Norwich City Promoted to the Premier League

Henry Winter for The Telegraph:

Norwich City deservedly reached the Premier League because they played like a Premier League team, being more composed, organised and clinical than Middlesbrough. On the ball, City, and on the way to the Premier League.

Norwich went for the jugular from the first whistle, scoring through the outstanding pair of Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond within 15 minutes, and they never looked like surrendering the lead. Their midfield was terrific, especially the likes of Alex Tettey, who simply refused to let Boro build up any moves of real substance. Their defence gave Patrick Bamford no room.

Sevilla Retain the Europa League

Sribham at Opinion Football:

The win brings Sevilla a fourth Europa League title home and it is a proud record for Unai Emery and his side. It would also be the last time that a team successfully defended in Europa League.

From this year onwards, the winner of Europa League qualified for Champions League. So, Sevilla won it on both counts – being the last team to defend Europa League and also win qualification to Champions League.

It’s a great step by UEFA to have the Europa League winners get into next year’s Champions League.

The Hope of Change

Oliver Brown, writing about the newest allegations against FIFA at the Telegraph:

In all likelihood, Blatter will wrap up his fifth term as president – a liberty that was not even extended to Franklin Roosevelt – on another tide of grace and favours. But the remarkable events on Wednesday mean there is a shaft of light, a hope that the entire edifice of greed and sharp practice that he has helped create could be about to come crashing down. The Americans might have been slow to embrace football, but their intervention the shadows of Fifa-land could yet prove the noblest contribution that any country has made to the game.

Longman on Blatter

Jeré Longman on Blatter’s reign at FIFA:

Both the proposal and Mr. Johansson’s candidacy fell to swift and unceremonious defeat, and Mr. Blatter became his sport’s most powerful figure. He has ruled FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, for the past 17 years with no term limit, no external oversight, no passion for business ethics, no appetite for reform and, apparently, no shame over the rampant scandals, corruption and match-fixing that have sullied the beautiful game.

The Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland Investigating the Allocation of the 2018 and 2022 Football World Cups

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland released a statement on their seisure of FIFA documents:

In the Swiss criminal proceedings, opened by the OAG on 10 March 2015, it is suspected that irregularities occurred in the allocation of the FIFA World Cups of 2018 and 2022. The corresponding unjust enrichment is suspected to have taken place at least partly in Switzerland. Furthermore, the head office of the damaged party, FIFA, is in Switzerland. For these reasons, investigations are being carried out on the suspicion of criminal mismanagement (Article 158 under 1, Section 3 Swiss Criminal Code / SCC). There are also suspicions of money laundering through Swiss bank accounts (Article 305bis, SCC). Subsequently to today’s seizure of files, the OAG and the Swiss Federal Criminal Police will be questioning 10 persons who took part in voting on the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as members of the Executive Committee in 2010. These persons should be questioned as persons providing information.

This is a separate case to the US investigation as explained in the press statement:

In connection with irregularities surrounding football tournaments, two separate proceedings must be distinguished:

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) is conducting a Swiss criminal investigation regarding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. For inquiries regarding this Swiss criminal investigation, please contact the OAG.

In separate proceedings, and independently of the Swiss criminal investigation of the OAG, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is conducting a criminal investigation into the allocation of media, marketing and sponsoring rights for football tournaments carried out in the United States and Latin America.

“FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges”

Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, William K. Rashbaum, and Sam Borden for The New York Times:

ZURICH — Swiss authorities conducted an extraordinary early-morning operation here Wednesday to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges.

The Department of Justice indictment names 14 people on charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. In addition to senior soccer officials, the indictment also named sports-marketing executives from the United States and South America who are accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for media deals associated with major soccer tournaments.

The soccer officials charged are Mr. Li, Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin and Nicolás Leoz.

Fantastic news. Now something could finally change at FIFA.

On Ancelotti’s Success at Real Madrid and Perez’s Trigger-Happy Methods

Matias Grez at CNN:

Ancelotti is now the 12th manager to have come and gone at Madrid since 2000.

