Friday, February 29, 2008

Mourinho to Barca

There is an increasing amount of smoke indicating that Jose Mourinho will be the next coach of Barcelona. The latest piece of evidence is a statement from Lyon's President that Mourinho had turned down Lyon because he had already agreed to take the coming vacancy at the Nou Camp. This comes on the heels of various rumors that Barcelona have been in discussions with Mourinho, including an amusing tete a tete between Barca legend Johan Cruyff and Mourinho that led Mourinho to issue this rejoinder:

Mourinho upset Cruyff when he responded to criticism from the Dutchman of Chelsea's style of play, saying: "I don't want him to teach me how to lose 4-0 in a Champions League final because I don't want to learn that." The comeback was a reference to the 1994 European Cup final when Cruyff's Barcelona were beaten by Milan.

I would feel massively conflicted about Mourinho coaching the Blaugrana. So bear with me as I weigh through the pros and cons:


1. Mourinho wins. There is no denying Mourinho's talent as a manager. He won a Champions League and a UEFA Cup at Porto, hardly a European superpower, and then he won all manner of trophies at Chelsea. In all my criticism of Mourinho as a manager, I always tried to acknowledge that I would love him if I were a Chelsea fan because a fan always wants his team to win, first and foremost.

2. Mourinho can deal with egos. This, to me, is the strongest argument for Mourinho becoming the next head man at Barcelona. Jose had a ton of talent at his Chelsea, thus leading to the criticism that Chelsea bought their titles, but as Rafa Benitez shows on a weekly basis, spending a lot of money on players is no guarantee that success will follow. As Avram Grant is learning with every new complaint from Frank Lampard, managing the egos in a superclub's dressing room is a significant challenge. Mourinho was outstanding at getting stars to sublimate their egos for the good of the club. Given Barca's current problems with stars not pulling their full weight (read: Ronaldinho and Deco), Mourinho is exactly the sort of manager the team needs. In fact, he's the perfect coach to follow Frank Rijkaard, a more laid-back, player's coach. (For the record, I still think highly of Rijkaard. He's a quality manager and will have no problems finding a new position. I simply think that it might be time for him to go because his relationship with his players appears to have grown a little stale.)

3. Deco will play hard again. For many Barca supporters, Deco was the linchpin of the side that won the Champions League. Deco is still very popular at the Nou Camp, despite the fact that he has been injured a lot recently and his form has been fairly indifferent when he has been healthy. Deco played for Mourinho at Porto and thinks very highly of him. If Mourinho can get Deco back into top form again, then Barca will be a better side.

4. Mourinho is interesting. We won't suffer for having little to discuss. I look forward to him dubbing Bernd Schuster a voyeur.

5. Mourinho knows the club. Jose has worked at Barca before, so he (hopefully) understands the ethos of the club. This will be very important when we get to the...


1. His teams play shit on a stick football. Jorge Valdano was never on firmer ground when he ridiculed the Chelsea-Liverpool ties as "shit on a stick." Martin Samuel also described Mourinho's reign at Chelsea perfectly after Mourinho resigned/got the boot:

If José Mourinho’s football had been as dramatic and exciting as the manner of his departure, he would still be manager of Chelsea this morning.

That was Mourinho’s great irony. In person, he was challenging, entertaining, fiery, passionate, bold, outspoken, a man who would say the unsayable and not think twice about it, who could turn the cut and thrust of question and answer into a verbal battleground, explosions and casualties everywhere.

Had he taken that charisma on to the football pitch, he would have had a job for life spending the money of Roman Abramovich. Yet something happened to Mourinho when he took his personality into the sporting arena. He became another person: cautious, pragmatic, conservative. He talked like the last gunslinger in town and sent his team out with all the abandon of a junior accountant, Swindon branch.

Mourinho took talented teams and then played uninspiring, route one football that allowed Chelsea to take no chances defensively. I'll never forget Mourinho bringing an expensive squad to the Nou Camp in 2005 and then playing ten behind the ball for most of the game. I'll never forget Chelsea barely creating chances on their next trip to the Nou Camp in 2006 when they needed to win by two clear goals to advance. Mostly, I'll never forget the naps I took whenever Chelsea locked horns with Liverpool, another team loathe to take chances. Mourinho's style was fine at Chelsea, a club without tremendous history whose fans were simply overjoyed that Mourinho ended their long title drought and broke the Arsenal-United stranglehold on the Premiership, but it will not fly at Barcelona. Barca's slogan - More than a Club - really means something. The club represents something politically (Catalan pride, a liberal ethos, etc.) and it also represents something in terms of football. Barca cannot play unattractive, grind it out games. Even in the side's recent run of 1-0 games, they've at least been trying to score, even if they struggle to create and put away chances. (Forgive me for that last little flourish. I'll dismount from the soapbox now.) If Mourinho takes the Blaugrana on the road in Europe and plays for 0-0, he won't survive at the Nou Camp and deservedly so.

