An Article By A Fan: Transfer Fees In The SPL

An Article By Bob Wong

Singapore Premier League’s 2021 edition was always going to be a different league, taking into account the widespread impact of Covid-19.

Looking at the other countries where we saw big clubs’ revenues drop drastically due to the lack of fans, many expected this year’s campaign to be a prudent one where clubs would aim to be at least financially sustainable till normalcy resumes.

However, the privately-owned Lion City Sailors made a big splash across the transfer window, spending just over 1.8million euros ($2.9m SGD) for midfielder Diego Lopes from Portugese top-flight Rio Ave.

This news came as a surprise for a couple of reasons, first it was highly unusual to hear a football club spending so much for a player especially in a tough time with covid-19 having an impact on revenue across clubs around the world. Secondly, it was also surprising to see a footballer move from playing in Portugal’s top league to our Singapore Premier League which is quite a drop in standards when you compare the gulf in quality looking at both leagues. Additionally, this move smashed the previous transfer record of $50,000 back in 2018 for local striker Fazrul Nawaz.

All in all, one would conclude that this move by Lion City Sailors was highly unusual when one takes into account the current situation of football and how big the fee was.

Some may think of this move as a positive one considering how LCS was able to attract a player of such high calibre but personally, i can’t help but feel that this move will be a mistake that both LCS and Diego Lopes will come to regret. Here are the reasons why:

First of all, let’s consider why a club would spend so much money on a single player:

  1. Return on investment

Investing in a player with such a huge sum of money, the club naturally would want to see a return on investment from its player. A return on investment could mean two things: a) the said player could propel the club to winning titles and receive prize money back which could cover the investment cost or b) the player performs well enough for another club to come and swoop for the player in which the selling club would demand a higher transfer fee to make a profit.

Titles & Prize money

The first question we must ask ourselves is: Is Diego Lopes good enough to carry LCS?

Winning titles is dependent on the whole team being able to work together and grind results over the course of a full season. LCS appears to be betting on Diego Lopes to be the finishing touch on a team that is well-stacked across all areas to push for all available titles to them.

But will Diego Lopes be enough? Aurelio Vidmar is starting his second season with LCS, his previous season with LCS saw them finish 3rd behind Albriex and Tampines respectively despite having a strong team featuring established internationals like Gabriel Quak, Shahdan Sulaiman and Hassan Sunny. How confident are LCS in believing that an extra attacker with brazilian flair would be enough to break Albirex’s stronghold on the title?

Having watched LCS play thrice so far in this 2021 season, i would say that the issue with LCS is not with their attack but rather their defence, a 3-3 draw with Tampines Rovers and a shock 1-3 loss to Hougang does not spark any confidence in LCS being able to make a strong title push. As Sir Alex Ferguson once said, “Attack wins you matches, Defence wins you titles”, i would thus conclude that Diego Lopes is not the boost that LCS needs to win titles

Selling for Profit

One would be able to argue that for a club to spend so much for a player, the club might also be keeping an eye out for the future whereby the player is able to perform well enough to warrant a higher transfer fee from another club.

Should Diego Lopes perform exceedingly well at LCS, LCS would look to make a profit off him should a richer club come calling. But the question is, how many clubs are there in SEA that would be able to afford a fee higher than the 1.8m euros ($2.9m SGD) that LCS spent on Diego Lopes?

Looking at our closest neighbours around us in Southeast Asia, Johor Darul Ta’zim (Malaysia) and Buriram United (Thailand) are the only clubs that have come close to matching the fee that LCS have paid for Lopes. JDT paid 1.37m euros for striker Diogo back in 2016 while Buriram paid 1.5m euros for striker Maicon recently in 2020. This goes to show that only a handful of clubs are able to pay over 1m euros for players in SEA and that any chance of LCS making a profit off Diego Lopes from a club around SEA is even slimmer.

For LCS to bet on making a profit off Lopes, they are betting that Lopes performs at the highest standard consistently and is the catalyst in sparking strong runs in both League and Cup competitions. Is Lopes capable of doing this over an entire season? He may have looked promising in his first run out for LCS but lets not forget that Jermaine Pennant also had the same promising impact when he first started playing for Tampines before peetering out at the end of the season.

There is that every chance that Lopes does not have the desired impact that LCS hopes he can make which would lead to the worst scenario that Lopes leaves on a free upon the expiry of his contract, meaning that LCS effectively wrote off 1.8m euros from their books for nothing.

To sum it up, the return on investment for LCS on the exorbitant amount of money they have spent on Lopes requires alot of effort and pressure on Lopes to perform exceedingly well for them. Can Diego Lopes do it? Only time will tell.

  1. To create an unfair advantage over the rest of the clubs

LCS is the only privately owned club in the SPL now, with the rest of the clubs relying on FAS to support its operations. Being the only privately owned club now, LCS is able to rely on their investors pumping in money to strengthen its team at a more consistent rate than others.

With the ability to now match transfer fee valuations, they are also in a position to match wages at levels that the other SPL clubs are simply not able to compete at. This thus creates an advantage in terms of players’ ability for LCS, not only does LCS boast an exceedingly high number of active international players, they are also able to attract top-tier foreign talent in both Lopes and defender Jorge Fellipe.

Moving forward, I expect LCS to not stagnate its growth in becoming a local powerhouse, i predict that they will accelerate their rate of growth within the league by becoming bolder in the market. Assuming that their investors are willing to pump in more money to secure LCS’ long term status as a local football powerhouse, Diego Lopes will not be the only big-money signing that we will see come out of LCS. In the near future, we can expect to see LCS spend more on transfer fees to attract better players and strength its team even further.

With this thought comes the next question: Is LCS’ advantage of being privately-owned being an exceedingly unfair advantage over the other clubs? Having discussed on how LCS’ increased financial strength has an advantage over the fees and wages being offered, does this mean that in the coming future, we will see better players from other clubs move to LCS on the basis that LCS is simply able to offer more?

If LCS adopts a strategy of being able to buy better foreign players and combine it with the strategy of picking off the better players from the other clubs, this would create a situation whereby only LCS is strengthening itself while the other clubs are progressively getting weaker.

Therefore, i would conclude this point by saying that this big transfer move from LCS is only the start for them. Regardless of the whatever impact Lopes is able to make at the club, this big money move is a starting statement for LCS to embark on its journey to being a football powerhouse by simply being richer than the rest.

My Thoughts

Having discussed about the possible risks and benefits that this move would have on the LCS, I have come to conclude that LCS would eventually come to regret a move of this magnitude.