Perez’s cutthroat approach has reaped three league titles and two Champions League trophies in 15 years, numbers which pale in comparison with fierce rivals Barcelona’s seven La Liga triumphs and three Champions League successes over the same period.

Considering the money spent at Real and the resulting talent at their disposal, the lack of stability at the coach’s position must be a contributing factor to their relatively low number of trophies.

BBC: Real Madrid Sack Carlo Ancelotti

Club president Florentino Perez told a news conference it had “not been an easy decision” before thanking Ancelotti and adding that a new manager would be appointed “next week”.

“What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don’t know,” Perez added. “The demands here at Real Madrid are very high. The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him.”

“I don’t know” is a such a bad answer; however, what Perez likely meant is that he doesn’t know haw Ancelotti could have fixed what went wrong. Nevertheless, it’s so strange that a single trophyless season results in a sacking. Must be the wrong move.

Liverpool’s Current Status: Not so Great

Daniel Storey for Football 365:

Another Brendanism came in early April on the subject of Sterling’s desires for glory. “Raheem’s ambition is to win trophies and that’s perfectly aligned with what we’re trying to do,” says the Reds boss. “This is one of the great clubs.”

Unfortunately for Rodgers, that simply doesn’t compute. If Liverpool are “one of the great clubs” (and note the use of the present tense), Sterling’s ambitions would be sated. The 20-year-old and his agent have declared a PR war, but Liverpool are running low on ammunition.

One can’t help thinking too that a “great club” does not stomach performances such as those returned by Rodgers this season. Liverpool’s greatness (aside from reputation) lies in the past. Pretending otherwise is an unhelpful facade.

Sad but true for Liverpool fans. Until the time they start challenging for the title on a consistent basis, or at least consistently finish in the top four, they are part of the host of clubs in the tier below, currently consisting of Liverpool, Tottenham, Southampton, Swansea, and Everton.

Keynesian Management

Ken Early for The Irish Times:

Some football managers display an intuitive grasp of how Keynesian thinking can apply in their own field. In victory, Alex Ferguson would often criticise his players for sloppiness, but when they lost he usually claimed they’d been the better team. Rodgers is a pro-cyclical manager. If he’s winning, he’s singing but if he’s losing, he lapses into defeatism with alarming speed.

Fascinating insight. I had never thought of managers’ psychology was akin to Keynesian economics.

“He Dogs Bark and the Caravan Goes By”

Miguel Delaney with a great piece on José Mourinho at ESPN FC:

That double-sided approach has a deeper effect over the course of the season. Those around the Chelsea team say Mourinho will use it to “play games” with his squad, especially those players he doesn’t fully know. He will criticise them at moments they don’t expect, or suddenly drop them at moments they don’t expect.

The intention, however, is not to just manipulatively keep them on edge, but also to test them, to see whether they are mentally strong. That helps explain the ruthlessly forensic way Mourinho has so deeply changed his squad over the past two years. Of the 18-man squad involved in his first game back, the 2-0 win over Hull in August 2013, 11 are now gone.

That approach also gradually lifts the competitive baseline of the squad by simple conditioning, setting ever high standards.

Manchester City 2-0 Southampton

Richard Jolly for ESPN FC on Lampard’s last game in the Premier League:

Yet he found the most appropriate way of all to take his leave: by scoring. After a 20-game goal drought, the most potent midfielder of his generation found the net for the 259th time in English and Welsh club football. He ranks as the Premier League’s fourth-highest scorer ever and his 177th and last was typical, Lampard timing his arrival into the penalty box perfectly to stab in Silva’s cross.

Hull City 0-0 Manchester United

Henry Winter for The Telegraph, on Hull City getting relegated:

The atmosphere afterwards was of a quiet wake, of an acceptance of their fate. “The supporters are unique; they gave us a standing ovation but we let them down,’’ said Steve Bruce, a dignified, measured figure amidst the debris of relegation. Maybe the fans were simply appreciative of the shift put in by players like Paul McShane, Michael Dawson and Robbie Brady in attempting to defy the odds, and events at St James’ Park.

