Tuesday, January 4, 2011
The word hype to me is quite a strange concept. I have a difficult time quantifying exactly what is hype and what is reality. And I think that there are many within the footballing community that have a much harder time than I do with the concept.
One of the more overlooked examples of this is how every time I watch Tottenham Hotspur, whichever commentator is doing the match will inevitably froth at the mouth each time Gareth Bale surges up the left side of the pitch. Now I do rate Gareth Bale and do think that he has loads of potential to be one of the best players in the English Premier League, but I have to say that one player has burst onto the scene of the Premier League (as quietly as one can burst) with much more impact. His name? Javier Hernandez.
Now I must admit, I am a Manchester United supporter, so such a comment will not come as much of a surprise. But when one examines his performances this season, his first in a league which many say is the most difficult to which one may attempt to adapt, one ought to come to same conclusion as myself.
ESPN Soccernet's description illustrates the ignorance that the media has with regards to Mexican footballers. "Even though he is not a short player, he lacks the physical strength required in the Premier League. He could compensate for that with skill and speed while he develops into a more imposing frame."
Pundits prefer to laud Bale because he is a UK based player and Wales has not produced a player of his supposed caliber since Ryan Giggs. And it is only natural for the British media to hype one of its own. Bale has scored two more goals than Hernandez in the league this season and three more goals in the Champions League than Chicharito. But I think it is also fair to say that if Hernandez started every match for United that his goal tallies would be higher.
And how many times has Chicharito saved Manchester United already this season? He scored two crucial goals in United's away tie with Stoke, scored the winner against Albion on New Year's Day, won a key group stage Champions league match in the 80th minute versus Valencia and covered for the absence of Wayne Rooney as United barely missed a beat with Hernandez in the starting eleven.
It will be interesting to follow the career paths of both Bale and Hernandez. The Mexican striker is about seven months older than Bale, but both are at similar stages of their careers. Chicharito is already at one of the biggest clubs any player could hope to play for, while Bale is part of the Spurs revolution, who's destiny appears uncertain. Could both end up playing together in a few year's time?
Hype is a funny business. Teams, players and managers are continually gassed up in the media and then forgotten in the blink of an eye. It was not long ago that Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti had "conquered" the English game and had put together an indefatigable squad that would batter any squad. Only time will tell how far Bale and Hernandez will go, but right now it certainly looks like, hype aside, both have bright futures ahead of them.
Monday, December 20, 2010
One of the more interesting parts of being a fan of more than one sports is the ability to observe parallels and general trends that transcend each sport. We as fans like to believe that every player on our teams is as dedicated to the cause as we are and yet in most cases this is the exception and not the rule. Athletes, just like us regular human beings who don't make at least a hundred quid a week, want to live as easy as can be. And when that means changing teams to be more comfortable and be in a better position to win (read: make more money), players are more than willing to do this.
I had a conversation about this with one of my good friends Puneet Singh, who is also as big of a football fanatic as I, and we came to the conclusion that LeBron James, of the Miami Heat, and Francesc Fabregas, of Arsenal, are functional equivalents within their individual sports.
Last summer James made a rather ignominious move to leave Cleveland, the team that drafted him number one overall out of high school and helped make him the superstar player he is today and to sign with the Miami Heat to join forces with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. James decided to take his talents to South Beach for the same reasons that Fabregas will be taking his talents to Camp Nou this summer: to play with a better more polished class of players and to have a chance to win a trophy.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, in their Lebron James pomp, were quite similar to the Arsenal team from the years 2003-2010. They were perennial underachievers of whom so much came to be expected every season. Within a year both competed for the highest honours any team could win. The Cavaliers played in the 2007 NBA Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs and Arsenal played Barcelona in the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final in Paris.
Additionally, both Arsenal and the Cavaliers failed to add a big piece to help out their superstar player. I know some of you reading this may be saying "Well what about Andrey Arshavin?" I would argue that Arshavin is the NBA equivalent of Mo Williams. Yes, 19 goals in 59 appearances is nothing to sneeze at, but neither is Williams's 16.8 points per game during James' time with the Cavaliers.