Earlier in this article, i have concluded that the only way that Lopes turns out to be a good signing for LCS is that Lopes is able to a) propel them to titles and prize money or b) perform well enough to warrant a bigger transfer fee from another club. Which leads me to my next question

Is the Singapore Premier League the correct environment to pull off such a move?

My opinion is that when you compare the standard that our SPL is playing at right now with the long term planning that LCS is trying to make, it just isn’t what both the SPL and LCS needs right now.

For big money signings to be worth the investment, a) the player needs to be in a competitive league where he is able to perform well and be noticed by foreigh clubs and b) he needs to be in a club that is able to make deep impressions in international tournaments.

For starters, i am of the opinion that our SPL is simply not good enough  for other foreign clubs to use as a barometer if the player is good enough for a higher level of football. If Lopes fails to perform consistently well, other clubs looking to buy him will be thinking ‘This player drops from the Portugese top league to Singapore Premier League and is not the best player there, i doubt he can make it in another league better than Singapore’s one.’ Quite simply put, Lopes will have to be cream of the crop if he wishes to eventually move to a league more competitive than Singapore’s current league.

Additionally, my other point pertaining to international tournaments such as AFC Cup. Another way for players to get noticed is to perform well at regional competitions where clubs of different countries go head to head to be crowned the best team in the region. For Lopes to be noticed, he has to be in a team that can compete against foreign clubs and perform well. To date, Singapore has failed to make a name for itself at these regional tournament with the most notable being Home United making it to the AFC Cup Inter-zonal Semi Finals back in 2018 while most local clubs fail to make it past the group stage.

LCS are participating in this year’s edition of the AFC Champions Cup, we have yet to see if Vidmar is able to put together a deep run in the cup with the squad he has. And if Vidmar is able to do so, is Lopes capable of standing tall against his foreign opponents and bringing LCS to a deep cup run? For a club to spend so much money on a player, i would say that there is considerable pressure to do so.

Conclusion

Let me just start off by saying that i was duly impressed by LCS being able to attract such a high profile signing. It is a testament to LCS’ new look and financial power to be able to make such signings when you think about how our last notable signing was a washed up Jermaine Pennant to Tampines Rovers.

Taking into account the financial impact of Covid-19 has across the leagues around the whole world, it would be unwise to spend such a large sum over a player when it can be argued that clubs should look to financially stabilise itself instead of splurging over marquee signings. LCS is making a bold move in this precarious financial climate and i sincerely hope that their investment will pay off great returns for both the club and the league in terms of achievements and proposal.

And while i am of the opinion that Lopes is not a good signing for the LCS when one thinks about the long term implications of this signings, i feel that this is a positive step for SPL when it comes to exposure to better talent and also signals optimism for other investors to dip their toes into SPL should LCS perform well.

While it is simple to just write Diego Lopes off as a marquee signing to kickstart its journey to being a top club in Singapore Football, i daresay that there is a lot of implications directly related to this multi million dollar signing. With the money attached to his name, all eyes will be on Lopes’ be it from his own teammates and manager or people around the League. He needs to be able to perform well enough to justify his money or LCS will have to eventually write off this massive 1.8m euros sum as money wasted on a marquee signing that couldn’t bring the club to the heights they aimed for.

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Circumventing The K-League ASEAN Quota Conundrum

In 2020, the K-League launched the ASEAN Quota, where K-League clubs were given an extra foreign player spot for players from Southeast Asia. This move was designed to help expand the K-League’s marketability in the ASEAN region, but in the past 2 years, only one club has utilized it. In 2021, K2 club Ansan Greeners FC signed Indonesian hot prospect Asnawi Mangkualam.

While the Indonesian wonderkid swiftly established himself at Indonesian titans PSM Makassar, naturally it has taken some time for him to feature with Ansan. Fortunately though, after making an impressive debut for the Green Wolves in the Korean FA Cup, he has since gone on to feature against Busan IPark in the league on April 3rd.

The question remains however: why aren’t more K-League teams signing Southeast Asian players?

The “Inferior” ASEAN player prejudice?

When it comes to the Asian football landscape, only a few teams regularly qualify for the World Cup. Japan, Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and (since they switched affiliations in 2006) Australia are known as the footballing titans in the AFC. While it is true that other teams pale in comparison to these Asian giants, the gap between the top dogs and the rest of the pack has diminished.

Southeast Asian players have graced the K-League before. Before Asnawi,

  • [Vietnam] Nguyễn Công Phượng (CAM, ST), Incheon United, 2019.
  • [Vietnam] Lương Xuân Trường (CM, DM), Incheon United (2016), Gangwon FC, 2017.
  • [Philippines] Álvaro Silva (CB), Daejeon Citizen, 2015.
  • [Thailand] Piyapong Pue-on (ST), Lucky-Goldstar Football Club (FC Seoul), 1984-86.
  • [Timor-Leste] Rodrigo Souza Silva (CAM), Daegu FC, 2017

Incheon’s signing of Nguyễn Công Phượng was met with much excitement initially and from a marketing standpoint, it was a brilliant move. Incheon, and by extension the K-League, increased their presence in Vietnam with the move. However, Công Phượng’s contract was terminated early and across 14 games he only featured for a meagre 352 minutes in total.

Our partners Rookbook Sports have confirmed that the general Korean attitudes towards Southeast Asian players are that they are not good enough for the K-League. Clubs would rather use their funds to get another Korean player as opposed to a Southeast Asian player despite the allocation of a quota because of this overall sentiment.

Yet, while I do agree that the K-League is definitely a more challenging league than the bulk of Southeast Asian leagues, I disagree that there aren’t any Southeast Asian stalwarts good enough to play in the K-League. One has to look at neighbouring Japan, where players like Chanathip Songkrasin, Đặng Văn Lâm, and Theerathon Bunmathan are currently playing their trade. In previous seasons, players like Jefferson Tabinas, Tawan Khotrsupho, Kawin Thamsatchanan, and Teerasil Dangda have also featured for J.League teams.

Furthermore, a number of Southeast Asians are also heading to Europe. Safawi Rasid, Bagus Kahfi, and Luqman Hakim Shamsudin are example of Southeast Asians who have recently moved to European clubs as well. There is immense talent in Southeast Asia, and I do believe that Korean teams need to improve their scouting of the region.

The Way Forward?

