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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.

Allez Les Bleus!

Why I’m rooting for France in Euro 2012

A lot of people don’t like France.  Or maybe it’s French folks they dislike.  And I can understand that a little.  They can be culturally snooty sometimes; though so can pretty much every other nationality on earth.  And from a soccer standpoint I can understand why people wouldn’t like the French national team seeing as two of the most infamous meltdowns in World Cup history were perpetrated by les Bleus.  There was Zinedine Zidane’s head butt of Italy’s Marco Materazzi that may have cost France the World Cup title in 2006.  Then there was the undetected hand-ball by Thierry Henry that unfairly sent France instead of Ireland to World Cup 2010 in South Africa.  The team imploded in South Africa, with coach Raymond Domenech kicking Nicolas Anelka off the team and the rest of the squad refusing to practice at one point in protest.

Particularly after the World Cup 2010 incident, the French team gained the reputation (whether accurate or not) as selfish mega-stars that cared more about themselves than representing their country honorably.  Since then, the French Football Federation wisely dumped strange Coach Domenech and hired Laurent Blanc, an alum from the World Cup ’98 winning French side.  Blanc has successfully overhauled the French squad, giving new youngsters a chance while reincorporating the megastars.  France has plenty of megastars by the way, including Benzema, Ribery, Nasri, Malouda, and Ben Arfa.

So why in the world would I root for France in the Euros this summer?  It’s a personal connection.  I lived in France for nine months when I was eleven-years-old.  Nine months can make a big impression at any age, but especially when you’re eleven.  I really liked soccer before we moved to France, but I really loved soccer within a couple weeks of living in France.  It was very contagious.  I was playing pick-up games with neighborhood kids the first day I was there!  Couldn’t understand a word they were saying at that point, but soccer bridged the gaps.  And the soccer never relented the whole time I was there.

Since I attended a French public school in Tours, France, I was naturally influenced by their player and team preferences, which of course included the French national team.  Euro ’88 was my first European Championship experience.  I was hooked.  I ended up cheering on Holland because I liked Ruud Gullit and because France hadn’t qualified.  The French weren’t too happy about that, particularly since they’d won the title in 1984.  I’ve rooted for France ever since my time living there, with a couple of exceptions – if they’re playing the U.S. obviously, and at the 2002 World Cup I cheered for Senegal over France because I also lived in Senegal for five years.  But that’s another story.

When it comes to the Euros, I love watching the tournament, but the fun is enhanced when you have a team to cheer on.  France has their issues, but I’m sticking with them.  Not because of particular players, but because when I watch them, I remember the faces of all the French classmates I ran with at school and on the playground, whose exuberance for les Bleus and football itself had an effect on me that has never quite faded.

(France plays their opening game of Euro 2012 against England on Monday, June 11, at 11:00 AM (Central) on ESPN)

Who will you root for in Euro 2012?

The Appendectomy Blues – Part 2

Post-Chelsea v. QPR thoughts on how to ensure fairer soccer games

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I found myself in the emergency room last Sunday with my appendix nice and irritated – a condition probably instigated by the red card bonanza perpetrated against Chelsea in their 1 – 0 loss at Queen’s Park Rangers.  I couldn’t sleep Sunday night as I awaited surgery Monday morning so I spent some time thinking of simple ways the Premier League (and by extension the world) could rid soccer of 99% of controversial calls.  The following is what I came up with.  And you’re welcome, world.

Other sports could learn a thing or two from soccer’s strict card system punishments.  Usually, I like the strictness in soccer.  In theory, the threat of being booted from the game keeps players in line.  Other sports often tolerate too much misbehavior.  But when referees get the decision wrong, the strictness backfires and completely changes the match.  And if the ref hands out an unwarranted red card, the consequences reach beyond the current match since players must sit out the next three matches!  So one mistake by a referee can potentially change a team’s entire season.

The Premier League likes to tout itself as the world’s biggest and/or best league.  I mostly agree with that assessment, but if the Premier League wants to retain that tout, it needs to step up and demonstrate leadership in adopting officiating technology.  There are two basic, relatively simple technologies that would solve a myriad of bad call problems:  goal-line technology and limited instant replay.

Goal-line technology is the bare minimum of these two solutions.  Critics say officiating tech of any kind would disturb the natural flow of soccer.  Really?  We’re not talking about ten minute evaluations here.  Besides, the game’s flow has already been interrupted if a goal is scored.  The typical goal celebration lasts as long or longer than the time it would take to determine a goal’s validity.

