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Countdown to Derby Day

My trip to the heart of rival territory…

BBVA_Compass_Stadium_East_Facade

The first week of March was exhausting.  My high school soccer team had a regional playoff game on Monday night, which we won, propelling us into the state final four in Houston the following weekend.  I spent the rest of the week leading up to our Thursday afternoon departure madly scrambling to arrange all the last-minute Houston trip details.

One of the main scheduling conundrums that needed solving was what to do with our 22-man team on Friday afternoon.  With our semifinal game scheduled for 9:00 Friday morning, we had quite the time to kill afterward.  I needed something fun and economical that wouldn’t completely sap their energy ahead of the state championship game on Saturday (assuming we won our semifinal of course).

I considered visiting the Johnson Space Center, but it is actually rather far from where we were staying in Houston.  After scuttling NASA, my natural inclination was something Houston Dynamo-related – despite the fact they are the sworn enemy of FC Dallas.  But what could we do?

I contacted the Dynamo’s Director of Soccer Operations, inquiring as politely as possible whether it would be possible for my team to attend a Dynamo training session if they had one Friday afternoon.  I suppose this would be akin to a Liverpool fan wanting to visit a Manchester United training session.  I did feel slightly traitor-ish since I’ve never arranged for my team to attend an FC Dallas training session, but these were unique circumstances, us making the final four in Houston and all.  At least that’s how I soothed my fan conscience.

Surprisingly, I actually heard back from the Soccer Operations guy that the Dynamo would be training Thursday and Friday morning at 10:00 AM and that we were welcome to attend either session.  My heart sank as my super cool (and cheap!) team outing would not be possible since we would be playing our semifinal Friday morning at 9:00.

The Dynamo training session bust led me to wonder if the club offered tours of their practically brand new BBVA Compass Stadium (it opened in 2012).  I called the number and talked to account executive Ken who was very enthusiastic about the prospects of arranging a tour for my team.  He got our request approved, called me back and just like that we were set for a 3:00 PM stadium tour on Friday.

I was excited.  Not only am I endeavoring to be a more faithful MLS supporter, but I also want to spur impressionable young men to support it as well, thus doing my part to influence future generations of American soccer fans.  Selfishly, I really wanted to find out if BBVA Compass Stadium is as cool as it looks on TV.

rise_and_shine_the_jay_demerit_story

On the nearly five hour drive from our school in suburban Dallas to Houston, I tried to inspire the team with a screening of Rise & Shine: The Jay Demerit Story which I had recently purchased expressly for this trip.  While documentaries may not be everyone’s cup of tea (much less teenagers’) I thought this soccer-centric story would surely have widespread appeal.  The film may be sluggish in parts, but who wouldn’t be roused, perhaps even get a lump in the throat, when Demerit scores the winning goal that gained Watford promotion to the Premier League in 2006?  Well, apparently I am the only one so affected.  Every time I glanced around at my players on the bus during the film, no one was remotely paying attention.  Each was absorbed in his own digital devices and oversized headphones.  My inspirational/motivational attempt became the running joke of our state trip as I was the only one interested in watching Rise & Shine: The Jay Demerit Story (and I had already seen it).

Friday morning we dispatched Houston St. Thomas Episcopal 4-0 in our semifinal, advancing to Saturday’s state championship game against Houston Cypress Christian.  Immediately following our game, the team shuttled over to another venue to watch our varsity girls’ team win their semifinal 1-0.  From there, both teams traveled to a deli that was supposed to accommodate our huge troupe for lunch.  After finally directing our charter bus driver (who mystifyingly did not have a GPS) to this very difficult-to-locate deli, we immediately discovered the deli had not been forthcoming on the phone about their ability to serve and seat our huge group (which included over forty players, plus coaches and several parents).  This deli was in fact a lunch counter inside a high-rise office building.  We had to find another restaurant capable of serving us in a timely manner, as it would have taken approximately 36 hours for everyone to eat had we stayed at the deli.  The deli owner was furious and gave my assistant coach an earful, but we really had no choice but to head elsewhere.