To put it simply, neither Arsene Wenger nor Danny Ferry have done or did do enough to keep their star player satisfied and surrounded by winning talent. Wenger's transfer policy tacitly accepts that Arsenal are bound to lose players like Fabregas to teams like Barcelona and Wenger looks to replace players who have not even left yet instead of replacing players who are already gone.
The most obvious similarity between the two teams is that neither has won a title recently (the Cavaliers have never won an NBA Finals). Fabregas has almost every right to be frustrated with Arsenal's barren run (the football equivalent of Steve Carrell's character in 40 Year-Old Virgin) in the league and on the continent. Arsenal continue to be swept aside by the bigger clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona when it comes to the top honors. Fabregas was convinced to stay for at least one more season as Arsenal's captain in the hopes that maybe this year would be different.
But ultimately it is almost a footballing inevitability that Fabregas will sign with Barcelona. A product of Barca's legendary academy, Fabregas joined Arsenal at 17 and has become one of the English Premier League's standout performers. And while he watches his Spanish international teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta win game after game and award after award in La Liga, Fabregas remains frustrated with the lack of progress Arsenal have made during his time with the club.
The possibility of playing with two masterclass midfielders like Xavi and Iniesta must be quite appealing to the Catalonian. Could Barcelona assemble their very own big three and challenge for world domination? With their new shirt sponsorship deal paying them approximately 30 million euro per season, it is entirely possible. And like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Arsenal will have nothing but a scrapbook of memories and an inferior pay packet to entice Fabregas to come back for one more season. Expect Fabregas to be a Barcelona man by this time next season.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Immediately following the conclusion of Cliff Lee's latest act of wizardry, I am willing to bet many citizens of that concrete jungle dreams are made of thanked the same god who's blessed Andy Pettite with an indefatigable arm that they don't have to face Lee in Game 1.
Even though the Yankees swept the Twins aside the way Ludacris does the general populous of Atlanta in his "Get Back" video, I am not yet sold on the Yankees viability as a World Champion. I expect that the Rangers will put up more of a fight than the Twins, who, for whatever reason are incapable of beating the Yankees in October.
That is not to say that I do not expect the Yankees to win this series, because I do, but to merely argue that they have not been as dominating as their 3-0 record in the postseason may indicate. Sabathia, Pettite and Hughes pitched very well but I doubt their domination will carry over to the ALCS. Joe Mauer is a good hitter, but aside from him the Twins had little in terms of bona fide power hitting. The Rangers boast Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, etc. A much more troublesome lineup for Girardi's rotation to get through.
The Yankees did luck out in that they do not have to possibly face Cliff Lee three times in the ALCS in three potentially pivotal games (1, 4 and 7). They were also able to set up their rotation and will be fresh while the Rangers are coming off a roller coaster of a five game series with the Tampa Bay Rays.
This series pits the team with all the momentum (Texas) against the most rest (New York) and it will be interesting to see which holds serve in this series. The games will assuredly be lengthy as both teams can hit pretty well. Ultimately I lean towards the Bronx Bombers because they have the experience and nous to get to the promised land for the 28th time. They just have that winning gene. Considering Texas just won the franchise's first playoff series, they ought to be happy to just be in the ALCS this year.
Klein-strodamus predicts Yankees in six games.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
It’s almost preseason time, and for the first time in quite a while, The New York Knicks are optimistic.
They’ve gutted most of their team (8 new players), and have added some great new pieces. Previous
years may have been laden with managerial miscalculations and overspending on overrated players
(ahem, Isiah Thomas), but this looks the year the Knicks will finally put that behind them (though not
completely, as Eddy Curry is still on contract) and move out of the NBA’s cellar.
The Knicks landed one of the biggest free agency prizes in Amar’e Stoudemire, signing him to a five
year, $100 million dollar contract. He gives the Knicks an actual franchise player they can build around,
something they have been direly lacking for so long. Some have pulled the “injury prone” card in
criticisms of the deal, but considering the guy is coming off a full season averaging 23 and 8 for Phoneix,
this shouldn’t be a worry for the Knicks until possibly the last year or two of the deal. Stoudemire will
be the go-to guy in New York, and is expected to continue producing at the high rate that he does.