I have two reasons for optimism on this front. First, as I mentioned before, Mourinho has worked at Barca before and has to know that he will need to take a different approach. Second, Barca have better attacking players than Chelsea does, so hopefully, Mourinho's approach was dictated by necessity. I really don't know how he'll manage to create something boring and defensive out of Messi, Iniesta, and Eto'o.

2. He might bring in Frank Lampard. Right, a ballhog midfielder whose one skill is shooting off of the center-forward's knock-downs will fit in perfectly with a club built around passing and movement.

3. He says stupid stuff. Barca beating Chelsea in 2006 was almost as sweet as winning the Champions League itself a couple months later because it was sweet vengeance for Mourinho alleging that Rijkaard had intimidated Anders Frisk during the previous season. I'd prefer it if my team's manager didn't say incendiary things about every opponent. An occasional jab is fine, but accusing every opponent of conspiring against you gets old very quickly. Then again, given Catalans' feelings about Real Madrid and Castillian Spain, the odd allegation of conspiracy might go over quite well.

4. He doesn't maximize his talent. Mourinho remains the only manager who stifled Michael Ballack as a player. Ballack has been a success everywhere else: Leverkusen, Bayern, the German National Team, and now with Chelsea after Mourinho. The fact that Mourinho couldn't find a place for Ballack, or managed to destroy Andriy Shevchenko's career after Sheva was unstoppable in Serie A, ought to give Barca real pause before hiring Mourinho to coach a collection of very talented players.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Free-Form Airport Blogging

I have been freed from the work prison that kept this brotha (note: I'm not actually Black, but I'm so in love with Obama that I'm feelin' it, especially after yesterday's jihad on Peter King) down for the last two weeks, so this post will be brought to you by the lovely free wireless at TPA and as much Bass as the Wharf Brewhouse can supply before a 7:39 flight back to the 404. (See! I've got soul! And I'm superbad!)

OK, so in no particular order, here are my thoughts on the last couple weeks:


I really dug watching the games against Golden State and Utah. The Golden State game was pure pleasure, mainly because the Hawks do well against teams that can't defend and because it was nice and new to see the Hawks put two dead-eye shooters on the court at the same time. Joe was on, Bibby showed why we traded for him, and Salim Stoudemire gave the team some good minutes. What the hell happened to him? I forgot that he played for the local professional basketball collective. You would think that a team that can't shoot threes would play its best shooter, but Woodson and Knight might have been so cowed by the "you don't have a point guard!" criticism that they refused to play their 6'1 guy who is least like a true one. The thing is that Salim punishes opponents for doubling, which none of the other points did (with the exception of Tyronne Lue, especially late in games).

The Hawks fought like hell against Utah. Going into the game, I was smelling a blowout because of the combination of the team's road record, Utah's terrific home record, our abysmal record at the Delta Center, and the fact that the team only made it to SLC around lunctime of the game. Despite all of that, the Hawks were right in the game at the end. It was great fun to watch. I did not see the San Antonio game, so I couldn't be titilated by the fact that we allowed five points in the first quarter and still managed to lose by 15, but it's a roadie against the defending champions, so mulligan there.

I'll play Thomas Friedman and proclaim the next few games as critical. No one expect the Hawks to take off on the road against five Western Conference playoff teams, but they need to rally back in their home games coming up. It goes without saying that they ought to beat Sacramento and the Knicks in the next two games. Hell, they shouldn't just win those games; I want to see them play well. Is that too much to ask? Eh? (I'm channeling Chris Farley from the Herlihy Boy skit on SNL with Adam Sandler. Just laugh along.)


Holy hell! I know it was just Celtic and an unpaid Levante side that narrowly decided to actually show up for the match, but the verve is back! The Celtic match was outstanding. I honestly can't tell you how much credit to give to Barca's midfield finally linking up properly, the strikeforce being healthy, or Messi showing Cristiano Ronaldo what a big game performance looks like. (Incidentally, I don't buy the argument that Ronaldo doesn't perform in big games. He was Portugal's best player on the pitch in the World Cup semi against France.) I don't know if Barca's performance was the result of Gordon Strachan being either naive or desperate because of Celtic's dreadful road record in Europe and thus allowing his side to permit Barca spaces that its domestic opponents know not to surrender. In any event, Celtic-Barca was thorougly entertaining. Although the score was a respectable (for Celtic) 3-2, Barca made them look like a pub team. The Blaugrana had constant possession and were creating chances with that possession. Every time that Celtic got the ball, Barca's front six pressured them into a turnover. Celtic may be crap, but they have beaten Milan and Manchester United at home in the last two years and Barca basically had their way with the Hoops.