By then I was severely stressed as I could see no way we would make it to the stadium on time for our tour.  Strategizing at the alternative restaurant where we finally landed, I decided to call account executive Ken and see if there was any way to move our tour time to 4:00.  Ken could not have been more laid back and accommodating.  This in spite of the fact that the Dynamo brass had given Ken and the rest of the club’s staff the day off because of all the midnight oil they’d been burning in the weeks leading up to the MLS season opener.  Ken told me to give him a call when we were on our way to the stadium, that he would be passing the time playing FIFA ’13 at a buddy’s apartment directly across the street from the stadium.  Now I felt extra pressure – this guy was basically giving up his afternoon off to make this tour happen for us.

Houston traffic was the next hurdle on our BBVA Compass Stadium quest.  We inched along for an hour on Southwest Freeway 59.  I’m pretty sure Los Angeles has the only traffic I’ve experienced worse than Houston’s.  I had to call account executive Ken again to explain our lateness.  He still seemed cucumber-cool, assuring me he had no problem playing FIFA while he waited.  Ken’s FIFA fun wasn’t quite enough to assuage my stress over our lateness though.

Finally, at 4:45 PM we pulled alongside the stadium.  The team universally proclaimed the structure’s coolness.  I wholeheartedly concurred.  My first thought was disdain at how much the exterior aesthetics of the Dynamo’s stadium trumped FC Dallas’.  From the outside BBVA Compass Stadium looks like it was constructed by and for NASA, all silver and sleek and airy.  From the outside, FC Dallas Stadium looks like part of a nice strip mall.

Ken met us outside the stadium, checked us in with security, and led us straight into the lower level inner ring tunnel.  He explained straight away that we unfortunately wouldn’t be able to visit the Dynamo locker room, that not even he had ever been that far inside the inner sanctum.  That roused my suspicions that ridiculously successful Dynamo Head Coach Dominic Kinnear has a vault of secrets in there.

CCA @ Dynamo 1

Our first tour stop was the players’ tunnel leading to the pitch.  Ken led us down the ramp to the edge of the pitch right behind one of the goals.  We were allowed to step to the edge of the grass, but no further.  The Dynamo are apparently extra finicky about their pitch.  Ken said he’s only been on the pitch once, during last year’s staff Christmas party when they played an inter-office staff match.  From field level the empty stadium is awesome – a truly soccer specific venue.  I’ve never been in a stadium so large that feels so intimate.  Though it seats 22,000, the seats on the top row feel remarkably close to the pitch.

That's me enjoying the view from field level.

That’s me enjoying the view from field level.

Ken proudly moved us through various sections of the stadium – the south party deck available for corporate rentals, the premium season ticket holder sections featuring leather seats with hand-stitched Houston Dynamo monograms, and finally the President’s Club interior lounge overlooking midfield.  Stunning.

The lateness of our arrival unfortunately meant limiting our tour to half an hour.  Ken would have let us stay longer, but we had a dinner reservation to get to and considering the traffic, we wanted to eat before midnight.  As Ken led us back out of the stadium, we passed the Dynamo team shop, which surprisingly wasn’t much larger than FC Dallas’ shoe box-sized shop.  One of our team captains asked Ken, “Everyone gets a free jersey, right?”  Ken assured him that not even he gets a free jersey as a Dynamo employee.  I guess you have to pay for that awesome space-aged stadium somehow.

As I forked over the cash for our tour (the admission included a match ticket, but since none of us reside in Houston we opted to donate our tickets to a local charity) and thanked Ken for his helpfulness, he informed me he would be at FC Dallas with the rest of the Dynamo front office staff for the big FC Dallas v. Dynamo Derby match on Sunday, March 17.  I said I’d look for him there.  We shook hands, our eyes narrowing as our grip tightened and the rivalry vibes took over… in my mind at least.  He hasn’t been to FC Dallas Stadium before and I felt like apologizing for our home ground relative to the Dynamo’s awesome environs, but caught myself.  What would I apologize for?  So what if the Dynamo have a sweet stadium?  That doesn’t make me like their team any better.  I hope Ken has as pleasant an experience at our stadium as we had at theirs – right up until game time at least.  Then I hope it’s a sad, sad day for Dynamo fans.

On Saturday, after a fierce 0-0 first half, we finally breached the goal and never looked back, defeating Houston Cypress Christian 4-0 for our school’s first-ever varsity boys soccer state championship.  It must have been that inspiring Dynamo stadium tour – either that or Rise & Shine: The Jay Demerit Story.

