MatchDay Memory–What I Did This Summer

Eric Abidal lifted the Champions League trophy at Wembley and the 2010-2011 club season was over. This could have led to two months of aching and emptiness and hunger for football. For some, it may have. For me, I kept myself busy doing a number of things, some of them soccer related, but when I saw the Premier League schedule posted, I admit I did start jonesin’ for some footy.

In the last couple of weeks I have been trying to keep track of all signings and rumors, focusing on teams and leagues that interested me. Tough job. Don’t know how people do it. So here are my selected thoughts as of 8/4/11, which will probably change as soon as I hit PUBLISH. I didn’t cover everything and I know that I missed some items, but here we go.

Manchester United came out firing, picking up Phil Jones from Blackburn, Ashley Young from Aston Villa, and de Gea from Atletico Madrid. Then they shipped O’Shea and Brown off to the reserve team otherwise known as Sunderland. Liverpool was busy as well, signing Jordan Henderson, Doni as cover at goalkeeper, Charlie Adam and Stuart Downing. @JamesT from the Unprofessional Foul blog broke down the Reds midfield thusly: http://bit.ly/qvw5rA. Chelsea has been eerily silent, as AVB figures out his next steps as the new manager. Arsenal look a shambles. Signing only Gervinho, losing Clichy and Denilson (addition by subtraction) and maybe even Bendtner, their summer has been dominated by Nasri and Fabregas and whether they will stay or go. City has been busy, off loading Jo, Given and Boateng and bringing in Clichy and Savic. What they will do with Adebayor and Tevez remains to be seen. Finally, there is Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs finally said goodbye to Woodgate and O’Hara and added Friedel, Coulibaly and Ceballos. They may still lose Modric but really need to strengthen in all areas if they want to get back into Europe (read Champions League) and compete for the title.

In Italy, Inter continue to retool in the post-Mourinho era. Rumors flew around all summer that Sneijder was on his way out. They brought in Ricky Alvarez amongst some fanfare, but that was about it. AC Milan offloaded Pirlo and brought in Taiwo and Mexes as they move forward with a more dynamic team to win at home and abroad. Roma is in the midst of a new direction, led by Luis Enrique. Gone are Doni, Riise and Mexes and in are Stekelenburg, Heinze, Lamela, Krkic, Cicinho and Jose Angel (who I don’t know anything about). What the end product will be is anyone’s guess but they are definitely reshaping the team of Spalletti and Ranieri. One of the biggest rumors going around is Pastore moving from Palermo to PSG. That would be quite the signing, spurning offers from bigger clubs, including Chelsea.

As for the black and whites of Juventus, The Future Mark II, is underway. They will start with a new manager—Del Neri out, Conte in—possibly a new formation depending on which reports you read, and a load of new signings—Vucinic, Lichstenier, Pirlo, Vidal, Pazienza, and Ziegler—for a second summer running, plus finalizing the purchases of Matri, Quagliarella, Motta, and Pepe. This off season also saw a massive clearing out: Melo, Aquallini, Sissoko, Salihamidzic and Tiago. Amauri is still on the books and needs a new home. Please help. The result of all this activity—either back towards to the top of Serie A or an unsettling plateau (7th two seasons running) or a plummet down the table—will be the focus of the fans as they grade the top brass of the club.

For me, the biggest story in the Spanish off season was Malaga. An infusion of money from Qatar has led the club to be on one of the top spenders this closed season. After bringing in Julio Baptista, Ignacio Camacho, Sergio Asenjo, Enzo Maresca and Martin Demichelis, in the winter, they eventually turned things around and finished 11th. Now they’ve added Joaquín, Sergio Sánchez, Toulalan, Mathijsen, Monreal, van Nistelrooy, and Cazorla in an attempt to buy their way up the table. According to La Liga Weekly, Pelligrini will try to use these old hands to steady the ship and qualify for Europe until the youth products are ready and additional signings are made. I think they will finish in the Champions League spots and really put pressure on Valencia, Villarreal, and Sevilla.

