Premier League Transfer Deadline Looms Large

We've all become used to the mad dash to wrap up transfers by August 31st.

Several games into a season, teams were still searching for a solution to glaring needs on the field. Maybe they haven't quite settled on terms with a long held transfer target. Or, possibly there's that lone trouble maker they're trying to off-load. 

But those late editions/subtractions can also be disruptive to team chemistry. 

That's precisely what Premier League clubs were seeking to avoid when they announced last season on a 14 to 5 vote (one abstention) that they'd move their transfer deadline back from August 31 to the Thursday before the first weekend of games. The new deadline falls on August 9th. 

FIFA, it must be noted, has mandated a 12-week transfer window. Which is why, if you recall, Premier League teams were finalizing transfers as early as mid-May. Fabinho to Liverpool from Monaco is a prime example.

It seems, though, teams in England haven't really caught on to the new transfer deadline. Yes, there have been some big signings--Liverpool picked up Xerdan Shaqiri from Stoke and Alisson from Roma. But overall there haven't been the series of splashes that a transfer window normally has. 

We should also take into account the four-week-long extravaganza in Russia, the World Cup usually slows the transfer market. Surely that puts a damper on activity as teams wait to see how targets perform and whether or not they have to increase their bids. 

But that doesn't account for the general hesitancy of teams to buy or sell. Normally a big transfer, like Ronaldo to Juventus, would act like a multiplier and set off a series of other transactions. That hasn't happened yet.

Some have said we should wait until the last ten days, which will begin July 31st. There's always a flurry of activity as the window starts to close.

Still others have pointed to the delayed transfer deadlines of other clubs. Italy has decided to enact the same policy as the Premier League, but their start date is a week later. Germany, Spain, and France haven't made those changes and will be free to sign players until August 31st--even  from sides in the UK.  

While it is certain to limit confusion and allow players to focus on the season, the new policy could lead to Premier League sides missing out on players as clubs in other leagues have a bit more time hammer out transfers. And if there's a want-away player on a side in England, a club with a longer transfer deadline would be able to make a lower bid, knowing there's a strong desire to get rid of the player. In short, the last three weeks of August will be a buyers market. 

The new transfer rules look to be reasonable, but the fact they aren't uniformly applied across Europe makes it all the more confusing and likely that English sides could get the short end of the stick. 

Obtaining consistency across Europe should be next on the agenda. 

 

The Croatian Dream Continues, as England Falters

Wednesday semifinal started auspiciously for the Three Lions. An early free kick goal from surprising standout Kieran Trippier with just five minutes gone gave the impression football might actually be coming home. 

For the next half hour and some change, the Croatians looked shell-shocked. But to be fair, they've been down early before--giving up a goal to Denmark in the first minute of their Round of 16 match. 

But on the stroke of halftime, it seemed the Croatians had settled. The tiny nation may just have had enough fight left to challenge England's youthful side. 

After not putting up much of a rebuttal in the first 45, the Luca Modric led side hammered England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford with seven shots in the first 15 minutes of the second half. 

Just past the hour mark, Ivan Perišić took a late run into the box and got his boot, above a diving Kyle Walker, to Šime Vrsaljko's cross from the right side. Pickford was helpless to prevent the goal.

And facing a bit of shell-shock themselves, the England side almost conceded a second a few minutes later. Perišic's shot hit the inside of the post and Ante Rebic's rebound fell comfortably right into the hands of a panicked Pickford.

Ninety minutes wouldn't be enough, however. And for the third time in three games Croatia would have to play an extra 30 minutes. Curiously, both teams had most of their subs remaining--Croatia with all four and England three. Entering extra time, teams are allowed a fourth substitute.

The first 15 almost came and went without much fan fare. But, in the final minute of the first extra period, Mario Mandžukić latched on to a cross at the near post with pressure from Pickford forcing his shot wide.

The dagger came just three minutes into the second frame. A headed ball from the left by Perišic combined with a momentary switch off by England's defense, allowed Mandžukic to sneak in and finish first time past the diving keeper from Everton. 