(Note: I'm writing this without knowing what happened in the Copa del Rey first leg against Valencia. My opinion might change after the DVR produces its bounty.)

Der Draft

While I respect the opinion of guys like Peter King on draftable players as much as I trust Jim Traficant on proper fashion, I do pay attention to the opinions of guys like Mike Mayock and Todd McShay because of their scouting backgrounds. McShay and Mayock are less likely to be persuaded by the "He's White! He's from the Northeast! He went to Doug Flutie's school! He fits with out limited ideas of what a quarterback should be!" line of thinking. So what gives here? I'm honestly wondering.


The Thrashers weren't going anywhere with their wretched defenseand Hossa has been underwhelming in his contract year. This is no different than the Braves unloading Andruw if they would have been bereft of hope at the MLB trade deadline. The Thrashers need a new GM who can identify competent defensemen, they need to spend some money on free agents, and they need to build a better base of talent.

America's Wang

If a Dawg fan has a little tolerance for esoterica, then he/she should make a sign for the Cocktail Party next year with the following quote from a soldier stationed here during the Seminole Wars:

"If the Devil owned Hell and Florida, he would rent out Florida and live in Hell."

This is what I'm trying to do when I'm Wailing on Peter King or Stewart Mandel

I'm a big fan of Fire Joe Morgan, and this might be their apex. Mocking the mainstream media is one thing, but when you can work in mockery of Derek Jeter, Yankees fans, and stupidity in general, you've really accomplished something. Salut!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Paging Captain Louis Renault: Peter King Hearts Matt Ryan

You'll just have to trust me that when I glanced at this evening and saw that Peter King was going to offer a Matt Ryan-Jamarcus Russell comparison, I was literally twitching with excitement. The combination of work and a dearth of interesting goings-on in the world of sports have kept my blogging produce down over the past couple weeks, but if there's one thing that can draw me out, it's the prospect of King on this topic. Let's look at the factors we're working with here:

1. King doesn't watch college football, partially because it's not really his job to do so and partly because college football isn't popular in Jersey. (I'm assuming here.) Thus, he will be unaware of the critique offered by, oh, I don't know, every college football nut on the Internet that Ryan is a slightly above- average quarterback. King also won't be bothered to, you know, look at Ryan's numbers.

2. King has been known to fall victim to a little racial profiling from time to time. I wonder what he'll say when comparing an African-American from the Deep South with a clean-cut kid with an Irish name from King's neck of the woods? I wonder if we'll have a little discussion of clothing and mannerisms when trying to decide whether Ryan is a better prospect than Russell...

Russell was a normal college kid, trying to adjust to life as an icon with everyone trying to grab a piece of him, a little awkward in the bright lights. He was being led around by his uncle, Ray Russell, who was involved in the interview throughout. Ryan was Joe Cool, Joe Prepared, looking me in the eye, answering questions in complete and thoughtful sentences. His agent, Tom Condon, sat way in the back of the suite, out of earshot of the interview.

Bingo! The white guy from a Philly suburb that has a median income over $80,000 per year is more comfortable talking to other upper middle class white people than the brother from Mobile. Ergo, he must be better at throwing an 18-yard out than Russell.

Russell dressed like all the players at the combine, very casually. Ryan dressed like none of the players at the combine, in business attire.

It's like the stuff just writes itself!

Russell said that he was "fixin' to have some dinner." Who says that? Ryan's elocution was leaps and bounds better. He'll totally command the huddle better. I want to have all of his babies.

OK, King didn't really write that.

The guess here: Ryan will be a better pro than Russell.

Obviously, based on his eye contact with a chunky writer, his clothes, and the fact that Jamarcus showed up to camp carrying a few extra pounds. Who doesn't when they're reporting for duty to Oakland? Is a little extra cushion for the pushin' from opposing defensive ends after the Raiders' turnstile line really that bad a thing?

To King's credit, he does link to a post by El Pollo Loco that demolishes the claim that Ryan was a very good college quarterback. Peter then tries to defend Ryan without referring to his performance in a hotel suite:

1. I believe JaMarcus Russell wasn't projected to be a first-round pick before his last year at LSU either.

Uh, Russell was a five-star (or at least high four-star) recruit who had been touted for his physical skills prior to his 2006 season. College football fans generally thought highly of him, at least in terms of potential, and he was viewed as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. No one thought that Ryan was anywhere near the Brohm-Woodson level until Brohm and Woodson lost a bunch of 45-41 games this year and Ryan was unbeaten because BC had a good defense and had the good fortune to play in the ACC, the conference that offense forgot.

2. Eli Manning, Tim Couch and Peyton Manning also skipped the Senior Bowl and the combine workouts, and it had nothing to do with their lack of confidence in themselves. Their agent, Tom Condon, doesn't think it helps the leader in the clubhouse to work out a lot before the draft, except on campus or in individual team workouts.