Equally critical was the signing of Raymond Felton. Felton gives the Knicks a sound point guard after
several painful years of trying to make Chris Duhon into a legitimate starter. Felton fits into Coach
Mike D’Antoni’s system very well, especially with his improved shooting from last season. His defense
should also help the Knicks a ton; their perimeter defense (and general defense) was pretty terrible
last season. The only concern for Felton would be to get too out of control now that he’s away from
Charlotte’s rigid half-court sets. However, Felton is now a veteran, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
Felton and Stoudamire will be joined by Wilson Chandler and Danilo Galinari in the starting five.
Both are looking to improve on last season and will be integral in New York’s success. Chandler is
a great athlete, sound defender, and he can play two or three different positions, which gives New
York a lot of rotation flexibility. He will most likely benefit most from the arrival of Felton, who will
able to feed him the ball much more effectively (expect a lot of lobs thrown Chandler’s way). Galinari
has proven he’s legit, and this season will determine if he’s an all-around threat at SF or just a good
shooter. If he can work on his defense and rebounding, he’ll go along way to proving the former.
I thought for sure that D’Antoni will stick Roger Mason at SG (with Galinari at SF, Chandler at PF, and
Amar’e at C) until Kelenna Azubuike returns from injury. However, there’s some speculation that
newly acquired center Timofey Mozgov may get the starting spot down low. This would be strange
considering Amar’e played center under Coach D’Antoni in Phoenix. Mozgov was impressive in the FIBA
world championships, and I think he will flourish in the NBA. He’s huge (7’1, 270 lbs.), athletic, he’s got
good hands and agility as well. I don’t think he’ll be able to get to NBA starter level this year though.
Azubuike (once he returns) fits much better with the up-tempo style. He has the skills to be a highly
effective on both ends and will have much the same role that Raja Bell did under D’Antoni in Phoenix.
To complement this young and athletic starting lineup are a rack of great role players acquired over
the summer. Mason will be given the green light to stroke away from downtown. If healthy, Anthony
Randolph will receive a chunk of time at all frontcourt positions and will create mismatches; if he can
add a consistent shooting touch with his athleticism, Randolph will be dangerous off the bench. Ronny
Turiaf, coming off the trade with David Lee along with Randolph and Azubuike, will add interior defense,
something the Knicks were direly lacking. Of the few role players coming back, I expect Toney Douglas
and Bill Walker to improve from last season and round out the squad nicely.
The Knicks have finally had a successful and smart offseason, addressing their specific needs and
spending on the right players, and it has completely turned this team around. While not yet title
contenders, this will be one of the most fun teams to watch during the season, and one that may finally
play some games in May, if all goes well.
Arrivals: F/C Amar'e Stoudemire, G Roger Mason, G Raymond Felton, F Anthony Randolph, G/F Kelenna
Azubuike, F/C Ronny Turiaf, C Timofey Mozgov, F Patrick Ewing Jr, F Shawne Williams
Rookies: G Andy Rautins, F Landry Fields
Departures: F Al Harrington, F/C David Lee, G Chris Duhon, G Sergio Rodriguez, G J.R. Giddens, C Earl
Barron, F Jonathan Bender, G Tracy McGrady.
Probable Starting Lineup
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Kelenna Azubuike
SF: Danilo Galinari
PF: Wilson Chandler
C: Amar’e Stoudamire
Predicted record in 2010-2011: 42-40, 7th in Eastern Conference
Last year, Boston overcame a slow start to finish the regular season with 50 wins. They then had an
amazing playoff run, one that was unexpected and yet, given the talent and fortitude of this team, really
shouldn’t have been. They put away Lebron James and Cleveland Cavaliers, the best team in the league
in the Conference semis. After dealing away with Orlando, they went onto to the NBA Finals and lost in
Game 7 to the Lakers.
This year, the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett come back another year older (the
Big 3’s average age is now just under 34 years old) and are looking at a new challenger in Miami and
its new Big Three for the Eastern Conference championship. Over the summer, they stocked up and
prepared for the challenge of trying to get back to the Finals for the second straight year and perhaps
win it this time.