England had to finish down a man as Kieren Trippier was helped off with a groin injury. But even if he had stayed on, able to finish, it seemed a bridge too far. The Croatians had outlasted an England side that had so inspired the country and even the rest of the globe. 

As the Croatians celebrated and the Three Lions players stood dejected, one thing was certain England will be back.

The core of this team will eventually bring football home. And the rest of Europe and the World should be very afraid. 

 

World Cup Semi-Finalists Reflect Team Spirit

First, I want to apologize. It's been more than a week since my last post. Admittedly, I had every intention of writing through vacation, but then I realized taking a step back would be wise and allow me to fully recharge. But now I'm back and ready to go full force into providing analysis and insights. 

When we take a look at all four semi-finalists (and one could argue some of the quarterfinalists as well), the one thing that emerges is that while each team has a star, none of the teams wait for the star to perform. In short, the success of the final four squads hasn't been balanced precariously on a single player. 

Sure Croatia's talisman, Luca Modric, scored a superb goal against Argentina--one that outshined Messi's performance, except maybe that amazing finish vs Nigeria. But he also missed a penalty kick against Denmark in the waning moments of extra time, one that could have sealed the game and avoided a shootout. His teammates, and really his goalkeeper, rallied behind him to prevail in the shootout. 

England relied heavily on Harry Kane in their first two games, he even scored in the Round of 16 match up against Colombia. But it was Harry Maguire and Deli Alli (and some would argue Raheem Sterling's work rate in the attacking third) that carried England into the semis.

For France, it's been more of a combination of Antoine Greizmann and Kylian Mbappe upfront along with solid efforts from N'golo Kante and the defensive backline. A sum of its parts rather than a singular focus on a super star.

And the Red Devils of Belgium have done it while employing multiple formations and multiple roles for its most special players. Having started the first two games and the Round of 16 match up as a central striker, Romelu Lukaku was forced out wide against Brazil in favor of a Kevin De Bruyne playing a false 9. De Bruyne himself had been forced to drop deeper in previous matches. Eden Hazard, too, was moved from a central position, one that was more raumdeuter than anything else, to a position out on the right flank.  

It's a little cliche to say, but teams win World Cups. Which is why Portugal, Argentina, and Brazil never stood a chance. All three teams relied heavily on a single player. Every possession, tactical adjustment, and even failure was centered around the performance of their star. Once could reasonably argue, they'd probably lose the debate, but it is still worth discussing, all those teams could have fared better without Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar. 

Portugal won a European Championship without Ronaldo on the pitch. And to be fair, they didn't perform well during that competition, narrowly escaping the group phase and their first two games in the knockout rounds. 

Argentina looked lost with Messi on the pitch. They probably would have looked lost with him off the pitch, too. But the clear deference at nearly every venture, every rough patch made the likes of Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, and Sergio Aguero look shadows of their usually on form selves. 

And for the Brazilians, Neymar's desire to be the director of all things Seleção prevented other stars from shining brightly. Gabriel Jesus looked lost as he tried in vain to partner with the mercurial Brazilian talisman. Barcelona midfielder Philippe Coutinho had an impact early in the group stage, but seemed to be left out of forward movements as the tournament progressed. All things Brazil had to go through Neymar.

It's telling that the sides with arguably the three best players in the tournament never really threatened for a shot at the title. In a tournament as grueling as this, it's the team that matters. And even in the World Cups where single players dominated, they allowed their teammates to shine as well. Brazil had the talent to pursue a title,  and if Neymar's self-centered flare and infatuation with the limelight had allowed it, we might be talking about the possibilities of a sixth World Cup title. Portugal and Argentina, unfortunately, never seemed to have the quality required--even with their superstar.

Alas, it is the sides with the best team chemistry, the ones most willing to sacrifice for each other, that have made it to the final four. One of them will win and the glory will go to the team spirit embodied by every player on the roster. 

