’s thinking towards the ideas that defense matters and sometimes adding to the squad is the answer, or at least part of it.

If these moves happen, and if Matuidi is who Wenger apparently believes him to be, and if he can settle in well, and if Vermaelen can as well, and if there’s a bit of luck with injuries… then Arsenal will win the title this year. No doubt in my mind. Andrey Arshavin is quite possibly the best player in the league; a strong defensive midfielder will give Cesc a chance to be himself again; the defense is finally shot of the never-fully-functional Gallas/Toure pairing; Adepaymore is gone and Eboue is leaving, so the contingent of creeps at the club is the lowest in forever; and the competition through attrition and arrogance is the weakest it’s been in forever. I have not really believed that Arsenal had a serious chance to win the league since the last time they won the league; if these moves happen then this year, I think they do.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | , , , , | Leave a comment

Central Midfield

The Guardian is now making it sound like Blaise Matuidi is going to be joining Arsenal for 8M, and that Vieira might be coming in addition.

Matuidi is EXACTLY the kind of player we need – while he’s only 22, he’s spent the last few seasons playing for a deceptively-good side down in St. Etienne, and he’s further along than Alex Song is, that’s for sure. If Matuidi comes in to pair with Fabregas, allowing Song to do sub appearances/spot starts while he continues to learn the game (and thus causes Wenger to stop his baffling trend of playing Denilson ALL THE TIME), this is a win-win for everyone. What I don’t get though is why Vieira would be coming in as well. While AW’s talk of “killing” youngsters is usually 15% lucid point combined with 85% bullshit, Vieira coming in would reverse those percentages for someone like Song. Song has shown enough flashes of quality where he absolutely should be spelling Matuidi in times of injury/suspension as well as starting in the domestic cups. But if you bring in Vieira, AS17 would ostensibly not even get those games. What’s the point?

I can understand if we’re bringing in PV4 on a cheap contract to be the 4th-choice central midfielder and to serve as a de facto assistant coach/assistant captain (the latter role being vacant with the departure of Kolo Toure). If he is able to impart some his wisdom and help these kids find that little bit of steel and determination that they’re missing, then I’m all for it. If he’s coming in expecting to start every match and be the big star again…that’s when I fall out of line with Le Boss.

For now, all of this is a “wait and see” kind of deal…we’ll see where we are in a week or two. But, man oh man is it heartening to see us so solidly linked with a good player like Matuidi at this stage of the off-season.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

I Hate This League

The Coyotes suck, plan to continue doing so.

God I hate the NHL sometimes. Listen: Jim may be bald and silly, but he actually CARES ABOUT HOCKEY. He has a bizarre and strange plan to put a HOCKEY TEAM in a place where HOCKEY FANS like to spend money on watching PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY. I recognize this challenges the NHL’s traditional business plan and may force them to deal with the strange tribe of heathens known as “Canadians”, but it has the twin virtues of being a good idea and never having been tried before under the current commissioner. Maybe perchance it should be looked into. But no, wait, Jerry fuckin’ Reinsdorf, one of the most loathed owners on this continent, has made an offer of $64 million less to keep the team in a money losing location where ice is considered the work of the devil, so hold up! And the phone call goes out to Gary Bettman at his office inside of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment headquarters- give us a quote, something we can use to deflate speculation that this choice was made to further your insane little megalomonomaniacal dream of placing hockey franchises in places where God did not intent hockey to be played.

“This had nothing whatsoever to do with the relocation issue,” Bettman said “All that was considered was the suitability of the applicants of the owners.””

A message to Gary Bettman: listen, homunculus, no one on the planet earth is buying this horseshit. We know it’s personal between you and Balsillie. We know you hate Canada and everything about its culture and the way that culture continues to resist your insane attempts to turn the NHL into NBA Jr. We know you disappeared up the ass of the Maple Leafs over a decade ago and this is an attempt to protect their market, despite there being multiple teams in equal-sized or much smaller market regions for hockey (Islanders/Rangers/Devils, Ducks/Kings, etc.). We know your entire professional life is staked on breaking the union and trying to establish hockey in markets which have long since rendered an en masse “meh” as their response to the sport, because if that doesn’t work out your legacy will be idiotic overexpansion and the collapse of quality of play. We know you regret going through life looking and sounding like Peter Lorre‘s disreputable uncle. We know what you did last summer. That’s why we boo your every public appearance, you creepy little gnome.