The Celtics may not have acquired the most prized free agent possession, but they did acquire one of
the biggest, certainly in terms of size and personality. Yes folks, Shaquille O'Neal is moving to Beantown.
He, along with other free agent big man acquisition Jermaine O’Neal, will bolster the Boston frontcourt,
which will be without starting center Kendrick Perkins until at least January. By all accounts, Shaq will
be coming off the bench, and Jermaine (it’s kind of ironic that two guys named O’Neal are playing in
Boston; and neither of them are Irish) will be starting at the 5. This seems like the best way for a player
of Shaq’s caliber to end his career: coming off the bench for one of the greatest basketball teams
in history and trying to make them a championship contender. Danny Ainge compared it to when
Bill Walton did the same thing in 1985 (which resulted in a Celtics championship; yea, Danny seems
hyped up for the season). If Shaq is indeed cool with this role (and doesn’t whine midway through
the season like he sometimes does), the Celtics will benefit greatly from him clogging the lanes and
freeing up shooters, and as another target for a Rajon Rondo assist. The half-court offense of the
Celtics should provide a much better pace for the Big Fella as well. I liked what Jermaine did through
the regular season in Miami, but his playoff performance (9% FG, that’s unheard of) was abysmal.
Luckily the Celtics also have Glen Davis who will continue to be the Glen Davis we all know and love.
Along with the O’Neals, Boston now has a slew of guards to bolster their backcourt. They resigned Nate
Robinson, who was great in the playoffs and proved that he can keep his head straight and play on a
good team. If he remains consistent he should see plenty of playing time.
The Celtics also added guards Delonte West and Von Wafer. You may know West as the former shooting
guard of the Cleveland Cavaliers who was often criticized for shooting them out of playoff games.
You also may know him as the guy battling bipolar disorder who is going to be suspended for the
first 10 games after being charged with gun possession. So why would the Celtics sign a guy like that?
Off court issues aside, West can be a truly effective role player for the team that drafted him, as he
can play both guard positions and make key plays on both sides of the ball. Under the heavy veteran
presence on this team, I think West will finally be able to get through his issues and come into his own.
Wafer has spent the last couple of seasons playing in Greece. Before that, he had a pretty successful
year with the Houston Rockets. He is an athletic shooting guard who will be able to come in and put up
points in a hurry.
All the new additions will allow Pierce, Allen, and Garnett to spend more time on the bench and will
hopefully keep them injury free (especially KG) and fit to make a deep playoff run again this season.
Rondo will again be the heartbeat of the offense and anchor the perimeter defense. Considering he has
improved in every season he has played, and at just 24, he may be in for his best season yet. Barring
injuries, a 15-16 point, 10-11 assist season is highly probable.
Another year, and it’s the same story for the Celtics. They add more pieces, and yet another team,
this time Miami, is overshadowing them as the favorite in the East. It certainly sounds like a familiar
scenario, and the Celtics will do everything in their power to make fate repeat itself and get back into
Arrivals: Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, Delonte West, Von Wafer, Semih Erden
Departures: Tony Allen, Shelden Williams, Brian Scalabrine, Rasheed Wallace
Rookies: Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody
Probable Starting Lineup:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Kevin Garnett
C: Jermaine O’Neal
Record in 2010-11: 54-28, 3rd in the Eastern Conference
Monday, October 4, 2010
So the NFL wraps up its fourth week of the 2010 tonight in Miami where the 2-1 New England Patriots visit the 2-1 Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football (where we get to hear Jon Gruden filibuster for two hours while Mike Tirico refers to each player as 'this guy'). One quarter of the season is nearly over and, as the midterms continue to pile up, it's time to focus on what we've learned so far this year.
1) My two Super Bowl picks appear to be doing just fine, thank you very much. At the beginning of the season I picked the Green Bay Packers to defeat the Baltimore Ravens. Both teams find themselves atop their divisions and coming off important wins versus divisional opponents. Flacco had his professional barmitzvah yesterday in Pittsburgh and acquitted himself well. His touchdown pass in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter to T.J. Houshmandzadeh was absolutely perfect. The Packers, minus their disappointing display against the Bears last week, have looked the genuine article throughout. Let's face it ladies and gentlemen, Aaron Rodgers has already achieved boss status. Clay Matthews leads the NFL with seven sacks and while the defense has not been horribly convincing at preventing other teams from scoring, it has done an excellent job at creating turnovers.