Genoa 3-2 Inter Milan

Frank Garrasi for Outside90:

Whilst it is likely that Internazionale will not be competing in Europe at all next season, the team is in good hands with a proven winner in Roberto Mancini at the helm and Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir pumping money into the club’s youth structure and transfer kitty.

Patience Helped Leicester City Stay in the Premier League

Aiden Cusick for The Huffington Post:

Managers are often the first to suffer when boardroom agitation sets in. In the Premier League this season – where, as of May 2015, the average managerial tenure is a mere 2.2 years – 60 percent of teams in the bottom half of the table have implemented changes at the top, with West Ham all but certain to bump that figure up to 70 (assuming they fail to better Everton’s result on Sunday).

So how refreshing then, to see Leicester City survive having backed their boss earlier in the campaign. It must have been immensely tempting for the Foxes, newly-promoted this season of course, to guillotine Nigel Pearson at the end of March with the club seven points from safety and propping up the table, having failed to win a league game since mid-January.

Blatter the Godfather

More from Sean Swaby at Bleacher Report, quoting Wes Morgan on Blatter not recognising her at the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year event:

I have experienced sexism multiple times, and I’m sure I will a lot more.

I feel like I’m fighting for female athletes. At the FIFA World Player of the Year event (in 2012), FIFA executives and FIFA president Sepp Blatter didn’t know who I was.

And I was being honoured as a top three in the world. That was pretty shocking.

Amazing Klopp Tribute at the Westfalenstadion

Sean Swaby at Bleacher Report:

Jurgen Klopp became a fan favourite during his decorated tenure as Borussia Dortmund’s animated manager.

On the final day of the Bundesliga season and his final match at Signal Iduna Park, the fans showed their love for Klopp, who has announced he won’t return to the club in the 2015-16 season.

As per usual, the Yellow Wall made an incredible display, saying “danke” to Klopp.

Friday Foreplay – Gameweek 38

My regular Fantasy Premier League (FPL) preview article has been published over at All Things FPL (ATFPL):

Speaking of last round heroics, Romelu Lukaku’s late brace in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge is well remembered by Fantasy fanatics. The last Gameweek of the season more often than not involves a real surprise and Lukaku could well deliver once more. In the last four Gameweeks the Everton striker tops the league in goal attempts, shots in the box, and key passes and has a good fixture in the Toffees’s home game against Tottenham. Spurs have kept only one clean sheet in the last six Gameweeks and have, in the same timeframe, conceded almost 10 shots in the box per game (fifth worst) — that’s Lukaku’s hunting ground.

Check it out. There’s also loads more good FPL stuff at ATFPL.

“More than 62 Workers Will Die for Each Game”

Fantastic piece by Marina Hyde for The Guardian on the appalling treatment of migrant workers by the Qatari government:

But that’s Blatter for you. When he talks about football, you never really know which version of the game is going to turn up. Either it is the super-powered version, able to heal the planet. Or it’s just a lil ol’ sport, doing its best to get by in a world of forces beyond its control. By way of an example of the former, Blatter was recently fluffing another dictatorship. “Honoured to meet the King and the PM of Bahrain,” he tweeted. “Very encouraged by their support of the role football can play to bring peace to the region.” To which the only possible response is: good luck with that, football! What are you going to do about Islamic State? Catch it in the offside trap?

Great piece.

Too Much Praise

John Nicholson didn’t feel quite comfortable during the Steven Gerrard tribute. A dissenting voice over at Football 365:

I do understand why footballers are held in high affection but the mawkish display at Anfield this weekend was almost unpleasant in its bizarre sugariness. I’m not really sure what was going on. It seemed very odd for the crowd to stay behind in order to wave goodbye and say thank you to a man whose name they have been chanting for 15 years. Was that not enough recognition and adulation already? Why was it necessary to do it all again. For longer.