Signing young hot prospects to develop into future stars seems the best bet. South Korean teams appear to be apprehensive when it comes to signing players that are relatively unproven on a bigger stage like the K-League. Developing promising players in their academies allows club to train them.

The question thus remains though: what’s in it for a South Korean club? Why should they sign an Indonesian or Singaporean or Burmese player?

The simple answer: increasing the K-League’s marketability in Southeast Asia.

In East Asia, the K-League certainly falls behind the J.League and the Chinese Super League with regards to star power. The CSL and J.League become easily watchable because of the relatively vast number of players who previously played in the English Premier League or La Liga.

Don’t get me wrong, the K-League standards of football are incredibly competitive. After all, the 2020 AFC Champions League winners were Ulsan Hyundai FC. Yet, the K-League somehow doesn’t have the ability to pull the European heavyweights that are quite frankly needed to have some sense of marketing presence. Their overseas and global viewership pales in comparison to the J.League for the past few years. That being said, last year, the K-League’s digital viewership definitely spiked, and it is time for clubs to ride this wave and expand.

The ASEAN quota helps them with increasing their marketing presence. Just take a look at Asnawi. The Indonesian youngster has over 200k followers in Instagram. Ansan Greeners? They just have slightly over 35k. Many Southeast Asians are passionate about seeing their national players develop and form an ardent fan base for these footballers. The K-League should definitely tap onto this.

The K-League is a great league, but it can become greater. Having a significant marketable presence is the necessary next step in the K-League’s evolution.

That being said, it is important to ensure that the players that sign with Korean clubs are not simply influencers but are footballers who possess a good level of ability.

Of course, there are also more senior players that K-League clubs can snap up. I mentioned a few in a previous article. Nevertheless, I think Tim Barnes makes a good point.

He mentions on Twitter that:

The K-League clubs need to utilize their ASEAN Quotas. The inability to do so reflects poorly on the scouting network of these clubs. If the J.League has successfully fielded ASEAN players in the past, there is really no excuse for Korean clubs. Hopefully, Asnawi impresses in the coming days and it convinces more K-League clubs to turn their attention to Southeast Asia.

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As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.

The Defence

Mukundan Maran – GK

Mukundan pulled some important saves against Tampines and helped his team retain their resounding lead. If he keeps this up, a national team call-up could be in the works soon.

Maksat Dzhakybaliev

The Kyrgyzstani defender put in another solid display at the back and his 67th-minute header was truly the icing on the cake. Maksat has truly established himself alongside Lionel Tan as Hougang’s primary central defensive pairing and his performances against the Stag demonstrate why.

Jorge Fellipe

In an impressive debut, Jorge proved to be a solid rock in the Sailors defense, making multiple crucial clearances and generally stifling the Young Lions’ offense. What’s more, the game provided a sneak peek into his aerial prowess, almost scoring on 3 separate occasions with thundering headers. Was unlucky not to net one, but one would think that his time will soon come.

Yu Tokiwa

The Albirex left-back put in a fine performance against Geylang United over the weekend. Making 73 passes with a 88% passing completion rate is certainly impressive and his contributions both in defence and attack helped Albirex to win.

The Midfield

Harhys Stewart

In a game where the Young Lions seemed to have the Sailors’ number (for the first 20 minutes), Harhys was a constant driving force in all 90 minutes of the game, and seemed to be ever-present in both halves of the field. Provided crucial challenges and solid link-up plays, and should have gotten at least one assist should his forwards been more clinical. 

Kaishu Yamazaki

The “engine room” of the Hougang midfield once again was a constant presence against the Stags. The box to box midfielder became a central figure in the attacking moves by the Cheetahs. The Kaishu-Fabian partnership seems to have clicked really well. Other clubs beware.

Gabriel Quak

If there was anyone who doubted Gabriel Quak’s form, the reigning Player Of The Year definitely showed that he was to be a Sailors mainstay with a powerful display last Saturday, as he was a key piece in the LCS’ offensive moves. Beaten to the chase for the year’s first hat-trick, but was very close on numerous occasions, and had to settle for a brace.

Shafiq Ghani

Shafiq Ghani was Hougang’s lightning to Doi’s thunder. Would have been a crime if he had not scored in the game, as he well deserved a goal, but was redeemed with a lovely curling free-kick effort to put the cherry on the cake for a strong Hougang showing.

Kristijan Krajček

Against a poor Tanjong Pagar, the Tigers were constantly on the attack and that was largely thanks to Krajček. The Croatian orchestrated most of the moves, and scored 2 goals. If his form continues, the Tigers could realistically claim an AFC spot this campaign.

The Forward Line

Tomoyuki Doi

Doi once again demonstrated why he is arguably the best striker in the league right now. Notching the first hattrick of the season, Hougang have certainly filled the void left by Stipe’s departure last season. Doi already has 7 in 4 games,

Stipe Plazibat

1 goal and 1 assists this week, Statement Signing Stipe put in a decent showing this week to feature in our Team of the Week. Plazibat notched in his 4th goal of the season and I still believe the Golden Boot award is up for grabs despite Doi’s form. Never count Stipe out.

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The United States National Team Failed to Qualify for the Olympics…Again…

Why this is still a failure, but not a colossal one, for a program needing important victories

So, many of you who read this blog might see me, as an American, and wonder how football is going for us Yanks. I dabbled in this topic when talking about the season ticket prices for my new local MLS team, Charlotte FC, but have not talked about the men’s national team in my native country on this site yet. Has the United States team moved on from their embarrassing defeat against Trinidad and Tobago three years ago to become a better team and more coherent national team program?

Well, sort of.

Aside from a few notable recent losses, things have been going sort of well for the national team as a whole. Having bounced back from those two shock defeats, the US men’s national team is beginning to stock up on talent, with a number of exciting young players getting their debuts with the senior team over the last two years. Several promising dual national players have made the choice to represent the United States, with Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest and Valencia’s Yunus Musah being the latest of those. Are we good yet? No, we for sure will not be contending in Qatar next year, but it is a process. There have been improvements since the loss in Trinidad, and while I will not get carried away by victories over random national sides of questionable talent levels, I do see the potential for this team to be very good by the time the USA hosts the World Cup in 2026.

And then we had another failure.

