116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Monday, September 11, 2006

Trim the Fat

Our excitement regarding Matchday One, limitless as it may seem, has to be reduced in the light of the absolute glut of events on the current footballing calendar. Is FIFA (and, by association, UEFA) cannibalizing itself? It seems as though there is an overhyped matchup everywhere you look at the moment. Not even two months after the end of the World Cup, the international schedule started up in earnest, with Argentina and Brazil facing off in England to decide... well, what exactly? Do we really need international friendlies, in any form, any time before 2007? I know Euro 2008 is supposed to be a big deal, but why on Earth would UEFA start up qualification at a time when their cash cows, domestic competition and the Champions League, are ready to kick off?
The problem with so many disparate storylines is that it dilutes the interesting factors of the game. The World Cup just ended (JUST ended), yet somehow we have to attach meaning to another France-Italy clash. Claude Makelele has just barely gotten a start for Chelsea, but somehow the story of his inclusion with France overshadows the start of his club season. With so many different competitions going on at once, what is the point of paying attention to any of them? They surely can't all carry the same amount of significance. If Germany hangs 13 on San Marino, and Everton beats Liverpool by the same score that Brazil beat Argentina by, and the very same Reds are about to face PSV tomorrow, and these are from four different competitions, in the span of about a week, what the eff is the point? What was even the point of the World Cup? It's about time the soccer world took the time to learn that less is more (unless we're talking about Robinho; we need more Robinho).


Blogger Laurie said...

Good points. I've been a soccer fan for awhile, but have only recently started following European soccer. (Post-World Cup, actually, aided by seeing Real Madrid play DC United live.) And I'm one of those who's having a hard time figuring out all of the plot lines. How about a quick primer of who's competing for what. (Not Euro 2008. That one I've figured out. More like which clubs play in which leagues and what's at stake.)

11:08 AM  
Blogger Z. Jackson said...

No problem!

Club season - pretty much every country in which a soccer ball can be found has its own professional league.

Euro club season runs from the end of August to early June, and the most notable leagues would be Spain, England, Italy and Germany, with a few other leagues slightly below.

Top clubs, traditionally or currently:

Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool (England)

FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Villareal (Spain)

AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus (Italy - they had a nasty scandal this summer and Juventus got sent to a lower league, but traditionally are a power)

Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund (Germany)

Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven (Holland)

Rangers, Celtic (Scotland)

There are a few more notable teams out there, but these are the biggest.

There are three main types of competition in club soccer - league, cup and continental.

League is the most basic, with the team with the most points at the end of the season declared champion (win = 3 points, tie = 1, loss = 0). There are no playoffs, so the title can sometimes be awarded earlier than usual. Teams that finish at or near the bottom can be relegated to a lower league the next season, with top teams from the lower league getting promoted to the top. It's a pretty cool concept.

Teams that finish high enough in their leagues can qualify for continental play the next season, such as the UEFA Champions League or the UEFA Cup (a consolation tournament, if you will). The UEFA Champions League is a season-long tournament, almost a super-league all to itself, to determine the champion of Europe. The Champions League final could be considered the Super Bowl of the soccer season.

Cup play is much more confusing, as it varies from country to country. The most famous of these (and probably the best example) is the FA Cup, which takes place in England. It is a season-long tournament, including teams from all-levels of play, from the lowest pro leagues all the way up to the Premier League. It doesn't really determine much of anything, but in its later rounds it is taken very seriously.

A team that wins the League is considered a Champion, whereas a team that wins both League and Cup is said to have won "The Double." It is very, very rare for a team to win all three - League, Cup and Champions League ("The Treble") - such teams are considered among the all-time greats. The last team to pull this off was Manchester United in 1999.

Anyway, I hope this helped, if you have any more questions, ask away, it's always good to welcome a new fan!


11:48 AM  
Blogger Laurie said...

Okay, it's starting to make sense. I was getting hung up on UEFA and Champions League. This would explain why Real Madrid was playing Lyon -- the logic previously escaped me.

So... To see if I'm getting it. Ribery of France wanted to leave Marseille because they weren't Champions League, if I remember correctly. And if I'm following this, that was because they finished poorly last year? And they refused to let him go because without him they won't be Champions League again next year?

Am I picking up this auxiliary plotline yet?

Thanks for the tutorial. I'm saving it for future reference.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Z. Jackson said...

There are a number of reasons why players might want to leave their clubs, and the opportunity to play in the Champions League (or even win it) is usually near the top of the list.

In the case of Ribery, Marseille finished 5th in the French Ligue 1, outside of a spot in the CL. Other clubs, most notably Real Madrid, Arsenal and Manchester United expressed interest in him. With such glamourous suitors in pursuit, Ribery waged a campaign to get himself freed from Marseille.

Transfers are a VERY tricky business though, and Ribery has a few years left on his contract, making his transfer fee very high (higher than the clubs pursuing him were willing to pay). I wouldn't be surprised if he transferred out next year, with one year off of his contract and his Marseille's asking price lowered due to that fact (if they don't qualify for the CL next year, his transfer fee will probably dip even lower).

Transfers are very much a supply/demand type of thing, and very tricky to navigate. When Ribery signed his most recent deal with Marseille, he likely didn't expect the groundswell of attention that would come his way because of his stellar World Cup. With other good players at his position available for cheaper, however, his market value wasn't as high as Marseille would have hoped (and everyone sells, if the price is right).

FYI-transfer fees are paid from one club to another with nothing going to the player, unless specified in his contract. The team that pays the fee also assumes the player's contract, or negotiates a new one. Most transfers come down to business; if a team can't work out a contract extension with a player, they will often transfer list him to find a club that can, and collect the fees to find players with similar abilities. It's a lot different from the American system of trading one player for another...

10:33 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

Okay, getting it now. I fell in love with Les Bleus, the French team, at World Cup. Now I'm enjoying following "my beautiful French boys" (immortal author Nick Hornby's words, not mine!) as they split off and play for their respective clubs. My big regret is that we don't have the cable channels that would allow me to watch most games.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Laurie said...

And by the way, thanks for taking the time to clarify this for me!

11:45 AM  
Blogger Z. Jackson said...

It's no problem at all - I love talking about soccer, and having a blog means people actually listen (I think).

Even if you don't have all of the digital channels, if you have ESPN2 you can catch the Champions League games, and ESPN just started running additional games on ESPN Classic.

Some of the Spanish-language channels show Euro action on occasion, so that's worth checking out as well, if you get them.

Also, more and more English/Irish pubs are showing games, so if you're adventrous, it's always fun to catch a game with some Euro ex-pats.

The good news is that the game is becoming more and more accessible in this country, so as you follow it more you'll find weird ways of catching games (a couple years ago I was living in Philly without cable, but there was a public television station that for some reason would air Italian Serie A games on Sundays).

12:35 PM  

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