2) The 49ers are not a very good team. If teams were given moral victories in addition to their real ones, the Niners record would be the same as every other team in the dreadful NFC West, 2-2. They morally defeated the Saints at home and morally defeated the Falcons on the road. The pure talent on this roster is better than their 0-4 record, but their level of concentration and professionalism has been inferior to all of their opponents this season. Nate Clements fumbling what looked like a game winning interception tells you everything you need to know about the 49ers this season. Coach Mike Singletary appears to have lost his team. I can't remember seeing a much more defeated looking coach or manager in a long time, and I watched Don Wakamatsu manage the Mariners this season...
3) Having a good quarterback matters. I want to take some time to thank the Baltimore Ravens for proving that the Steelers could beat any team no matter who they had at quarterback. They won that game because they had Joe Flacco and the Steelers had Charlie Batch (whom I love, but hey, he's in his 100th season in the league). And his team needed him to make a big time throw, Flacco did it with ease. Watching the Eagles flop around like a dying fish against the Redskins yesterday showed how badly they actually do need Mike Vick. I don't even think it's that Kevin Kolb is a bad quarterback, but the unique match up problems that Vick provides a defense compensated for a lot of the Eagles' deficiencies.
4) Some teams still get really lucky. Or I guess I really should just say there's always that one team who's meaninglessly undefeated. That may sound like an oxymoron, but with the Kansas City Chiefs it makes sense. Now I do love the Chiefs (my father worked for that organization in the '90s and going to Arrowhead was an early childhood tradition) but I think their success is as unsustainable as U.S. Federal Government deficit spending. The teams they have beaten this year are a combined 3-9 and two of their three wins came at home. Yes, their coaching staff is probably one of the best in the league on experience alone and I have been impressed with their drafting over the past two years, but I do not see them winning the AFC West. After the Chargers wiped the floor with the Cardinals last week, I have every reason to think the West is the Chargers division to lose.
5) The NFC West is even more dreadful than we thought. I thought the Seahawks were ready to take the division by the scruff of its neck, only to see them get destroyed by the St. Louis Rams. The combined records of all four teams is 6-10 and none of the teams have looked particularly impressive. Arizona got absolutely annihilated by an overwhelming offensive performance by Rivers & Co. and the 49ers lost another tight game in Atlanta. This division is so bad it shouldn't even have a playoff spot.
6) The New York Jets look good. I do not know why all of my friends seem to think I have some sort of vendetta against the Jets. People's memories are not as good as they used to be I suppose, as I picked the Jets to go to the Super Bowl on this blog last season. Just because I try to diffuse a little of that New York hype on my twitter account (@charlieklein if you were curious) does not mean that I am ignorant of the talent this team has. LaDanian Tomlinson looks like a man on a mission and while his numbers came against one of the worst teams in the NFL (sorry Buffalo, but you're just awful), he has shown that burst he had a few years ago in the powder blue of San Diego. Not only that, the Jets defense appears to be doing almost as well without Revis. I hate when analysts say that teams can be better without their best players, so I am not going to say that the Jets are better off without Revis because that is just illogical. But they have been doing more than just treading water without him. Granted, the Patriots and Dolphins were able to throw the ball against the Jets, the defense still came up with the key stops to get the team the win. Also, Dustin Keller gets the ball so much it makes one wonder if there is something going on between him and Mark Sanchez that we don't know about (just kidding). Sometimes I really wish I had the sense to draft him in fantasy football... Maybe next year.
And my fantasy team, the Pete Carroll Fist Pumps, appear to be going the same way the 49ers are, 0-4. Perhaps it's because I have Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree...
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
One thing that has really been grinding my gears lately is all of the talk about how C.C. Sabathia is a lock to win this year's AL Cy Young Award for the league's best pitcher. I have never doubted Sabathia's talents, which are immense, nor have I ever denied that he has been having a great year. But when it is so painfully obvious that there is a better pitcher out there, it just seems like an act of ignorance to give him the award.