More than anything else, we know this: hockey has not and will not work in some locations, the same way the NFL means the square root of fuck-all in Europe, the NBA can’t get traction in Canada, America rarely if ever knows what’s happening in soccer, Mexico is only now learning about MMA, baseball is viewed as a weird American perversion outside of this hemisphere, etc. etc. and so on. That’s ok; no sport will appeal to all people and all cultures in all places and all times. But when a sport is like hockey and draws 90% of its talent either from Europe or from a country of only 33 million people and yet spends huge amounts of time either pissing off or pissing on those markets and fans in order to chase the dream of appealing to a region of another country which manifestly doesn’t give a honk about the game and never has, something has gone very wrong. It’s gone even wronger when the people in charge of that sport keep up the same plan for 18 FUCKING YEARS starting with the addition of San Jose in 1991, and fail mercilessly at it from the standpoint of everything except nominal franchise valuations. You could subtract 5 or more teams from the NHL tomorrow and do nothing but help the quality of play and the overall tenor of fan interest: Columbus, Nashville, Phoenix, Atlanta, Florida, and you can add to the list yourself. Instead what you’ve got now is a league where no one cares about half the teams, you need to buy the Center Ice package to have any idea what’s happening in the other conference, there’s half as many actual NHL-quality players as there should be or were 15 years ago per team, and the whole league is possessed by a sense of pointlessness and ennui as mediocre teams compile unreadable records in front of listless fanbases in half-empty buildings. Fuck.

I love this sport and I hate this fucking league and the smirking cretins who run it.

(I’m good for about one of these rants a year; may as well get it out of the way now before Gaborik and Captain Dickhead crush my spirit this season)

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Other NHL | , , , | Leave a comment

You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round….

The big ZOMGFEDOR news of the day is that eventually someone from M1 was found to deny yesterday’s leak (presumably from the UFC side) of the contract terms which Carmichael Dave reported that he had confirmed previously with M1. Now it’s possible the right hand and left at M1 aren’t in communication, or Dave is just wrong or lying here, or someone at M1 accidentally confirmed this before they had decided as a group how to respond. But leave all that aside for the moment; in what way is M1’s denial an actual denial? They claim that such terms were never offered- that may well be true, depending on how you interpret certain clauses or phrases. But there’s two ways to respond to that. One is simply to deny it, as they’ve done, and emphasize that you continue to demand things which were never mooted in the leak as being part of the offered deal. That’s what you say if you’re playing for PR and don’t want an actual deal of the type which was leaked- notice how the comments from M1 emphasize their claim that Fedor and M1 are the same thing, and that all of the M1 circus has to be included as part of any agreement. Their “denial” boils down to a reemphasis that no deal is possible along the lines of the leaked framework virtually regardless of the dollar figures.

The other option is this: you call UFC’s bluff. Put out a press release which says in effect that no such terms were ever offered, but if UFC would care to make the generous offer which has been discussed in the press that M1 would be happy to agree to a deal in principle along those lines. That’s the press release you put out if you’re actually looking to get a deal done with UFC and are simply trying to extract every last dime in the process. Even if you don’t actually mean it, it’s an obvious PR spin move to rally public support if you intend to continue negotiations. What’s obvious at this point is that there’s a fundamental divide between what UFC considers (in my view rightly) to be reasonable and what M1 is willing to accept- if anything. Draw your own conclusions as to why.

Bonus quote:

“ll I can say on this is both sides are putting out propaganda attempting to get the public to see things their way. In the end the issue isn’t money to Fedor as much as control of Fedor and M-1 Global won’t give up that control unless they have no other alternative. Right now, they still believe there are alternatives. ”

Dave Meltzer

“Control”. When a manager “controls” his client and theoretical ownership partner…there’s a story.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | MMA | , , | Leave a comment

For The Record

Police in Brazil have cleared Arturo Gatti’s wife in connection with his death, ruling it a suicide. Assuming they’ve now gotten it correct, I feel all the sadder for her- to have her husband and the father of her child kill himself, and then to be blamed for his death, must have been unbearable.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Boxing | | 2 Comments