So one of the big negative marks on American youth development at the national team level over the last nearly two decades is an inability to send a youth men’s team to the Olympic Games. The United States has not been a part of the men’s football tournament at the Olympics for the last two Games, and three of the last four, which is not good. This past weekend, they had the chance to right that wrong and qualify for the Tokyo Games this summer. All they had to do was reach the final (not even win the whole thing) of the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifier Tournament. After basically barely scraping by in the Group Stage of this competition, they faced Honduras in the semifinals, but unfortunately lost 2-1 in a game that they were never really in. For the third straight Olympics, and fourth Games of the last five, the United States will not be sending a men’s football team to the competition. And people have been understandably a bit upset.

So many are viewing this as a failure, with varying degrees of anger and upset-ness over the United States seemingly being unable to even be one of the two best Under-23 teams in CONCACAF. It was a stark difference to many talking during the tournament about the amount of talented players who were Olympics eligible but not with the Under-23s, as if many were already assuming the United States to be among the favorites to win gold in Tokyo. Some said this was just a failure of the players involved and coaching staff. Some said it reflected larger failures within the national team and US Soccer Federation. Some were hiding under the excuses, saying “the Olympics does not matter” or “this was not even our second or third best possible U-23 team, we still have so much talent it does not matter, Mexico is in trouble and we are winning the World Cup”.

In reality, it is sort of a combination of all three that explains how I have reacted to this. It is a failure, for sure, but it is not a “tear everything down, this is the end of the world” failure. This is like 0.0000001% the level of failure that the loss to Trinidad was, and this is not even as worrying as the other previous failures to qualify for the Olympics.

So, from more of a French perspective, I can say that failing to qualify for the Olympics is not the end of the world when it comes to the development of youth players. France did qualify for the Tokyo Games, but this summer will be the first time a French men’s football team has participated in an Olympic Games since 1996, when a team that included a young Robert Pires and Claude Makélélé lost in the quarterfinals of the competition. The vast majority of the generation of players that won France the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, as well as the whole generation of players that won in Russia three years ago, did not play in an Olympics. They all did just fine. It is not that big of a deal.

As an aside, for what it is worth, there are also quite a few prominent footballing nations with not too stellar Olympic records. Former US international player and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said that failing to qualify for the Olympics is not something that “football nations” do, citing the 2016 Olympics Final between Brazil and Germany as a sign of footballing powers being Olympic constants. It is fair to cite Brazil and Argentina’s constant presence at the Olympics being a part of their constant star development (Il Fenomeno Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are among the many young stars to feature for the two South American giants at the Olympics), but Germany’s appearance at the Rio Games in 2016 was the first Olympics in which a German team featured since 1988, when they went as West Germany. The last three World Cup winners (France, Germany, and Spain) have made a combined seven Olympics appearances since 1988. Being an Olympics regular is clearly not the end-all requirement to be a successful football nation that some are painting it as.

Now, this is not to say that France not qualifying for an Olympics for 24 years is not a failure for French football, because it definitely is. One of the most frustrating things about the French national teams is their sheer inability to be successful at the youth levels despite the utterly insane amount of talent that Les Bleus can call upon. While they have been successful at the Under-19 level in recent years, they have not won an Under-23s Euros since the famous Eric Cantona-led team won it in 1988, and their inability to perform at this level has led to their 24 year Olympics absence. None of this is good, and the expectation at this point for France should be success at every level, but none of this has stopped the production of young talent from France over the last two decades. You all are seeing the utterly ridiculous amount of good young players that are able to play for France, and this is largely due to how good French clubs are at developing and refining the talent they find before allowing them to move on when the time is right. Not making the Olympics and not doing well in some youth tournaments has not impeded this process, it was bad but not the end of the world for French football. It shows that the United States can continue along in a good path without needing to be a constant presence at the Olympic Games, should they do the other parts of youth development in the right way.

This is why the failure of this United States team is not as big of a deal as the ones that failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2016 and 2012, and it is nowhere near as bad as the failure in Trinidad. Failing to qualify for a World Cup, especially in a region as relatively easy as CONCACAF (at least relatively easily compared to Europe, South America, and Africa) is a colossal, abject failure for a nation as big as the United States, and this is nowhere near that level of failure. At the end of the day, it is rational to say that this USA team that went through Olympic qualifying was not the best possible team. There is a very long list of young players who could have been on this qualifying team that were either not released by their clubs to feature or were simply called up to the senior team instead. It is an impressive list, and the likes of Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie are only the tip of the iceberg. Even among the players that did take part in qualifying, the likes of David Ochoa and Jackson Yueill were impressive. It shows that, despite this Olympics failure, the development of these young talented players into eventual senior team talent is on the right path, and the United States has a very good growing crop of players coming through in MLS and in European leagues alike. This team’s failure is not an overall condemnation of the current state of youth talent in this USA team.

This is very different from the 2012 and 2016 failures. Those years are often called the “Lost Generation” of United States football, having come between the Clint Dempsey/Landon Donovan/Tim Howard group and the current group. Only six players in total from both of those teams (Mix Diskerud, Jorge Villafaña, Joe Corona, Matt Miazga, Paul Arriola, and Jordan Morris) ended up being any sort of significant fixture among the senior national team. If we are being honest with ourselves, neither of those teams were good. This current one clearly was not any good either, but looking back at the 2016 and 2012 teams, you can clearly see an incredible lack of talent in those age groups. Many who have covered the US National Team much closer than myself over the last decade have pointed to those failures acting as a precursor to the eventual grand 2018 collapse, for reasons largely due to the federation-wide problems exposed by those failures but also because there just were not enough good players. This feels different. There is clearly talent coming through, and there are not the same massive overarching concerns about the federation as there were before 2018.

But it still is not good. Not the end of the world, but still very much not a good thing. And the reason why it is not a good thing is it shows that some within the US Soccer Federation or the wider football community surrounding the men’s national team have not fully learned the lessons of Trinidad.

For starters, the US team probably should have qualified. Sure, they were not given their best possible team, and many of the players were not in season, given that most came from MLS teams, but there is zero reason that this team should have performed as poorly as they did in this competition. Expecting the United States to advance through CONCACAF qualifiers for any major tournament is not a steep ask. Yes, France and Germany struggled to qualify for the Olympics for two decades, but the process to qualify in Europe is much more difficult than it is in North America. Having that expectation to be there or thereabouts in every competition as, arguably, the best football nation in CONCACAF is not unreasonable. If the United States has the dream of being a big footballing nation, if they have the dream of the team winning the World Cup in 2026, then they need to be coming through these qualifiers at every level. As the biggest and most resource-rich nation in CONCACAF, you cannot be failing at this magnitude.