I'm the exhausted-looking coach on the far left.

(I’m the exhausted-looking coach on the far left.)

Di Matteo Fired

Chelsea continues their boneheaded ways with managers…

I woke up this morning contemplating Chelsea’s recent awfulness and what, if anything, original could be said about it.  That led me to thoughts about Roberto Di Matteo, that maybe I’d write a little something in his defense since I was slightly surprised to hear commentators emphasizing how under fire he is after Chelsea’s poor Premier League form and Champions League struggles.  These were my pre-morning coffee thoughts, but then I flip on the ol’ internet machine and the first thing I see are the Di Matteo’s-been-fired headlines.  What?  Seriously?  What?

I’m actually shocked by the news that Di Matteo’s been given the boot.  I shouldn’t be of course, given Chelsea’s managerial revolving door the past few years, but I’m still kind of shocked.

Chelsea’s current performance problems are player-related and not Di Matteo’s fault.  The timing of this firing is very poor.  Who are they going to get to replace him at this point in the season?  Is another “caretaker” really a better idea than just sticking with Di Matteo for the rest of the season?  I don’t think so.  Managers have to do the best they can with the players they’re given.  Di Matteo has done that.  It’s not his fault that Torres can’t score, or even hold onto the ball for more than 0.5 seconds (and Chelsea’s woes aren’t solely Torres’ fault either – I can’t remember the last time the defense had a shutout).

By firing Di Matteo, Chelsea are seriously impeding their long-term progress and unnecessarily complicating this season’s quest for success.  A team’s fortune can change pretty quickly – if Chelsea had given Di Matteo just one more week, Chelsea could potentially beat Premier League leader Manchester City this Sunday, and qualify for the Champions League knockout stage with a win next week.  It’s hard to imagine them canning Roberto in those circumstances.  Alas, we’ll never know.  At some point Chelsea is going to have to learn real patience with managers or the club will be in a perpetual state of rebuilding.

What do you think of Di Matteo’s firing?

Dear Didier

A Special Invitation from Chelsea* to Drogba…

Dear Didier,

How’s life in China?  How’s the food?  The weather?  How’s your Chinese coming along?  Hope all is well.

Here’s the deal, Didier, we miss you at Stamford Bridge.  We really need you to come back.  Like this week.  I know we parted ways on great terms, with you having just won the Champions League for us and all.  If you were going to leave the club, it was the perfect time to do so.  We were all very understanding, but let’s face it, our Champions League-winning high clouded our judgment.  Now that we’ve had time to ponder… we think we made a big mistake.

Did you see our draw today against a very beatable Liverpool?  Their striker Suarez saved the day for them again – a lot like you used to for Chelsea.  We need a big time lethal striker again.  That’s where you come in.  We’ve got some great new guys this season we think you’ll really dig – guys like Hazard and Oscar.  They’ve been creating great ball movement with Mata, but the problem is they need a real strongman in the box to feed the ball to.  No one wreaks havoc in the box like you do.  We really miss your ability to hold the ball and invent crazy-angled shots out of nothing.  In case you’re wondering about Torres, well, we’re not exactly sure what to do about that yet.  But it probably involves selling him for as much cash as possible come January.  Look, Fernando’s a great guy and we wish him well, but he’s no Drogba.

Now we know you left Chelsea primarily because Shanghai-whatchamacallit offered you a bazillion dollars.  Very understandable.  We didn’t think we could match their bazillions.  But this week we found out we actually made a profit for the first time in something like a decade (thanks to the Champions League riches you helped us get), so, since we’re not used to operating in the black anyway, we thought we’d just give you all that excess profit if you come back.

By the way, in case it’s not all about money, you saw where Chelsea fans recently voted you one of the greatest Blues players in club history, right?  That’s pretty sweet.  The fans would welcome you back in a heartbeat.  Just sayin’.  We know you have a soft spot for Chelsea in that lion heart of yours, so we want to remind you that John Terry got knocked out of the Liverpool match today with a potentially season-ending injury, Lampard is still out with a calf thing, and we loaned Michael Essien to Real Madrid for reasons we’re still not entirely sure about (okay, we brought that last one on ourselves, but we’re just pointing out the dearth of Blues vets currently on hand).