Couch and the Mannings were all consensus #1 picks in the Draft who had hugely successful college careers. They had nothing to prove. Ryan is trying to convince NFL scouts that BC scoring 14, 17, 20, and 16 in its games against Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Clemson is somehow consistent with the fact that they had a top-three pick under center.

Aw, who the hell am I kidding. If the rumors that Arthur Blank is in love with Ryan are true, then all Ryan needed to do is sprinkle a little of the properly manicured white guy Spanish fly that made Keith Brooking the third-highest paid linebacker in the NFL in Blank's drink and he'll be the #3 pick. Kill me now.

3. No quarterback in this draft is scar-free. They all have zits. Ryan forced too many passes, leading to his 19 interceptions. His completion percentage dropped to less than 60 percent this year. He doesn't use his checkdown receivers enough. Now, you might argue Joe Flacco or Brian Brohm is better, and it would be a valid argument.

And this is an argument in favor of Ryan? He might be inferior to Brian Brohm (I whole-heartedly agree) or Joe Flacco (who the hell knows?), so that supports the notion that Ryan is better than Jamarcus Russell? All those interceptions and problems moving off of his primary read are a good thing? Those aren't zits; those are Manuel Noriega at 12.

4. In defense of Ryan, I write in SI this week that Ryan was playing with skill players who will never make a 53-man roster in the NFL; one scout's words, not mine. And he's about as polished a kid as you'd ever meet at that age. I think he's an intriguing prospect. But in the end, you're right. There are plenty of questions about him, and the washout factor for high-round quarterbacks is about 50 percent. So he may bust.

So at position with a wash-out rate of 50% and every indication that Ryan isn't any better than the other quarterbacks in the Draft, Ryan should not slip below #8 and he's better than last year's #1 pick. Makes perfect sense to me. As for the argument that Ryan's supporting cast wasn't very good, a couple thoughts. First, Ryan is playing in the ACC, which means that the teams that BC is playing aren't exactly loaded with talent, either. Second, the scout conveniently neglects to mention BC's offensive line, which happened to be anchored by Scouts, Inc.'s #5 offensive line prospect. Third, average skill-position talent doesn't mean that BC should have been playing defensive struggles with every good team they played last year. BC's performances on a weekly basis were not at all what anyone would expect from a team with a top five pick under center, but why care about pesky things like actual production and performance when we can marvel at Matt Ryan's suit?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Non-Bibby Thoughts from the Weekend

1. If you have not done so already, you must read Grant Wahl's piece in this week's Sports Illustrated on the Dribble-Drive Motion offense. It reminded me why I subscribe to Sport Illustrated. Wahl is a very good writer and the piece is a Moneyball-ish explanation behind an idea, specifically an offense that was invented by Vance Walberg, a basketball grinder out west, and has now been adopted by John Calipari at Memphis, Doc Rivers with the Celtics, and hundreds of high school programs.

In a nutshell, the offense is premised on the idea that perimeter players should attack the basket and either score or kick the ball out. It seems like a very simple concept, but the innovation appears to be that the offense eschews screens on the thinking that they get in the way of proper floor spacing. Naturally, the first thought I had when reading the piece is that the system probably works on the same principle as the spread offense in football: spread the defense out to create space for your quickest guys to beat their defenders. It's a pretty simple concept, but some smart guys in the basketball world are swearing by it, including Larry Brown. My fascination with the idea of Atlanta Spirit breaking the bank to hire Brown is growing, especially because the Hawks would go from a team without an offensive system to a team that would be very well suited to run DDM with Bibby taking the ball, Joe Johnson as the designated shooter, Childress and Smith as the cutters, and Al Horford as the weakside big guy.

2. Thomas Dimitroff's Day after Valentine's Day Massacre illustrates one basic point to me: health is a skill. What is the common thread between Byron Leftwich, Wayne Gandy, Rod Coleman, and Alge Crumpler? None of them could stay healthy in recent years. There is such a premium placed in the NFL on getting production from high-dollar players that a team simply cannot afford to be spending on guys who are injury-prone. This is especially true of a team like the Falcons that has not done a good job of drafting and doesn't have depth behind their stars. The fact that Warrick Dunn and Keith Brooking haven't been cut yet, despite the fact that the latter could be the most overpaid player in the league, is a testament to the fact that they are both fairly durable.