And that brings us to the point of expectation versus arrogance. It is fine to have the expectation of success in this situation. But for the longest time, there has been an arrogance and cockiness attached to US Soccer, the teams, the federation, and the fans. It is very American, this snobbish idea of “we are better than you and we will flaunt it.” When the women’s national team plays, it is a fair mentality to have, because the US Women’s National Team is ridiculously good. But to have this mentality about the men’s team, a team that has maybe a few CONCACAF Gold Cups to show for itself over the last decade and literally failed to qualify for the last World Cup, it is wildly insane to still have that arrogance. We were supposed to all have learned our lessons from 2018, yet clearly many have not.

It starts with the Federation. Their choice to lead this team was Jason Kreis, a man who has done a bit of journeyman coaching through MLS over the last few years and who was absolutely, positively the wrong person to take this job. Anyone who saw his record in MLS the last few years would have said the same thing, and many of the tactical, team selection, and general errors that led to this situation lie at the feet of Kreis. He frankly had no idea what he was doing, selected a team from a base of eligible players that was not the best possible team he could have brought, and he lined them up in a perplexing way that, especially against Honduras, often benefitted the opponent. You can complain all you want about the best youth team US players being with the senior team, but when quality MLS players like Jeremy Ebobisse and James Sands are left at home for unknown reasons, you really begin to question how much of this is actually self-inflicted instead of the fault of circumstance. It really did feel like that, from the very beginning, everyone within the US Soccer Federation just assumed they would cruise into the Olympics. They did not need their main players, they could get by with these guys. They did not need a good coach, they could pick a floundering MLS journeyman. In every match it almost looked like the US would expect the opponents defense to part like the Red Sea so they could stroll on in and score. It just all reeks of the same arrogance that I thought we got over after Trinidad.

And this even extends to the media and fanbase, who inexplicably have not learned the Trinidad lesson either. Before the Honduras game, I remember seeing graphics of the Olympics-eligible players from the US that were not with the team, as well as articles about Christian Pulisic wanting to play on the Olympic team, that were shared by American fans who were excited about the potential of a star youth team at the Olympics and practically adorning the team with a medal already, before they had even qualified. After the loss, Taylor Twellman, clearly upset on Twitter, stated that the US not having top youth players available was not an excuse because of the apparent poor quality of clubs that the Honduras players were playing for, ignoring the time when Honduran champion CD Olimpia knocked MLS champion Seattle Sounders out of the CONCACAF Champions League last season. Expecting to win is one thing, but completely overlooking your opponents in this manner is a large reason why the US got into their mess in the first place. There is a distinct difference between expecting to qualify, where you can still recognize the talent of your opponent and set up a proper game plan to beat them, and being arrogant about your chances, where you just expect your opponent to be inferior in every way because they come from a smaller and poorer nation. I feel like we should have learned this lesson after Trinidad, but apparently we have not.

Ultimately yes, the US not going to the Olympics is not that big of a deal, but of the many points Twellman in particular, as well as many others, have made since the loss is that US men’s national teams at every level have yet to prove since that loss to Trinidad that they are able to win when it matters most. Beating random below average teams in friendlies is one thing, but I cannot get fully excited and think we can genuinely win a World Cup in five years if this team cannot win the big games at any level. So far, we have had a loss to Mexico in a Gold Cup Final, an embarrassing but albeit avenged loss to Canada in the CONCACAF Nations League, and this loss to Honduras. We can play as many friendlies as we want, they can try and get me excited about an average-at-best performance against a meh Northern Ireland team, but it does not resonate with me unless the USMNT can win when it matters. I would not have cared how well or poorly the US would have done at the Olympics, but the chance to win in a big moment would have been huge for a team and federation that desperately needed a big victory on the men’s side to show that they had taken a tangible step forward from 2018. Another test faced, and another test failed.

So where do we go from here? Well, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is later in the summer, then CONCACAF Nations League returns later this year, followed by the beginning of World Cup qualifying for 2022. I honestly can say it might be in the USA’s best interest to not send a men’s team to the Olympics, allowing the full pool of players to be available for selection in these meaningful games, but the pressure only goes up from here. Especially after messing up the Olympics, the pressure is going to be on Gregg Berhalter and the senior team to succeed in the Gold Cup and Nations League Playoffs, where the potential of multiple cup finals is really going to be a barometer for how far this whole program has come in three years. No more riding media hype or American arrogance, no more saying “look at how many players we have playing in Europe!”, it is time for Berhalter and this team to show they can actually win big games.

Making the Olympics is ultimately not too important, but it is about the precedent that was continued by failing to qualify. If US Soccer and the media surrounding this team wants me to believe this team can win a World Cup and the United States can become a major footballing nation, then this precedent surrounding big games needs to be reversed, and it needs to be done now.

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Many of us around the world may be unfamiliar with Victor Yanez. He seems like an ambitious Jesuit priest-in-training if you meet him without any context about his past. Yet, what if I told you he was supposed to be the next breakout star in North America? Yanez indeed had a pretty fantastic career as a youth footballer in Mexico and the USA. Yanez played for both Mexico and American national youth teams and rubbed shoulders with many players who would go on to have successful careers in top leagues worldwide. Some of the players he has played alongside include Giovanni and Jonathan Dos Santos, Sheanon Williams, Brek Shea, Andy Rose, David Estrada, Freddy Adu, Brian Perk, and, interestingly, American football player Josh Lambo. Yet unlike his teammates, Yanez never became a pro. For the most part, I have been interviewing players who managed to become a professional player through their own struggles. Yet for every footballer that makes it, countless others do not. This is one such story. 

Beginnings in Mexico and Journey to the IMG Academy

Yanez was born and raised in Mexico but moved to the United States when he was 11 years old. Growing up in Mexico, Yanez played football in the streets and realised he was a gifted footballer. A young Yanez would go to his backyard in Mexico and practice various challenges, such as doing touches against the cement wall without the ball touching the ground. He’d also imagine himself playing against teams. Back during a time where YouTube wasn’t around yet, his imagination and friends were his entertainment source. After school every day, he would set two rocks on the ground in front of his house to demarcate a goal post and play with his friends.

“Sometimes we used sticks of a broom and hammered it down for goalposts. When we used rocks, if the ball passed it and was too high, we’d get into an argument if that was a goal or not.”

Interestingly, Yanez struggled with systemic practice in the USA when he moved over. Playing street football since he was a kid, he had a knack for knowing what to do when he was on the pitch. However, he wasn’t an excellent practice player. Things like warming up and cardio exercises frustrated Yanez, who did not understand why these things were important. Later on, he did acknowledge that practice sessions helped his agility and natural fitness, but at the time, it was a real challenge. 