So who is this better pitcher? Quite simply, it is Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. You might cry foul, saying how could you pick him! He plays for your favourite team! While that may be true (I do own a Felix t-shirt and wear it regularly), numbers do not lie ladies and gentlemen.
Felix Hernandez: (12-11), 2.35 ERA, 220 K's, 233.2 IP, 5 CG, 1.07 WHIP.
C.C. Sabathia: (20-6), 3.05 ERA, 183 K's, 224 IP, 2 CG, 1.18 WHIP.
While Sabathia has a definite edge in terms of wins, it is pretty obvious that in every other relevant pitching category that Hernandez has been the better pitcher this season. Especially when one takes into account that one player (Hernandez) plays for one of the worst teams in baseball this season while the other (Sabathia) plays for a division leader which has five players with over 20 homeruns this season.
Wins are fast becoming an irrelevant statistic in the evaluation of a pitcher's talent, and rightfully so. Let's say for the sake of argument that I did not post each player's record or name and left the rest of the statistics up for you to read. Which pitcher would you argue is better? It would have to be Hernandez.
Certain writers and fans alike prefer to look at wins because that's the way pitchers have always been evaluated. They do not trust new age statistics like WHIP (walks hits per innings pitched) which actually do a much better job of measuring a pitcher's dominance than his win-loss record. Whether a team wins or loses a game has more to do with the team's overall performance than that of a pitcher. If Hernandez played for a team with the offensive output of the Yankees, he would easily have at least twice as many wins this season. The relationship between wins and a pitcher's talent appears to be merely correlative and not causational.
Buster Olney, whose opinions on baseball I usually respect, declared that Sabathia is his choice for A.L. Cy Young. For the first time, I found myself in disagreement with Olney. Even some of the most die-hard Yankees fans I know agree with me that Hernandez is more deserving of the award. If it goes to Sabathia this season, the Cy Young is on the verge of becoming the Gold Glove Award, one which becomes a popularity contest and whose evaluation does not go beyond fielding percentage.
While I understand the hesitation inherent to giving a pitcher the Cy Young when he has only won 12 games, there really should not be any if he leads the league in strikeouts and ERA. All hail King Felix.
If you watched Manchester United for the first time last Sunday when they played Liverpool, you would wonder who this guy Berbatov was and why you had not heard his name before. United's number nine notched a treble of goals including the early favourite for Premier League goal of the season to secure all of the points for the Reds of Manchester.
If you have been following Manchester United for a long time, you might wonder why it took so long for the enigmatic Bulgarian to put it all together. As a supporter myself, I have defended Berbatov continually throughout his first two seasons with the club (aside from a few weeks at the end of last season), claiming that while he may not score 20 goals a year for United he was still a very valuable asset.
The silky Bulgarian certainly did underwhelm the United faithful in his first season with the team, only scoring seven goals during a season in which the team still experienced great success (a Club World Cup, a Carling Cup and winning the league for the 18th time). Fans were not pleased with their 30.75 million pound man and were perhaps quite right to feel that way. Most blamed Berbatov and his hefty fee for the departure of Carlos Tevez the following summer.
And last year Berbatov continued to frustrate the Stretford End only scoring 12 goals and notching five assists. Wayne Rooney led the team in goals and appeared to play better on his own than with Berbatov. Many believed that the Bulgarian had played his last match in a United shirt against Stoke City, but the manager and his teammates still believed in him.
Flash forward to last Sunday and one can see a remarkable difference in Berbatov's play and output. He has six goals already this season and appears to be a different player. Or does he? One thing I have noticed this season is that he seems to be a more willing runner for the ball than in the past two seasons. Additionally, Berbatov looks like he is trying harder to get the ball back once he loses it. As Rasheed Wallace once said "Ball don't lie" and Berbatov is proving it this season.
For once he looks like a more natural fit in the United setup than Rooney does. And that my friends really says something. He and Nani appear to be on the same wavelength, setting each other up nicely for scoring opportunities. In the same way that Nani experienced a revitalisation in the last few months of the previous season, Berbatov appears to be on a similar road to redemption. And while Rooney appears to be off the pace United will need their 30.75 million pound man to continue to play like one.