3. I kept half an eye on the Barca-Zaragoza game on Saturday aftrenoon while working. While I was happy with Barca getting three points in a tricky road game to pull to within five of Real Madrid, the Blaugrana's performance was hardly vintage. Zaragoza created the better chances and only lost because their finishing was dreadful. Barca scored one goal that might have been played with a hand by Thierry Henry (although the pass from Deco was excellent and the run and finish from Henry were also top-drawer) and the winning penalty was marginal and hardly earned. Deco's great pass aside, Johan Cruyff has a point when he says that Barca's midfielders dawdle on the ball too much. Iniesta is the most direct of the midfielders and I hope he's in that role on Wednesday in Glasgow. My preferred lineup for the match: Valdes, Abidal, Puyol, Milito, Zambrotta, Yaya Toure, Iniesta, Deco, Henry, Bojan, Messi. If Eto'o is healthy, then he comes in for Bojan. I'm not sure what I'd do if Zambrotta is still out. I like Puyol on the right side of defense because he's got excellent ball skills, but I do not like Marquez in central defense. At all. He was routinely skinned by Ricardo Oliveira on Saturday. Rafa is a defensive midfielder at this stage in his career. And speaking of Mexicans, I'm not thrilled at all by Giovanni dos Santos, who has no idea what to do with the space that his pace creates. Anyway, this is a long way of saying that Barca aren't playing especially well right now and it wouldn't surprise me to see them struggle with a Celtic team that I don't rate at all, but that is a tough out at home.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

All Hail Billy Knight

When I first saw the headline that the Hawks had acquired Mike Bibby to solve their long-standing weakness at the point guard position, I assumed that they had given up Josh Childress to make the deal happen. It never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that the Hawks would have traded for Bibby while only giving up a pupu platter of spare parts. This is literally the sort of trade that gets suggested by unrealistic sports talk radio callers, the sort of trade where a team gets a quality asset and only gives up parts that it doesn't need or use. The Hawks had a glut of back-up point guards. Now, they have dealt two of those point guards away (Tyronne Lue and Anthony Johnson), along with Lorenzen Wright, who is literally one of the worst players in the NBA, and Shelden Williams, who is pretty much stuck with the bust tag at this stage. In other words, the Hawks gave up nothing but fungible pieces to get a quality point guard.

Despite a few missteps along the way, it's now safe to say that Billy Knight's job of rebuilding the Hawks is complete. He started by blowing the Terry-Rahim-Ratliff team up during and after the '03-'04 season. He's been very patient, letting the team struggle so he could acquire good draft picks. He made one major free agent signing (Joe Johnson). Now, the team has a roster that can be described as very good, at least by Eastern Conference standards: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford as the starters, with Josh Childress, Acie Law, and Zaza Pachulia as the primary reserves. Knight definitely made some significant mistakes along the way (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Speedy Claxton, I'm hearing you on all of them), but in the end, he's put together a good roster. He needs to be credited for his patience. He didn't panic by making bad signings of expensive free agents (remember when everyone wanted him to overpay for Sam Dalembert or Eddy Curry?) and he didn't offload his young players. He bided his time and then struck when a rebuilding franchise was giving up its best asset for pennies on the dollar. Now, the Hawks have a good roster and if they just keep it together, the team will get better as the young players mature.

Bibby ought to have some significant effects on this team. The Hawks finally have a point guard who can break down a defense and distribute the ball. Bibby isn't a huge assist-producer, but he can get to the basket and score, which will be helpful for this team. He's having a pretty poor year this year, hopefully because of injuries and a poor supporting cast. If that's the case, then we can expect a Bibby resurgence when he gets to Atlanta. Personally, I think that Josh Childress has always been the Hawk who stands to benefit the most from playing with a quality point guard, as he is the best player on the team at moving without the ball and finishing at the rim. Joe Johnson also stands to benefit, as he has been carrying way too much of a load and has been wearing down as a result. Bibby gives the Hawks a second option at crunch time. He also gives the Hawks a good three-point shooter that they sorely lacked to punish opponents for doubling.

I've been snowed under at work recently, as you may have noticed from the lack of posting this month, but if I wouldn't have written about the Hawks last weekend, it would have been to say that I reached my breaking point with them last weekend. They played from behind the entire game against Cleveland and then promptly got annihilated by Houston. I had given up on the team by Saturday night. The games this week did nothing to improve my mood. Case in point was the Detroit game on Tuesday night, which featured Joe Johnson throwing a shot up with his back to the basket on a critical late possession, followed by a collapse in Charlotte against the lowly Bobcats the next night. This team has a chronic inability to score on critical possessions because they have nothing approaching a coherent offensive structure and they end up giving the ball to Joe Johnson on iso plays, despite the fact that he's not very good at beating opponents off the dribble. The Bibby trade solves some of these problems, as it gives the Hawks a one-on-one option for the end of games. It does not solve the problem that the past six weeks have given me serious reservations about Mike Woodson's ability to coach these players. I feel good about the team now because Bibby can cover some of Woodson's failings, but I'd feel better with Larry Brown in charge.