It isn’t as though playing for Liverpool was an act of selfless sacrifice that has gone without accolade or reward. This wasn’t a nurse who wiped backsides for 20 years on minimum wage for little or no recognition. It was a man paid beyond the dreams of avarice to play football. It wasn’t a small, unrecognised act that needed extra praise. It had already been acknowledged thousands of times.

He might come across bitter to many, but I share his sentiment. I sometimes feel uncomfortable with the thought that my kids might worship another human being. I don’t think it is particularly healthy, especially for many celebrities that aren’t worthy of praise above other working people. That’s not to say there is something wrong with Gerrard, it’s just the level of adulation that is off-putting.

Juventus Win Coppa Italia

Ben Lyttleton for Sports Illustrated’s Planet Futbol:

This has already been a momentous campaign for Juventus. Allegri will no doubt play things down and focus on the Barcelona game on June 6. The Spanish champion may just have preferred to play Real Madrid in Berlin. Juventus will be the underdog, but Allegri will like it that way. He has already proved people wrong this season. He’s just another 90 minutes from securing his place in history.

Luis Figo Pulls Out of FIFA Presidential Race

Gordon Brunt, reporting for The Score:

Without getting into details, Figo painted a bleak picture of the campaign trail he discarded.

“I have witnessed consecutive incidents, all over the world, that should shame anyone who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic,” he said.

Benitez to Replace Ancelotti at Real Madrid

Aiden Cusick for 90Min:

​Rafa Benitez will replace Carlo Ancelotti as Real Madrid head coach, with the Italian set to be sacked after a trophyless campaign at the Bernabeu, according to Italian publication ​Gazzetta dello Sport.

I normally don’t post rumours but this has been reported all over the place and seems likely. I’m convinced Real Madrid’s success over the years has been despite their constant managerial changes. It just seems bonkers to me to sack the coach that finally delivered Champions League success last year and is being beaten by a monstrously good Barcelona team.

Qatari Police Detains German Reporters

Florian Bauer, on his arrest and detainment in Qatar:

After the interrogations are over, we’re allowed to return to our hotel in Doha, but we’re not permitted to leave the country. Five days later, after it has become clear that the situation could take weeks or months to resolve, the Qatari Foreign Minister intervenes, and we’re free to go. The equipment we’ve had confiscated is supposed to be returned four days later. In fact, that takes three-and-a-half weeks. All the data on our mobile phones, my laptop and our hard-drives have been erased. This includes private photos and contact details of friends. In diplomatic circles, people are outraged. To this day, I still have never had my private data restored.

This is the country that was awarded the FIFA World Cup.

“This is Not Disneyland”

Mark Lobel, reporting on Qatar’s attempt to stop the press from getting to the truth behind the conditions of migrant workers working on World Cup stadiums:

We were invited to Qatar by the prime minister’s office to see new flagship accommodation for low-paid migrant workers in early May – but while gathering additional material for our report, we ended up being thrown into prison for doing our jobs.

Boca Fans Ruin Super-Classic by Throwing Pepper Spray at River Players

Tim Vickery for the BBC:

High farce and low morals sullied one of the showpiece occasions of South American football on Thursday night, when, with a place in the quarter finals of the Copa Libertadores at stake, the Buenos Aires super-classic between Boca Juniors and River Plate was abandoned at half time.

As they made their way onto the field for the second half, the visiting River players were attacked with a home made concoction of pepper and acid thrown by a group of Boca fans. The incident cast a global spotlight on some of the problems faced by Argentine football and society; the atmosphere of general disorder in which organised groups of fans, with strong links to the formal political process, promote violence and profiteering.

What a bunch of idiots.

Benfica Wins Second Consecutive Portuguese League Title

Brian Homewood for Mail Online:

It was the first time for 31 years that the Eagles have won two titles in a row and a remarkable achievement for coach Jorge Jesus, who had to rebuild his side after several key members of last season’s treble-winning team were sold.

‘Benfica were better than our rivals and that’s why we reached the end in first place,’ said the fiery 60-year-old who has also led his side to two Europa League finals in six years in charge.