That should be the lesson from this World Cup.

 

No Wayne, No Gain

It was the fall of 2002 and I was entering my third year of college. Unsurprisingly, at just 20 years old, I was far out of my depth. Just knowledgable about the subjects I was taking to mask my true ignorance about life. 

But on a grainy feed in my off-campus shit hole of a house I shared with several friends, I had the luxury of watching, most likely on replay and several days late, Wayne Rooney score his first Premier League goal against Arsenal. I knew then he was destined for greatness.

'What player, just a few games into his first full season in the Premier League, has the balls to hit a shot like that against a team that has a 30 game unbeaten streak,' I thought to myself. If I had said it out loud, none of my roommates would have understood. None of them grasped the madness of football. 

Rooney was on the brink of 17 years old, earning a mere £80 per week. He'd not been on the field long enough for anyone to actually think he would make an impact. But with less than 30 seconds to go, the new boy wonder controlled a speculative long ball, took a few touches toward goal, and as the Arsenal defenders decided to back off rather than close down he launched a curling shot from well outside the box. Just like Ronaldinho a few months earlier in Shizuoka Stadium, he surprised David Seaman, the England and Arsenal Goalkeeper, by tucking the ball into the upper left hand corner of the goal. 

To be sure, if Rooney's career had ended up a dud, we'd have all called it speculative. But 16 years later, looking back on one of the most storied careers for any English footballer, it was an introduction to precisely what we've come to expect. 

Yesterday, the former England captain signed with DC United, currently the worst team in Major League Soccer. For those who have watched Rooney's career, the decision to make the brand new Audi Field his new home certainly raises eyebrows.  But for the fans of the Black and Red (full disclosure, I'm a season ticket holder), his addition to a squad that's floundering not just in the offensive third, but also in the standings signifies a new hope and a chance to recapture the greatness that's been missing for more than a decade. 

Wazza's workmanlike style matched with the sort of cheeky initiative that drives defenders mad fits perfectly with the system DCU coach Ben Olsen has in mind. Given a backloaded season by MLS, so that Audi Field could host the majority of their home games this season, DCU needs all the breaks possible to reach the playoffs. Rooney just may be exactly what they need to slide into the post season. 

Injuries have plagued Rooney of late, however. And the MLS, despite the idea that it's a retirement league, isn't a push over. It will be physically grueling for the new signing. 

Nonetheless, he's already engendered himself to the city after making Wunder Garten, a beer garden in NOMA, one of his first stops in the city after arriving yesterday afternoon. 

Those of us who are DCU fans will certainly be looking forward to his efforts on the field. Maybe he'll be the first to score 15 goals since Dewayne DeRosario in 2011. Regardless, the excitement is building, hopefully he won't disappoint. 

Belgium Makes Their Case

If there ever was a favorite dark horse to win this summer's edition of the World Cup, it'd have to be Belgium.

Coming in the tournament, pundits were picking all the usual suspects as to lift the trophy on July 15th--Brazil, Germany, Argentina, France, Spain. Rarely, and almost always as an after thought, a few would mention Belgium. 

But as each of the teams finish their second first round game and we've seen several of the favored sides struggle to impress, Belgium has been the one side that stands clearly above the rest. In both of their games thus far, they've thoroughly dominated their opponents. They left no doubt of their intentions. 

Sure, you'd be right to point out that they're even on points and goal differential with England, yet England's struggle bus performance against Tunisia in their first game left many unanswered questions. Some were answered in England's 6-1 victory over an out-of-their-depth Panama side. John Stones and Harry Kane stepped into the breech and led the team to victory, but how will they respond when faced with a far superior and more complete Belgium. 

Both sides have much to prove, but I give the nod to the Roberto Martinez coached side. They not only have an in form striker in Romelu Lukaku, but they also have two creative midfield players that are forces to be reckoned with--Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard. I'm not certain the Three Lions will be able to cope with, much less contain, all three.

My bet's on a goal fest, with Belgium winning 3-2.