Yanez played in one of the most competitive youth leagues in California and was scouted for the Olympic Development Programme (ODP), like the state team. Every state had an ODP and each state team would play other state teams in their region. There were four regional zones established. From each region, players would be selected for the regional teams and out of these four regions, the best players would be selected for the national Under-15 team. Yanez managed to climb through the tiers and in 2005, when he was 15 years old, he left home and was recruited to the U-15 USA National team. He would move over to Florida to take residence in the IMG Academy where he would stay and train for 2 years in preparation for the U-17 World Cup.

Next to Josh Lambo and Fro Adu (far left) with the U17 USA. Photo Provided By Victor Yanez.

“Back then. There wasn’t really a U-15 national team. The idea of the U-15 team was to get you ready for the U-17 World Cup that would happen in 2 years. Even if you called yourself a U-15, the idea was always to go to the [U-17] World Cup. So, you’re in that pool. You’re getting ready for that.”

U17 US National Team at the Nike friendlies. Photo Provided By Victor Yanez

Switching Allegiances to Mexico 

Unfortunately, after two years with the IMG academy, Yanez could not represent the United Stated U-17 team because his immigration paperwork was being processed. Instead, he took advantage of how players could switch back and forth and play for multiple youth national teams. He chose to play for the Mexico U-17 team instead due to the circumstances. 

“I remember moving to Mexico to link up with the U-17 team. I remember how we were supposed to introduce each other and share what team we were playing for. Back then, I was playing for a team in California and we used to call ourselves Manchester United. I never played for Manchester United but this was the closest thing. And this guy next to me says he’s Jonathan dos Santos and I play for Barcelona. At the time, his brother Gio [Giovanni dos Santos] was starting to come up and I was asking him if it was the real Barcelona or is it like a random Barcelona team [much like Yanez’s Man United]. Next thing you know, I find out he was playing for the real FC Barcelona and that was the level we were playing at.”

Victor with Jonathan Dos Santos. Photo Provided By Victor Yanez.

Yanez and dos Santos would become really good friends during their time in the Mexico national U-17 team. While it’s been years since he last talked to dos Santos, Yanez recalls many fond memories with him.

However, despite the wide array of talent on display, the Mexico U-17 team did not qualify for the 2007 U-17 World Cup. It was a huge disappointment for the Mexico team, and it left many perplexed. Two years before, the Mexico U-17 team had won the World Cup in 2005, and thus, it was “odd that the Mexico team couldn’t qualify”. The chance to represent the USA U-17 team was also off the cards because his citizenship processing was not ready. It was only six months after the World Cup when Yanez managed to get his American citizenship. 

Crushed Dreams & Learning Outcome at UCLA

With his dreams to play in the U-17 crushed and his UCLA scholarship jeopardised as a result, tragedy struck once again. This time, it sounded the death knell for his footballing aspirations.

“This thing happens to me. I was going for happen to the ball and the defender pushes me in such a way that my foot fell into this small hole in the field. These aren’t the synthetic grass field that we are used to now. These were old school grass pitches. So yeah, I tore my ligaments. I remember asking myself if there was much more to life? The funny thing is that I had asked myself that question before. I remember a year before I was with the national [U-17] team and played internationally and wasn’t satisfied. I had always been a happy person but I was looking for fulfilment. So, there was that little nudge to look at something more in life than just being famous.”

UCLA with David Beckham coaching his kids at a UCLA summer camp. Photo provided by Victor Yanez

The injury led to Yanez suffering from depression and made him question the purpose of living if he can’t get to where he needed to be, which was the national team set-up. The football dream did live on for a bit at UCLA. UCLA had always been Yanez’s back up plan. The goal was to always go pro and play for the national team. 

“When I tore my ligament, I couldn’t play at the level I wanted to play at. I had a very tough time at UCLA [because of that]. I mean I was there for four years and I was committed to the University but I never recovered fully to be able to play at the level that I wanted to. I spent a lot of time on the bench, and I was dealing with other injuries. So, what happens is that when you’re pushing your body to compensate for the torn ligament, other injured happened. I had all this downtime and it was then when I really started to study the game because I had all this downtime.”

Stepping Into Coaching 

At the back of his mind, Yanez felt like coaching might be his calling instead. His footballing career officially ended at UCLA in 2011, and the career in coaching thus began. Yanez thought he could make a living out of coaching if he remained committed to the craft but also knew he had to be open to moving around the country whenever an opening came up. He was coaching club soccer for a while when an opening at a local high school became available, where he was appointed as head coach. And thus, Yanez juggled both roles at the club and high school for the next year or so.

The more Yanez coached, the more he applied what he learned while studying sessions at UCLA. From strength and agility conditioning to nutrition and the psychological aspect of the game, he started to analyse the game from different perspectives. He realised it was a viable career, but the club and high school he was coaching at were not paying him much – they were only stipends.

At Wabash College. Photo provided by Victor Yanez.

“That’s when I started applying for all these college jobs. They got back to me saying I had a great playing resume but zero coaching experience. So, I was telling them to give me a chance. The only person that was willing to give me a chance was Chris Keller at Wabash College in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. It was also an all-male institution and I was like ‘what is this place?’ but I was also ready to go. People often tell me I did it backwards. People from Indiana often want to go to California but I did the opposite, I went to Indiana instead.” 

In 2013, Yanez signed as a coach for Wabash College as part of Keller’s backroom staff. For the next 3 seasons, Yanez would learn a lot from Keller, who became one of his best friends. The first season with Wabash was a huge shock for Yanez as the Little Giants had a record of 4-11-2 (4 Wins, 11 Draws and 2 Losses). Coming from UCLA, Yanez was part of a team that had a habit of winning. Having rarely lost a match, it took time for him to adjust to the different challenge that the Little Giants posed. 

Yet, Keller and Yanez managed to turn things around the following season, and they had a far improved 13-3-3 record. Yanez explains how Keller’s vision was so strong that everyone believed in him.

With Chris Keller at Wabash College. Photo provided by Victor Yanez.

“I don’t think I had a weekend off in the 2 to 3 years I was working with him. We were majorly recruiting all over the country. I knew every player by name and we knew what type of player we wanted to get every year. I was mainly working on the development of younger talent. I set a programme up for progression for the future. And so, till this day, Wabash continues to have major winning seasons. They haven’t had a losing season ever since.”