And Yes

I recognize the last two Arsenal posts are really negative and that’s a tone which is more frowned upon by football fans than any other fanbase. Here’s the deal: this is the first season in the last 5 where I honestly think the other 4 serious contenders for Champions League places and the title are, all in all, weak. Liverpool don’t impress me, Man U took a major step back, City are a year away at minimum and are full of half-assing money-first, shady, no-spirit wastrels who’ll drive the manager to drink by Christmas, and even Chelsea seem to be just waiting to run their latest big-name foreign manager out of town so they can turn back to Guus Hiddink and coast comfortably and lethargically into third, and thence to the nightclubs. Any championship team of the last God knows how many years could take this year’s title at a canter, and Arsenal are about 2 or 3 players and some real luck away from not just competing for the title, but running away with it and seriously challenging on every front. Luck can’t be controlled; transfers can, within reason. I feel there’s a great opportunity going begging here, and it frustrates me; I believe I should be honest about that, rather than try to put a smiley face on it.

A defensive midfielder or two, perhaps another center back, and an assistant coach to teach defense seriously would do it. It’s that close.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Vieira

As is I hope obvious I hate chasing down rumors, but this one bears comment: the odds of this happening are slim, and if they do it’s a measure of how defeated this club is. Vieira is a legend; but more often than not the definition of a legend is someone who has-done instead of is-doing and that label fits old Patrick to a T. Vieira is not what he was; he’s a 33 year old cast-off from a second-rate league who’s not good enough for Inter and Mourinho and hasn’t played a full healthy year in league play since ’05-’06, and even in that year the blogs were full of laughing comment at his expense when Cesc nutmegged him in the center of the pitch during Champions League play. It’s inconceivable that a 33 year old who was subject to breaking down and looking off the pace in Serie fuckin’ A will be able to keep up with top-level Premier League midfielders. What’s more he’d be a former Arsenal captain coming in to a team which already has a former captain and a current captain on the roster, neither of whom are the team’s best player and all of whom have uncertain futures at the club depending on results. It’s a recipe for dissension and disaster, and if the team goes 3 games without a win at any time this year you could put money on things like “the press will ask Patrick about the things William said about Cesc and Andrey” and wind up rich.

Bluntly put, bringing Viera back is most likely a PR move designed to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy and hopefully distract the anxious. It’s cynical. And if it’s not- if this is really the best idea the people in charge have for the defensive midfielder role- then it’s simply embarrassing. It’s admitting that after getting rid of Vieira 5 years ago and winning nothing at all in the interim without him and never adequately replacing his role on anything more than an intermittent basis despite trying out probably 10 different players for it, you’re bringing back the old and worn out version of the man to try and recapture something long lost, and do so on the cheap. It’s like dating that girl who you ran around with back in high school when you’re 35, because both of you got fat and ugly and no one else would have you, and you know you don’t have to do much but talk about old times to impress her. Have some self-respect.

I hate to belabor the old analogy, but it still fits: one of the points where I realized the current hierarchy in charge of the Knicks was actually serious was when they told Patrick Ewing to politely fuck off when he inquired about their coaching vacancy. Ewing is every bit as much a Knicks legend as Vieira is an Arsenal legend; I would rate #33 the second greatest Knick of all behind Clyde Frazier and he’s one of only 8 players in team history to have their number retired, and a poll of Arsenal fans some years back had Vieira at #5 among the greatest Gunners. But the Knicks would not have Patrick back, because bluntly put: he wasn’t good enough, and they were not fucking around any more. The team was going to be bad anyway and they could have had their Patrick in as a sop to fans and a nice PR move, a warm gesture to the past; instead, they went out of their way to make a serious investment as an organization in Mike D’antoni, one of the best coaches in the entire league. If Arsenal go for Vieira instead of any number of other options literally world-wide for the same position, I take exactly the same lesson in reverse. The best defenses I’ve seen of a Vieira move so far have been “if it’s him or nothing, better him”, and maybe that’s true (or maybe it’s not if he proves disruptive). But the point remains: this is not a move you make if you’re not fucking around anymore. A serious club does not make their fans wonder if it’s this or nothing, after 5 years of waiting.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal, The NY Knicks | , , , | Leave a comment