My limited instant replay plan would limit reviewable calls to red cards and any calls made inside the penalty box (including off-sides in the box).  That way you’re only reviewing calls (like PKs) that have the greatest potential to dramatically affect the outcome of the match.  Again, to critics who say it would interrupt the flow I say, have you watched a soccer match on TV recently?  It usually takes about 30 seconds for commentators to check a few replays and render judgment – judgment that’s usually obvious and correct once you see it from a few angles.  Soccer usually doesn’t require JFK-level forensics to determine whether a guy’s diving in the box – if you have replay available.  Besides, limited reviews wouldn’t interrupt a game any more than the flop-and-writhe players that annoy soccer fans worldwide every weekend.  If you really want to help the flow of games, deal with the flop-and-writhers!

In a way I can understand soccer purists’ anti-tech stance, but they’re being stubborn and ignorant to think that the game would be severely altered by adding goal-line tech and instant replay for major calls.  If purists need proof, just look at tennis.  Talk about a game steeped in its own history/traditions!  But even tennis has shot-spotting technology.  It hasn’t hurt tennis.  It hasn’t even replaced chair umpires or linesmen.  It doesn’t take too long.  It serves players well by bringing them justice.  It’s more fair!

The rules of our most popular sports were developed in a time when people couldn’t even imagine television.  Game officials had the final word on calls because there was no alternative.  You simply had to accept their errors as part of the game.  In the modern technology-driven world however, it’s naïve of soccer’s governing bodies to sail along without instant replay and expect fans to be okay with it.  It’s like an historical event unfolding live with a TV audience that clearly sees what happened.  But historians on site say something else happened and that’s what gets printed in history books.  It’s a bizarre state of denial for leagues to be okay with getting something wrong when everyone on earth knows the truth thanks to TV technology (“Hand of Gaul” anyone?).

FIFA doesn’t have the guts to make the necessary tech changes.  Plus, they’re too busy counting their billions in recent World Cup TV rights deals.  But if the Premier League would take the lead on officiating technology, FIFA would surely sit up and take notice.  It’s ironic that the British F.A. is willing to use replay tech to determine if John Terry uttered racist no-no’s after the QPR game, but they won’t use it to challenge the ref’s calls in that game that could alter the final league standings!

Yes, you have quite a bit of time on your hands when you’re in the hospital.

What do you think of my goal-line tech and limited replay plan?  Feel free to weigh in…

Why Brek Shea Missed MLS All-Star Game

What’s Shea doing in Central America?

In their 4 – 0 loss to Manchester United last night, the MLS All-Stars were missing one of the most exciting and dangerous scoring threats in MLS this year.  FC Dallas fans will know who was missing from the lineup:  Brek Shea.  To be certain, the 21-year-old forward/midfielder was voted onto the All-Star roster by MLS fans, but he missed the game for international duty of the club variety.  Shea is in San Salvador with FC Dallas to kick off their first ever CONCACAF Champions League game against Alianza FC Thursday night.  The match will air live on FOX Soccer at 9:00 PM (CT).

Shea is currently tied with Landon Donovan for second most goals scored (9) in MLS this season (Thierry Henry is in first with 11 goals).  Shea has quickly established himself as a player to watch.  Already a vital starter for FC Dallas, he got his first call-up to the U.S. National Team late last year (friendly against Colombia) and played 60 minutes for the U.S. against Chile in January of this year.  With the U.S. team in need of some re-tooling after the Gold Cup, Shea would be a good place to start.  If you’ve not seen Shea play, he is tall, physical, fast, and a scoring threat in the air and from distance.

I was surprised to read that Shea spent some time training with Bolton in 2007 – surprised because in thinking I’d like to see him loaned to an EPL club during the next MLS off-season, I thought Bolton might be a good fit.  Another American, Stuart Holden, has thrived at Bolton.  Shea could possibly earn some decent playing time there, especially if Daniel Sturridge remains at Chelsea (he was loaned to Bolton last season).  Stoke, Wigan, or Wolves might be good matches for Shea as well.  You heard it here first EPL teams (okay, probably not) – but just in case – do yourselves a favor and give this Brek guy a look.  Just don’t get too attached.  We want to keep him in Dallas as long as possible!

It’s a big honor for FC Dallas to be in the CONCACAF Champions League, earned by way of being MLS Cup Runners-Up in 2010.  I haven’t tuned in to CONCACAF Champions League play in the past, admittedly due to my bias against CONCACAF teams in relation to the quality of UEFA’s Champions League competition.  But now that FC Dallas is in the CCL, I am newly motivated to follow the tournament and cheer them on.  FC Dallas is good enough to go far.  It will be interesting to see how they perform in such a different environment.  It won’t be like playing at Pizza Hut Park, that’s for sure.  At least they’re already used to the heat.  You can hear some of the players’ thoughts about the match here.  Check back tomorrow to find out how Shea and FCD fared in their first Champions League adventure.

Should Brek Shea be a regular on the U.S. National Team?  Which Premier League team would be a good fit for Shea if he were to go on loan this winter?