The reaction to the trade has been positive around the Internet. The trade gets the Jeff Schultz seal of approval, although his reasoning appears to be "Billy Knight did something," which is pretty weak because plenty of general managers make frequent moves and don't make their teams any better. (See: Thomas, Isiah.) Columnists like constant motion because it gives them topics for copy, but it's not inherently good. Sekou Smith gets this point:

Keeping the core in place is just another byproduct of shrewd dealing, because the Hawks fielded calls from all over the league for guys like Josh Smith, Josh Childress and Marvin Williams. Some of us (yeah, I’m guilty, too) would have buckled and sent one of them packing for something much less than Bibby, for the sake of change.

Knight, love him or hate him, has never been accused of being a conformist. He did it his way and smoked the competition, snatching Bibby away while the rest of the league was focused on Jason Kidd and the other blockbuster deals involving Pau Gasol and Shaquille O’Neal.

Marty Burns approves and points out that acquiring Bibby counters the image of the Hawks' ownership group as being totally unwilling to spend money. I'll admit that this is a major relief to me, as there was a gnawing fear in the back of my mind that Atlanta Spirit was unable, either because of financial reasons or Belkinkampf, to spend money on the team and that we were going to let go of one or both of the Joshes at the end of the season as a result. That fear is gone, although there could be a concern that spending $14.5M on Bibby next year will make the owners less likely to spend to keep the Joshes. Marc Stein points out that Lebron can't be happy about this development. He also makes the cautionary point that Bibby might struggle now that he's not playing off of a passing big man like Brad Miller. John Hollinger($) quantifies Bibby's effect at about six games over the course of an 82-game season or two games over the rest of the season, which might be enough to get to the playoffs. That doesn't take into account the fact that Bibby can make the rest of the team better, so there is some rationality to the "Bibby as messiah" euphoria that I had when I first heard about the trade. Then again, I remember the euphoria when the Braves traded for Mark Teixeira this summer and the Braves finished third, exactly where they would have been without Mark (although Teixeira played beautifully for the Braves after the trade). We are embarking on a bit of a leap of faith that the Bibby of this season, who is averaging a pedestrian 13/5 on .406 shooting, will improve once he gets here. At this stage, I'm quite happy to make a leap of faith. With the Hawks finally having a legitimate point guard and after a great dunk contest last night, I'm a satisfied NBA fan this morning.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Five Thoughts on Sevilla 1 Barca 1

1. This game was the reverse of the same fixture last year. In 2007, consistent with their pattern of getting weaker as games went on, Barca started at the Sanchez Pizjuan by taking the lead and then earning a penalty/red card on a great move by Ronaldinho. Ronnie then missed the penalty, Sevilla took over as the game progressed, and Sevilla won 2-1.

Today, Barca were utter crap for the first half. Sevilla created every good chance and were only up 1-0 because of some wasteful finishing and great goalkeeping by Victor Valdes. Barca were playing so badly that I was thinking that Jose Mourinho was going to be the manager by next week's fixture at Zaragosa. At halftime, Rijkaard hauled off Lilian Thuram, who had an awful time with Fredi Kanoute, and Edmilson, who is s shadow of the player he was two years ago, and brought on Ronaldinho and Rafa Marquez. Ronnie wasn't especially good and Rafa nearly gifted a comical own goal, but the tactical changes (especially moving to a 4-2-4, a la Holland in SNES Super Soccer) led to Barca dominating the second half. Barca played like they did in the second halves at Stamford Bridge and the Stade de France in 2006, creating total one-way traffic. They scored a nice goal and would have won the match if Ronnie could get a free kick over the wall. 1-1 doesn't really help when you're six points down and rival is on a torrid pace, but it was nice to see Barca establish a deathgrip on the road against a quality opponent.

2. If Ronnie can get his free kick magic back, then Barca will have a useful offense. Leo Messi generates a ton of free kicks on the edge of the box because of his speed and control. The Blaugrana need a player who can put those chances in the back of the net. Ronnie isn't at that point now and I'm a stuck record on the fact that he's nowhere near the player he was 2-3 years ago, but he's always been a fine free kick taker.

3. Presas Oleguer was back from injury against Sevilla and reminded me that he's not a very good defender. Spanish starlet Diego Capel scored Sevilla's goal, totally unmarked at the far post. The only impediment he had to scoring was his teammate Fredi Kanoute going for the same ball. Naturally, the weakside was Oleguer's responsibility on the play. Here is the blurry evidence:

4. Speaking of Capel, he's really, really dangerous on the left wing. Sevilla are the Arsenal of Spain; their ability to locate and develop great young players is outstanding. Capel is what Giovanni dos Santos is supposed to be, but isn't. And while I'm singing Sevilla's praises, for my money, they are the most entertaining team in Europe. Losing Juande Ramos has not damaged their ability to play proper football.