After 3 years with Keller, Yanez wanted to explore a role as a head coach but that’s when he joined up with the Jesuits and so he hasn’t really explored his full potential as a coach just yet. That may very well change soon. Recently, his superiors have given him the green light to get involved with coaching yet again. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced many leagues to cancel and thus his coaching ambitions are on a temporary hold right now. One thing is for sure. This isn’t the last you’d hear from Victor Yanez.

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UEFA’s impending Champions League reforms are nothing more than a desperate money grab from teams ready to break away

A story that has lingered under the surface during this season is now coming into prominence, as the UEFA Executive Committee is holding a meeting next week to vote on, and likely pass, a very serious change to the format of the Champions League. Reported by Matt Slater from The Athletic, this meeting will likely be a landmark moment in the modern history of UEFA and European football in general. With all of the talk of “Super Leagues” and things of that nature, this move would clearly impact the discussions surrounding European football for years to come.

And boy, does this seem like a bad deal.

Here are the major changes, should this resolution pass. Beginning in 2024, the Champions League will be expanding from 32 teams to 36. Instead of a “Group Stage” similar to what we have now in European competition, those 36 teams will take part in a “Swiss model” competition. Originating in competitive chess, the Swiss model essentially ranks every player in a competition and seeds them from one to however many competitors there are, and each competitor plays a set number of matches against the opponents seeded around them or a random set of opponents, not playing every participant in the competition. For the Champions League, UEFA will rank all 36 competing teams, likely based off of UEFA coefficient or some other variable, and list them in seeds. The teams would play 10 matches (a substantial increase to the current six game Group Stage), five at home and five away, with the top eight performers advancing to a 16-team knockout stage. The final eight knockout spots will be decided by a playoff between the next highest finishing 16 teams (team 17 through 32 in the overall table). The competition then proceeds in a knockout format, similar to how it is now, until one champion of Europe is crowned at the end.

The other major (and maybe the most controversial) change comes from how the final four spots are decided. The first of the four extra qualification spots is expected to be allocated to Ligue 1, which currently only has three Champions League qualifying places. This would put Ligue 1 on par with the other four “Top Five” European Leagues, all having four Champions League qualifying spots. The other three spots are proposed to be awarded based on historic performance in European competition over the previous five seasons. This is basically a safety net for big teams that may endure a bad season that keeps them out of the Champions League. For example, if this system had already been implemented, it is possible that one of these slots could have been awarded to Arsenal this season, who missed out on Champions League qualification last season but have performed fairly well in European competition in previous years.

I do not need to be the one to tell you that this is wildly unfair.

I have so many problems with this idea and so many things to say about UEFA for going along with this, but let us start with the extra spots and work our way back.

Now, selfishly, I do not object to an extra spot for Ligue 1. It allows Lyon’s always-present and unescapable mediocrity to be excused, with a larger margin for error allowed in trying to finish in one of four qualifying spots instead of one of three spots. On a more serious note, I think it also does a world of good for French football if one more team is given a pathway into the Champions League and the financial boost the competition offers. Four of France’s main five teams (PSG, Lyon, Lille, Monaco, Marseille) being in the competition instead of three, or also the increased chance of a smaller team qualifying, only does good things for French football. The added revenue injection into a league with quite a few teams struggling financially should at least make things consistently more interesting at the top of the table, with three teams more financially equipped to challenge PSG.

And that is about all I like about this plan. The three spots awarded based on “historic European performance” is one of the biggest scams I have ever seen in football. We should apparently want to throw a bone to the world’s biggest and richest football clubs, who already benefit from a system that maintains their financial and sporting dominance, just in case they happen to fall victim to another club showing ambition and intelligence in building a team. They are the unwanted, after all. No one wants to watch Leicester or Atalanta or some other small team in Europe, of course not. Everyone is surely here to see the big dogs play, right? Those big money teams, yes, they are the class above everyone else, and all the other clubs are just second-class citizens within the sport.

This is all just insane. It reflects a mentality held by the biggest clubs that, because of their money and financial power, they should be more important and held in a higher regard than the hundreds of other football clubs on the continent. This is a sentiment that, time after time, has been publicly backed in particular by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, probably the most vocal supporter of a European Super League and easily one of European football’s largest mouthpieces of utterly ridiculous nonsense. Last season, Agnelli was vocally critical of Atalanta’s inclusion in the Champions League, saying “without international history and thanks to just one great season, they had direct access into the primary European club competition. Is that right or not?” He went on to cite a similar circumstance to the one UEFA is accounting for in this concept, saying “Then I think of Roma, who contributed in recent years to maintaining Italy’s [UEFA League Coefficient] ranking. They had one bad season and are out, with all the consequent damage to them financially.” How is it fair, Agnelli asks, if a club who had been in Europe for several years fall out when another club has a better season than them and earns the European qualification spot over them?

Yes, this is a hilariously absurd idea.

Football, and all sport in general, is a meritocracy. If you are good enough, building a team, tactic, and mentality good enough to win games, then you will be rewarded for your success. If you are not good enough to maintain that success, then another club that has a good team, tactic, and mentality will come and take that success from you. That is the way of the world in sports. Nothing should be handed to you on a silver platter. UEFA, likely either pressured by or complicit with the world’s biggest clubs, wants those big clubs to know that it is ok if they mess up or get complacent or somehow get overtaken by a club below them because there is a safety net there to catch them. The biggest clubs in the world, purely on reputation and due to the money and influence they have, can now act as higher class citizens and enjoy perks that the vast majority of others do not, a more protected status and access to the absurd media money attached to Europe’s biggest domestic football competition, whether they have earned their place there or not. But they have earned that status because, well, you know, reasons. As Agnelli said, they have history or stature, whatever that means, and because of that they deserve special status and should constantly be in the Champions League even if their performances do not merit inclusion.

And it is funny because European football is seemingly bigger than those few teams and few leagues, right? For example, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest are two of the five English teams to have won the European Cup, being a much more significant part of England’s history in the competition than, say, Tottenham or Manchester City, but those two clubs would be given priority over Villa or Forest in a hypothetical qualification situation under this new system. RB Leipzig, a club founded in 2009 as a cheap marketing strategy by Red Bull, would hold priority in this new system because their stature, money, and ability to consistently use that money to build a team to qualify for European competition surely means they have more of an international reputation in Germany than, for example, Hamburg, the only German team not named Bayern or Dortmund to win a European Cup.