Just in case you feel a little weird about the idea of coming back to Chelsea so soon after leaving, it’s not unprecedented.  Paul Scholes returned to Man U after retiring for a while last season.  Thierry Henry even went back to Arsenal on loan earlier this year.  It’s obviously not our first choice, but we’d settle for you returning to Chelsea on loan whenever the Chinese league’s over (sorry, we’re not sure when their season ends – until you went there we didn’t even know China had a pro league).  Whatever it takes, Didier, that’s what we’re saying.

Admit it, you miss the Premier League.  The high-pressure matches.  The packed, historic stadiums.  Cup finals.  Champions League nights around Europe.  Eccentric gazillionaire Russian owners.  Causing Sir Alex heartburn.  Democracy.

We don’t want to pressure you too much, but we have slipped from first to third in the table within a couple weeks, so we kind of need an answer ASAP.  Only you can help prevent one of the Manchesters winning the league again.  Chelsea’s fate is in your hands.  Okay, that may be overstating it a bit, but come on man you’re playing in China for goodness sakes!  No one watches Chinese soccer!

Come home, Didier, come home.  You know you want to.  We can have a jet there in a matter of hours.

Love,

Chelsea Football Club

 

P.S.  Say hello to Anelka for us.

 

*Unfortunately this letter does not represent an actual invitation from Chelsea Football Club to Didier Drogba.

Back in Action

Chelsea takes on Seattle Sounders FC tonight

Chelsea returns to the pitch tonight for a preseason friendly in their first match since winning the Champions League in May.  Although several players will be missing due to post-Euro 2012 vacation and/or impending Olympics duty, it will be fun to see the Blues knocking around the leather again.  It’s also a great opportunity to see some of the club’s youngsters play.

Speaking of youngsters, Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid (as I’ve decided to call him for now) supposedly passed his physical with the club, but Di Matteo still won’t confirm or deny any deal.

Florent Malouda will be joining Chelsea in the U.S. in a day or two, but it may be a short visit.  Rumor is he may be headed to a South American team.  I’ve always liked Malouda, but the time is probably right to let him go.  His play has deteriorated since Chelsea’s 2009/10 EPL title-winning season.  He didn’t contribute much with France at the Euros this summer either.  He will be missed, but the club probably needs to free up his roster spot.

Chelsea’s mega-deal of the summer so far has been the signing of Eden Hazard.  Now it sounds like they may be interested in Eden’s 19-year-old younger brother Thorgan.  If that were to happen, Thorgan would instantly inherit the title of awesomest name on the team.  Thorgan currently plays for Lens in France’s Ligue 2.  I know nothing about him except that he’s a midfielder and that anyone with “Thor” in his first name is bound to be a cool dude.

Chelsea’s ongoing attempt to purchase every Brazilian soccer player on the planet has apparently hit a snag as Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk rejected their bid for Willian.  I don’t know much about Willian either, but he does have his own website, aptly named “willianwebsite.com”.

Former Chelsea manager-turned-Avenger Andre Villas Boas wants to foil Chelsea’s quest for Brazilian domination by trying to capture Hulk for Tottenham.  For much of the summer Chelsea has been rumored to be nabbing Hulk.  If AVB is successful in making Hulk a Hotspur, Thorgan can breathe easy that his awesomest name title is safe.

“What we need is more Brazilians!”

By the way, since the Brazilian Olympic soccer team is now in London, Chelsea might as well just bid for the entire team.  Perhaps they could save money by buying Brazilians in bulk.

Here is some footage of Chelsea’s training session at CenturyLink Field yesterday evening.  Kudos to Sounders FC for their Chelsea coverage this week, and kudos to Sounders fans for making their club one of the best supported in MLS.  The Sounders and their fans deserve to get friendlies like tonight’s against Chelsea!

Thoughts on these latest deal rumors?  Feel free to share below…

The Bison is Back!

Michael Essien returns from injury as Chelsea beats Sunderland 1 – 0

Yesterday’s victory over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge was another serious nail-biter.  Nail-biters have been in plentiful supply this season – with far too many 1 – 0 games excruciatingly equalized in the dying minutes of matches by Chelsea’s scrappy opposition.  Sunderland tried to continue the trend Saturday with some excellent chances near the end that they fortunately bungled.