I’m very worried about the Yellow Submarine. Gone are Carzola and Capdevila and Cicinho, with only Zapata from Udinese of note coming in. (Obligatory Jozy Update: transferred to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar). Looks like they will hold on to Rossi for at least one more season, so they should at least be among the goals. And what to say about Atletico Madrid? Aguero has gone to City and de Gea to United and Ujfalusi to Galatasaray, with Simao leaving last winter, and the club has brought in Tiago, Gabi, Adrian Lopez, Silvio, Thibaut Courtois, Julio Alves, names that don’t set the world alight. One of two things will happen with this squad: they will respond, possibly with a renewed Forlan, and finally achieve some of their promise or they will continue their descent down the table. I actually think they may be relegation candidates. Then there is Valencia, who will be in the Champions League again but for how long? Archie from http://elcentrocampista.com sums up the ins and outs of the squad: http://bit.ly/pgR9ws . Maybe this will be Canales’ big chance to shine.

As for the big two, FCB continue to chase Fabregas and I’m not sure why. At first I was all for it but after seeing the war of words and then seeing Thiago light it up in the preseason and the signing of Alexis Sanchez, I’m not so sure. One worrying thing is the club selling a lot of B team players. Some were sold with buyback clauses, but still. A lot of the Blaugrana’s success has some through La Maisa and it seems as if they are moving away from that. The Evil Empire continues to put together a squad to topple the team of our generation. With the addition of Varane, Sahin, Jose Callejon, Hamit Altintop and Fábio Coentrão and another year of the Special One, I think this is entirely possible. I predict Real Madrid will win the league as injuries, the number of fixtures and constant pressure catch up to Barcelona.

I tried to watch Copa America, I really did, but failed miserably. A couple of issues: 1) About half the group games were on Telefutura, a channel that is almost impossible to find. I went to four bars to find the opening match of Argentina/Bolivia and was unsuccessful. 2) Early games were relatively drab, which didn’t excite me to make the extra effort to watch the ones I could. 3) My Over 30 team was involved in a soccer tournament and game conflicts led me to miss several matches. From the podcasts I listened to and reports I read, the Quarter Finals were gripping. Honestly once the big two were out, I really gave up. The final was in direct conflict with the State Cup final I played in, and when we lost, I really wasn’t in the mood to watch the Copa America Final on delay. I vow to try harder in 2013 or 2015 or whenever the next one is.

Even though I don’t watch MLS, which I explained earlier this summer—http://bit.ly/ppnqsL—I planned a trip to the Pacific Northwest to watch MLS games in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, in an attempt to jumpstart my interest in the league. Between money and timing, I wasn’t able to execute it this summer but plan on making it a top priority in 2012.

From a media perspective, I read Soccer in Summer and Shadow. If you have not read this book, get it today. A series of short essays on the game, its fans and its history. There are some amazing insights into the beautiful game, as it evolves from a hobby brought by the English to a global sport with political underpinnings that captivates the world. I also watched the history of Manchester United for the umpteenth time. Every time I watch the Fergie Era, I go back to the days when I first started following the game, to those amazing days of when United finally broke the league hoodoo and went on a run domestically and on the continent that may not be seen again. Finally, I picked up Once in a Lifetime—http://imdb.to/o4Rq1B—and watched that again. What a story with so many great characters—Steve Ross, Chinaglia, Pele, Clive Toye, Beckenbauer, Messing. For a short window of time, soccer was popular in the US. I’ll be honest, the only thing I actually remember was the name Chicago Sting. Don’t know why. The couple takeaways from this viewing were the fact that the Cosmos really were ahead of their time in assembling talent from all over the world; say what you want about Maradona, Best, Zidane, and Messi, Pele is truly a global icon; MLS did their homework and have built a stable league that will never conquer the American market but will continue to flourish.

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