5. The player who has changed my opinion the most this year has been Eidur Gudjohnsen. Last year, he was an inadequate replacement for Samuel Eto'o and then he was an afterthought when Eto'o returned. It was thought that he had no chance of playing time this year with Henry joining the club and Bojan and dos Santos getting promoted to the first team. Instead, he used a number of injuries in the midfield to reinvent himself as an attacking midfielder, which is really more consistent with his role at Chelsea. Today, he played very well when Rijkaard brought him on for a gimpy Henry and made an intelligent, Henrik Larsson-type play by holding the ball up in the movement that led to Barca's goal. He got the ball, headed towards the net, then held up and played the ball back to Messi. Messi then slid a perfect pass to an onrushing Xavi for the goal, aided by Gudjohnsen's run that created space in the middle). Xavi never would have had the time to get involved in the play if Gudjohnsen wouldn't have pivoted and reset the attack. More blurry evidence (and these are the replays, so you don't quite get to see Eidur's role in the run of play):

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Couple Good Links

Paul Zimmerman's Announcer Rankings are out, which is an annual treat because Dr. Z is one of the few major media figures who is allowed to pull no punches in engaging in media criticism. If you want an illustration as to the difference between and, try to imagine the latter running a column like this. And speaking of the Mouse, Zimmerman goes off on Ron Jaworski, describing how disappointed he was that Jaws was not able to make the sort of insights on Monday Night Football that he does on NFL Matchup on Sunday mornings. The lesson is that that network producers are the arch-enemy of their core audiences, but we knew this already. The penultimate paragraph is my favorite:

I did, however, see moments when a dim flame seemed to animate Jaworski and lead him to lash out briefly at his broadcast partner. Such as the time when Kornheiser said, in all seriousness, that Jacksonville's QB, Quinn Gray, was so inept that the Jags should run on every down. Or when he insisted that LaDainian Tomlinson was unknown because he played in a small market city. Or when, after the 49ers went for a TD against Seattle and Kornheiser said, "I found that very satisfying," Jaws replied, "That's wonderful, Tony. You got all involved in the game." Maybe someday, as Peter Finch did in the movie, Network, Jaws will open the window, stick his head out and holler, "I can't take it anymore!" One can only hope.

I spent a little bit of time this fall trying to keep notes during the college football season to be able to write a similar column at the end of the year, but I found it hard to stick with the project. Maybe next year. The process did make me appreciate just how much effort goes into Dr. Z's Announcer Rankings.

The bi-annual Harris poll on the most popular sports is out. Aside from establishing how far ahead the NFL is as compared to other sports, it's often interesting to me to note that college football is virtually as popular as baseball, but it's not treated that way in the mainstream media because baseball is more popular in the region of the country where the media is centered. Then again, with the attention that ESPN and Sports Illustrated now pay to Signing Day, they seem to have gotten the memo that college football ought to be covered as much as baseball. Contrast that attention with the attention that Duke-UNC got on the same day and you have yet another illustration on college football dwarfing college basketball as a sport.

There's actually a good argument to be made that the Harris poll results underestimate college football's popularity relative to that of baseball for two reasons:

1. If the 30% of Americans who listed the NFL as their favorite sport were also asked to name their second-favorite sport, I suspect that more of them would list college football than baseball.

2. I also suspect that if there was a way to measure intensity of preference, college football would finish ahead of baseball in that regard, as well. I just don't know people who are fanatic about baseball the way that college football fans tend to be about our sport.

One caveat: the poll does reflect that baseball's "first preference" number went up a point in the past two years, while college football's went down. Is this related to the Red Sox winning the World Series and energizing a very large fan base? A reflection on a college football season that was underwhelming in the sense that it produced a two-loss national champion, no great teams, and sub-standard BCS games? A reflection on Notre Dame's fall from grace this year that led a number of subway alums to switch favorite sports for the time-being?

Another caveat: the poll is taken in mid-January, which heavily favors the NFL and should also favor college football a little (although not this year because the BCS bowls were not very good).

Monday, February 04, 2008


Random thoughts on the game last night in no particular order:

1. The Giants won the game because of their defensive line dominating the Patriots' offensive line, in conjunction with Steve Spagnuolo dreaming up some outstanding blitz schemes that ensured that his defensive linemen would be single-blocked and the Patriots' offensive linemen would be tentative. The game reminded me of the Sugar Bowl between LSU and Oklahoma, where LSU's defensive line (led by Marcus Spears and the late Marquise Hill) devoured Jason White and his gimpy ankle, in part because Nick Saban and Will Muschamp used the weeks leading up to the game to dream up exotic blitzes. The Giants' coaches also did a nice job of preparing for New England's pressure. One of the best nuggets offered up by Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz on Bill Simmons' podcast last week was that the Giants struggle against six-man blitzes. New England blitzed six on the Giants' first several third down plays and the Giants picked up the blitzes every time, correctly predicting that the Patriots would attempt to exploit this weakness. Unfortunately, Schatz also claimed on the podcast that the Giants did not resemble the '01 Patriots (and, in his defense, had the numbers to back up his claims) and instead compared them to the '85 Patriots, forgetting that the '85 Patriots were opposed in the Super Bowl by a team that was peaking as opposed to a team that played its best football in the first half of the season. And speaking of Simmons...