I was relieved to see Chelsea win of course, but there was another sense of relief accompanying the final whistle yesterday:  seeing Michael Essien – my favorite Chelsea player – not only return to the pitch after a six-month knee-injury absence, but also successfully navigate eighteen minutes of Premier League match time unscathed.  When I donned my Essien jersey for the game yesterday I had no idea he’d even made the bench.  I hadn’t checked the roster prior to the match, and even though I knew he played in a reserves match last week, I figured it was still too early to see him join the first team in the dugout.  So it was a tremendous surprise to see AVB chatting up Essien on the touchline as he was about to enter the game for Lampard!  While Essien’s contributions were relatively low-key, he was immediately involved, stringing together a series of crisp passes that looked like the Essien of old.  I cringed every time he received the ball near a Sunderland player, hoping they wouldn’t recklessly undo six months of difficult rehab.  It is fantastic to see him back and I hope he’ll be among the regular starting eleven very soon.

 

Another Chelsea vet who saw some late action yesterday was Florent Malouda.  I don’t think Malouda’s been given a fair shake so far this season.  In fact, he’s been woefully underused, which has now negatively affected his match sharpness.  Obviously, the Chelsea coaching staff is with him on a daily basis, so perhaps he’s been under-performing in training.  But it’s difficult to understand why he was so swiftly relegated to benchwarmer status especially considering he was one of last season’s EA Sports Index first-team midfielders – for the entire Premier League!  Like Lampard, I think Malouda has plenty left to offer and Chelsea would be foolish to squander it.  With Drogba away on African Cup duty, hopefully Malouda will get some opportunities to show AVB what he’s got.

Speaking of personnel decisions, what do you think about Chelsea’s acquisition of defender Gary Cahill from Bolton? 

The Appendectomy Blues

I won’t soon forget Chelsea’s 1 – 0 loss at QPR last Sunday…

I didn’t feel great last Sunday morning.  I had an annoying lower abdominal pain.  Didn’t think much of it though and continued on to church with my family.  I was looking forward to watching Chelsea dismantle QPR when I got home.  The game was happening live while I was at church, but if there’s one thing you can count on as a Chelsea fan in my corner of the globe, it’s that no one will ever ruin the score for you at church.  If it’s the Dallas Cowboys or any number of college football teams playing, that’s a different story.  But if Chelsea’s on while I’m at church, I can arrive home after the game’s already over, fire up the ol’ DVR and enjoy the whole 90 minutes without so much as a single pass having been ruined for me by an eager-beaver fan.

Alas, Sunday’s match was a train wreck almost from the start.  More on that momentarily.  As if the Chelsea loss wasn’t annoying enough, that stomach pain I woke up with hadn’t dissipated at all.  In fact, it seemed to be getting worst.

One has some strange thoughts as one is lying on a rickety hospital bed in a dingy hospital room, alone, with a morphine drip that was actually doing little to squelch the abdominal pain that had increased since driving myself to the ER at 11:00 PM.  It was 2:30 AM and I couldn’t sleep.  As I waited for the CAT scan results to confirm appendicitis, I had loads of time to ponder Chelsea’s meltdown at Loftus Road.  Here are some of said thoughts:

1)  David Luiz is starting to annoy me a little bit.  Not a lot.  Just a little.  For now at least.  When he burst onto the Chelsea scene last January he became an almost instant fan favorite thanks to his enthusiasm, aggressiveness, and crazy hair.  He was a real shot in the arm at a time in the season when Chelsea truly needed one.  I still love the guy.  He could still develop into one of my absolute favorite Blues.  But the guy has got to stop the needless fouling.  Quit nipping at players’ heels!  He’s fast enough (I think) and athletic enough (again – I think) not to need to do those things.  I love the heart and desire he showed in trying to eke out a win against QPR (like using his elbows to hack some box space for himself amidst the Rangers molesting him during corners and free kicks).  But all the little fouls must stop immediately.  They’re hurting the team.  Having said that, his “foul” in the box that gave QPR the PK and ultimate victory was a softie to say the least.