Tea Leaves

As always at Arsenal, trying to figure out what’s going on is an exercise in Kremlinology. Arseblog had a long and worthy post yesterday on Kolo and the transfer policy, which is worth a read in and of itself. And yet, there’s always a few extra bits to be sifted out past the surface statements. Like: I believe Arseblog was one of the blogs with club contacts who ridiculed the “Arsenal have only 13 million to spend” rumors some months back as we entered this transfer window, but his blog yesterday seemed to imply (“we might assume that these purchases were made on the basis that the club was budgeting for the sale of Adebayor this summer”) that the Arshavin purchase in the preceding window and Vermaelen together were bought on the understanding that an expected Adebayor transfer would pay for them in large part. Taken literally, it would suggest that Arsenal actually had a nonexistent transfer budget for this window for unsecured additional outlays, and instead went into it on the understanding that players had to be sold before others could be bought, indeed had to be sold to make good the budget for previous purchases. So: did someone at the club tell Arseblogger something in the interim between his two different takes? Has he simply changed his estimation of things based on intervening events? Am I reading entirely too much into this? I don’t know. I do know that the opacity of the club’s policies is maddening, and I’m not even the clicking-refresh-on-newsnow type of fan.

I also have noted that Arseblogger has moved from saying regularly that Arsene Wenger knew more than anyone else just where to team needed to be improved, to an apparent belief that Wenger sees his kids in midfield as good enough. Inside information? A guess? There’s something intensely frustrating as a fan in being reduced to third-hand guesswork about the origins of information available to a second-hand source. Following this team is like a game of Chinese whispers.

If Arseblogger is right though and Wenger doesn’t intend to buy anyone else either because he doesn’t have the resources or the desire, that’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s the one people expect. It may be that Wenger’s kids will come good this year; we’ll see, and it would be wonderful if they did. But if they don’t Arsenal’s problem isn’t going to be what happens, it will be what doesn’t. Wenger is completely unfireable now and for as long as he chooses to remain at the club; there’s clearly a hard core of fans (at a guess- 40%) who cannot be convinced by any turn of affairs to accept a different set of decision-makers at the club; and there’s an even larger group of fans who will side with Wenger and the current board out of the justifiable fear that any change will be to the advantage of the loathsome Usmanov contingent. All of this I suspect will make serious change at the club impossible in the short term (say, 2-3 more years), even if Arsenal were to finish 5th or 6th. Wenger called for judgment at the end of last season, was judged, hated it and rejected the conclusions put to him. Now he calls to be judged in two years’ time. I take him at his word.

Arseblogger said, rightly, that Wenger is not stupid; and of course he’s not, he’s one of the most intelligent- arguably brilliant- people associated with the sport. And that’s part of the problem, because men who have his incredible ability and track record of success often find it the hardest to give up on a project or change their way of thinking even in the face of inarguable empirical refutation of whatever it is that they’re attempting. I’m always reminded of Isiah Thomas as GM of the Knicks, one of the most successful players of his generation in the NBA and a bonafide hall of famer and legend, who entered the job with a clear and precise vision for what he wanted the team to be and worked incredibly hard to achieve it. And in many ways he did; it was just a flawed, blinkered, hopeless sort of vision which produced mediocre results and damaged the team he worked for by wasting the better part of a decade on a bad idea poorly achieved. There’s far better examples of this habit of mind from beyond the world of sports; the first two which occur to mind are the time Isaac Newton lost to doodling about with alchemy and the way Albert Einstein misplaced much of his later career attempting vainly to disprove the implications of quantum mechanics which so horrified him (“God does not play dice”). Sports are often like a little recreation of the wider world, and within that ship-in-a-bottle universe in his tiny way Wenger has been to football what those men were to physics. Now it may be that the bill for his early brilliance must be paid as the stubbornness remains even after the returns have diminished.

There’s no way to be sure, of course. Perhaps in his private moments Wenger regrets passing up on Madrid and their 500 quadrillion transfer budget; but I doubt it, and I suspect you, reading this, do as well. Perhaps Wenger would even happily spend another 20 million on this team if he had the chance, and is being denied the opportunity by a club whose bad real estate bets have come due; but now even the staunchest of Wenger’s supporters, like Arseblog, are becoming uneasy and citing the gaffer’s motivations as the location of responsibility for these choices. It’s even possible that Wenger is deliberately letting himself look like the responsible party to take the heat from the board, knowing that they will back him in his job and need some cover in the PR war against Usmanov; but there’s really no way to be sure, is there? And perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter: no matter who’s responsible for the decision, the fact remains that you can’t suit up a pile of money in midfield and you can’t get back the time lost to failed ideas.

July departs and August takes the stage, and we swirl the mug around again and hope to better understand our fortunes. Tea leaves.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | , , | 1 Comment