2. Am I a bad person because my first thoughts as the game was ending were that I couldn't wait to: (a) hear Steak Shapiro whine and complain on the radio this morning and; (b) read Simmons write about the terrible unfairness of it all? Do I take this schadenfreude thing a little too far?

2a. Someone should do a compliation of all the instances in which Simmons has taken shots at the Mannings over the past five years and then send him a tastefully decorated scrapbook containing the results.

3. Speaking of thinking negative things about people, is Rodney Harrison the biggest prick in all of sports or just the NFL? On one play, he led with his forearm in the direction of Amani Toomer, missed the tackle, and then jumped on him forearm first at the end of the play. He does something dirty on just about every play. Pending confirmation of the latest Spygate revelations, Harrison is the perfect symbol for this New England team, or at least the defense coached by Belichick.

4. Was I the only one who was sure when Eli shook out of a sack on third and five on the Giants' final drive that he was sure to throw an interception when he heaved the ball down the middle of the field? Seriously, his adrenaline is racing, he's taken his eyes off the rush, and he's throwing into an area populated by defenders. It seemed like a reasonable fear at the time.

5. As you may know, I thoroughly enjoy snarking at announcers, but I found very little to pick on from Joe Buck and Troy Aikman last night. Buck did a great job of shutting up after both of the late touchdowns, widely choosing to let the sights and sounds of the game speak for themselves. Cue Mia Wallace: "Why do we feel it's necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?"

6. I don't know why, but the Giants have always been my favorite of the New York teams. Admittedly, this is like saying that Albert Speer is my favorite Nazi, but they've never quite rubbed me the wrong way like the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, and Rangers have. They don't win as a result of raw economic power like the New York baseball teams do, they didn't set basketball back 20 years like the Riley-era Knicks did, and they didn't spawn a truly annoying media lovefest the way the '94 Rangers did. Plus, the Giants draft as if they didn't get the memo that all Michigan players are slow and useless in the NFL.

7. Shouldn't Roger Goodell hand the Lombardi Trophy to Tom Coughlin or one of the Giants' captains as opposed to the team's owner? Don't Giants fans root more for the coach and players than the owner? I know I'm a Euro snob and all, but this packs more punch:

8. Even in defeat, you have to give the Patriots credit as the team that never misses a beat. It's hard to imagine any other team in the NFL noticing that an opposing player was a step slow getting off of the field and therefore, that the Pats could prolong a drive by getting a too many men on the field penalty on the Giants.

9. While Bill Belichick is getting plenty of stick for going for 4th and 13 in the third quarter instead of kicking a field goal, he really ought to get more criticism for punting on a 4th and 2 from the Giants' 44 earlier in the drive. Belichick has correctly come to the conclusion that going for 4th down is an underutilized strategy, so his decision to punt on fourth and short in his opponent's territory was out of character.

10. Just as I'll never understand how Georgia went from being a decent team through seven games to a world-beating team in its final six, I'll never quite understand how the Giants generally and Eli Manning specifically went from being a decent team through 15 games to an excellent one in their final five. Maybe the lesson from this football season isn't any more complicated than "s*** happens."

Friday, February 01, 2008

SAT Analogy Time

Steak Shapiro, a radio host who defends Arthur Blank at absolutely every turn and refused to countenance the idea that the Blank-McKay axis running the Falcons weren't football geniuses, ripped on Sekou Smith yesterday for being "syncophantic" towards the Hawks. If Steak was making the charge correctly, he would note that every bombshell comes out about the Hawks - Josh Smith allegedly fighting with teammates or Mike Woodson, the Atlanta Spirit team disagreeing vehemently over the Joe Johnson trade, etc. - comes from a source outside of Atlanta (Sports Illustrated, Peter Vescey, Detroit beat writers, etc.). Of course, that criticism wouldn't be just of Sekou, but would instead extend to the entire sports media in Atlanta, which includes, inconveniently, both sports talk stations. Instead, Steak turned it into yet another unmodified "Billy Knight (who won't come on my show) is an idiot and Mike Woodson is a terrible coach" rant that comes out every time the Hawks play poorly.

So, with that prelude out of the way, Steak Shapiro criticizing someone else for being syncophantic is the equivalent of:

a. Dick Vitale criticizing other announcers for loving Mike Krzyzewski too much;

b. John Daly calling another person a drunk;

c. Republicans in Congress criticizing other politicians for excessive spending; or

d. Oedipus getting mad and calling an enemy a motherf***er.