2)  Didier Drogba’s tackle choice… seriously?  I’m a long-time fan of Drogba.  I’m really glad he’s been a Chelsea man for so long.  But I expect a lot more from such a veteran.  After this many years of top-tier soccer, did Didier really think his two-footed lunge would be okay?  His offense was fairly mild as red cards go, but no one can be surprised that his tackle was red-carded.  The surprise is that Drogba did it in the first place.  I’d be livid if I were Andre Villas-Boas.

3)  Bosingwa’s red card decision was a bad call.  Shaun Wright-Phillips didn’t have a “clear” goal-scoring opportunity.  He and Bosingwa were shoulder-to-shoulder going for the ball.  It may have been a yellow card, but red was unfair.

With three split-second decisions the referee altered the entire game and perhaps Chelsea’s entire season.  Chelsea can’t blame the ref entirely, after all, Luiz, Drogba, and Bosingwa could’ve and should’ve controlled their bodies to avoid maximum punishment.  But the ref shares the blame – at least on the Luiz/Bosingwa calls – and it was clear to anyone watching the game that there was considerable inconsistency in failing to card QPR in similar circumstances.  It’s very frustrating when refs impose themselves on a game in such an intrusive way that truly affects the outcome.

In a league as big and influential as the Premier League, refs need to be far more careful about doling out red cards and PKs since each one has potentially far-reaching implications.  How could the Premier League curb these injustices?  I’ll explore some ideas tomorrow in part two of my appendectomy blues session…

What do you think about the ref’s decisions in the Chelsea/QPR game?

Champions League Blues

Chelsea settles for a point against Valencia

I’m still smarting from Chelsea’s draw at Valencia in Wednesday’s Champions League group stage match.  Chelsea seemed in utter control of the game.  The Blues played well – not great – but their effort seemed to be more than enough to secure three points.  But they only got one point thanks to an 86th minute PK scored by Valencia after Kalou hand-balled on a Valencia corner.  Very frustrating.

Chelsea never should’ve been in danger of drawing as they had some seemingly easy scoring opportunities swatted away in the second half by Valencia’s acrobatic goalkeeper Diego Alves.  Ramires had one such opportunity.  I’m growing frustrated with Ramires because he seems to have trouble finishing.  I love his endurance, work ethic, and willingness to ram the ball ahead, but he really must come through with his finishing.

Finally, Frank Lampard got the better of Diego Alves when Malouda sent a smart diagonal pass through the box which Lamps lethally one-timed into the back of the net with one of his trademark grass-scorchers.  It was a great goal and a well-timed “shut up” to the over-eager soccer pundit boneheads who’ve lately been trying to read a lot into Lampard’s recent time on the bench for Chelsea and England.  Giles Smith had some great things to say in Lampard’s defense in his weekly Chelsea blog.  I agree with Smith that Frank still has much to contribute to the team.

Now back to that Kalou hand-ball in the game’s dying minutes… wow.  Seriously?  I’ve been impressed thus far with AVB’s handling of the squad, but it was definitely a mistake to insert Kalou.  When I saw Kalou warming up alongside Drogba, I had a feeling AVB was going to go with Kalou because Kalou hasn’t seen much playing time lately, the game seemed to be in the bag so it might be a good chance to show Kalou some love, etc., etc.  But it was the wrong game at the wrong time to show Kalou love.  Why not just let the veteran Lampard see out the game?  What on earth was Kalou, a striker, supposed to contribute in the last eight minutes?  It seemed to be one of those political moves managers feel obliged to do at this level – giving run-outs to players who have lately been out of the rotation.

Balancing playing time is surely one of the trickiest aspects of managing a club with Chelsea’s talent.  But Kalou should’ve remained on the bench.  AVB understandably didn’t toss Kalou under the bus in his post-match comments, but I will:  what was Kalou thinking?  He wasn’t match-sharp and he ran out there and blew a perfectly good win.  Sure, it’s early in Champions League play, but those squandered points could certainly come back to haunt!  I’ve always had doubts about Kalou – the necessary consistency just doesn’t seem to be there.  If I had to pick anyone to consider off-loading come January, it would be Kalou.

Anyway, it’s back to Premier League play tomorrow for Chelsea at Bolton.  The pesky Manchesters are still refusing to lose domestically, so a win over Wanderers is a must for Chelsea!

What do you think – am I being too harsh toward Kalou?

Blues Buzz

This week’s transfer rumors and signing realities

I’ve followed the daily transfer rumors more closely this summer than I have in past years and it has been quite amusing.  The latest example being Sir Alex Ferguson’s denial that Manchester United are deal-making to acquire Wesley Sneijder from Inter Milan.  It was a pretty firm denial in the face of supposedly serious reports all week that a deal is imminent.  The moral of the story is you don’t really know what’s going on with a player during transfer season until they show up in a new uniform.

I’ve kept tabs on the transfer rumors just to keep up with which Chelsea players are coming and going.  Of course, all the attention has been on Chelsea’s attempt to get Modric from Tottenham.  That deal is apparently deader than it’s been all summer after Tottenham nixed two Chelsea offers and denied Modric’s transfer request.  This mini-circus will likely continue until the season starts and I wouldn’t be surprised if Modric ends up in a Chelsea uniform during the January transfer window.

I think Chelsea should abandon the Modric pursuit in favor of another of this week’s rumors:  trying to get Scott Parker on loan from West Ham.  The times I’ve seen Parker play the past couple seasons, he has displayed the kind of relentless hustle and passion that was missing from much of the Chelsea squad last year.  Because of his age, he may not be a long-term addition, but if one of the primary personnel needs at the moment is a replacement for Essien at midfield, Parker could be just the shot in the arm the team needs.  Currently Aston Villa seems to be the frontrunner to acquire Parker’s services.

The other prominent transfer rumor of the week was Chelsea’s pursuit of Bolton defender Gary Cahill.  Interesting, though Chelsea’s defense seems to be in pretty good shape right now.  If this deal happened, I can’t see Cahill starting over any of the current group very often.

Other quieter rumors this week include Nicolas Anelka possibly returning to Paris St. Germain and Alex maybe heading to Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.  I like both players a lot, but of the two, transferring Anelka might be the shrewder move because of his age (32) and the fact that things are a little crowded at the Chelsea forward position.  It’s time for Daniel Sturridge to see more minutes at forward and transferring Anelka would help facilitate that.

I would hate to see Alex go.  When all the Chelsea defenders are healthy, they have a deep, quality bench, which is vital to the long EPL season.  If Alex left, adding someone like a Gary Cahill would be essential to maintaining that bench depth.  Anelka played in the second half of Chelsea’s first preseason game against Wycombe Wanderers Tuesday, but Alex did not.

 

Finally, two young Blues received welcome contract extensions today.  Twenty-two-year-old left-back Ryan Bertrand signed a four-year deal.  Eighteen-year-old midfielder Josh McEachran signed a five-year-deal.  Both signings seem very promising, though I only saw Bertrand for a few minutes in one game last season, so I don’t know much about him yet.  The McEachran signing is great for Chelsea.  Ancelotti worked him into several games last season and despite his beanpole build, McEachran was extremely impressive with his poise, patience, placement, and passing prowess (I got on a roll with the p’s and had to keep it going).  If McEachran can avoid burnout and develop some upper body bulk, he could very well be Chelsea’s Lampard of the future.

Which of these Chelsea transfer rumors is most exciting?  Most disappointing?

 

 

Chelsea Gets Back to Work

Blues report to Cobham for first day of preseason training

It was great to see photos and video of the gang back in training action today.  Hard to believe it’s already time to dust off the ol’ boots!  Actually, the European offseason is so short, dust doesn’t have time to gather.  That’s not a criticism, au contraire, as a fan I love the short offseason.  This line from chelseafc.com today cracked me up:  “After what seemed like an eternity waiting, the players were back in at Cobham today and quickly down to work.”  If EPL fans think a couple months is an eternity, they’d never survive the interminably long off seasons in the States!  For fans used to American sports, two months hardly seems like an offseason at all.

One of the things I really appreciate about European soccer is the long seasons.  I’m sure it is grueling for the players, and perhaps the grind even curtails some of their careers, but clubs certainly give fans their money’s worth as far as total number of matches is concerned.  By the time you tally EPL regular season, FA Cup, League Cup, and in Chelsea’s case (thank goodness!) Champions League action, that is a whole lotta football.  The more the merrier I say.  With the Chelsea guys already back at Cobham knocking around the leather, opening day will be here before we know it!

Do you think European seasons are too long or just right?