And what have these big clubs given to the competition that teams in smaller leagues have not? Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord have all been crowned champions of Europe in their history, yet UEFA does not reward the Netherlands with an extra Champions League qualification spot. Benfica and FC Porto have each won multiple European Cups, yet Portugal only has the one guaranteed Champions League qualification place. Glasgow Celtic’s European triumph in 1967, the first British side to win the European Cup, is as much a part of British footballing lore as anything done by an English side, yet the champion of Scotland does not automatically qualify for the Champions League. Neither do the champions of the top leagues in Denmark, Switzerland, or Serbia. Is this truly a competition meant to represent the best in the whole of Europe? Or is it just one for those few clubs that hold all of the influence?

I keep coming back to that point Agnelli made, implying that it is wrong that a team without “international history” can have access to the riches of the Champions League while keeping a “higher status” team out. Let us flip that argument back at him. Why would an underperforming Tottenham team, an example of a team not currently in a Champions League qualification place but with some recent performances in Europe that might get them in under this new system, deserve a spot over a club like PSV or FC Porto, who have actually won a European Cup in their history? Can you legitimately say that Porto, who have won the Champions League in my lifetime, have a significantly lower international history than Tottenham? Of course not. But Tottenham are part of the cartel of elite clubs, one of the “haves” of world football, so they would get the special treatment and get the extra qualification place instead of giving it to Liga NOS.

And even then, what is wrong with “smaller” clubs becoming good? What is wrong with clubs of lower stature getting the right plan into place and growing into successful powerhouses? This is what we all do on FIFA Career Mode and Football Manager, right? A club like Atalanta, a fairly small club in size and resources from a small city northeast of Milan, rising from minnows to successful Serie A club and Champions League near-regular should be applauded, not demonized. The ability for Atalanta to build a very good team and employ a very good manager to lead them despite their limitations should be a model of how to run a football club, but the rich and powerful view it as unfair that such a team is able to reach this level and keep one of them away from their money and fame, which is clearly their inherent birthright as a big club. How dare a club far below them figure out how to be better than a big team, that is just not natural!

The Champions League has been criticized recently for being too predictable and being the same teams over and over again, and this proposal does nothing to change that, and, in fact, it only makes it worse. This is not a European competition, this is a competition between the same half a dozen clubs who just so happened to strike rich a decade ago. And because of that, they feel they are important enough to make things more advantageous to them, whether it be structuring the payout of the Champions League to reward the same clubs that keep going far in the competition or by just closing participation to others by doing things like this, taking away the meritocratic aspects that have built the sport to this point.

And this is not even my only issue with this.

The big clubs went into the discussion room with UEFA with two clear desires: adding more games to the Champions League and putting up safeguards to make sure they always qualify. More games is more money, and added safeguards ensures they have routine access to the money. Europe’s top clubs have wanted to play more games against each other for years now; this was one of the main driving forces behind forming a Super League. The Champions League is a television ratings and sponsorship bonanza, an absolute goldmine for TV rights revenue for the clubs involved. These club owners, naturally fixated on the sole goal of earning more money, came to the conclusion that playing more of these games would give them more money. While I disagree with that ultimate conclusion, that is for another article for another day, and they determined there needs to be more games in the Champions League. Thus formed the Super League idea, and the concept of the Swiss model being used in football emerged as a sort of compromise, more politically palatable than a Super League.

The only issue is teams and players cannot deal with more games on the schedule. Fixture lists are already admittedly very crowded, and the rampant fitness issues during this condensed 2020-2021 season illustrate perfectly the physical, mental, and emotional toll that this incredibly crowded schedule is causing on players, and it also illustrates the sporting effects that their fitness issues can have on teams. We all have heard Jürgen Klopp’s repeated complaints about fixture congestion, and while I hate agreeing with Klopp on anything, he is right. However, the club owners will likely move to address this problem in a less popular way. They cannot reduce the amount of Champions League games, because that is where the money is made. Going away instead will likely be domestic cups. The EFL Cup, the FA Cup, the DFB-Pokal, the Coupe de France, all of the domestic cups that have been part and parcel of league football in Europe for nearly two centuries will likely be removed to appease the owners desire for more Champions League money. Gone will be avenues for any club to win silverware and prize money. Gone will be pathways to European qualification for many smaller clubs. Gone will be the “magic of the cup” and the underdog stories that make knockout cup competitions so great. How dare we let the success of minnows get in the way of my money, clamor the top owners. If fixture congestion continues to be an issue, do not be surprised if these competitions are quickly put on the chopping block. Nothing can get in the way of the Champions League money.

And then here is the ultimate kicker: this in no way stops the formation of a Super League. The top teams have now shown that their threats can pressure UEFA into changing the system to benefit them. It has now been thoroughly demonstrated that UEFA is afraid of a Super League, and the lingering threat of the top clubs breaking away from UEFA is enough to pressure the federation into action. What is stopping them from pressuring the federation into more changes? The whole point of a Swiss model in chess is that it is almost infinitely scaleable, able to make a competition out of 10 competitors, 100 competitors, or 500 competitors playing 10, 30, or 60 or however many matches without really any issue. What is stopping these owners from going to UEFA and saying “we want 10 more Champions League games per season.”? 20 more? 30 more? What is stopping them from pressuring UEFA into essentially turning this system into a Super League?

Nothing, absolutely nothing is stopping them. Yes, there are clearly vocal opponents to this, but if this resolution passes and becomes set in stone, then the top clubs in the world have basically shown they can bully UEFA into doing their bidding.

In German folklore, the story of Faust revolves around a man who sold his soul to Satan in order to gain unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, only for his soul to be irreversibly corrupted by the evil he embraced. This is the Faustian Bargain, often called the “deal with the devil”. This is UEFA’s Faustian Bargain. They seem to believe a Super League is inevitable, but instead of working to resist it, they will crack a deal with the big clubs in order to stay in on the action. They are selling the soul of football to the world’s elite, allowing those clubs to remain in UEFA and the federation to keep raking in the television and sponsorship money from the Champions League but embracing the greed and capitalistic ruthlessness that could irreversibly and negatively change the football world forever. They are laying the groundwork for the formation of a Super League in exchange for keeping the UEFA branding on it and still getting their cut of the big money.

Faust dies at the end of his story. Will football die at the end of this one?

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Harry Kane, It’s Time To Go

After their latest disappointment, it is time for Harry Kane to leave Tottenham… Harry Kane, lad, you do not need this negativity in your life. You are a fantastic player; you do not need to be dealing with this. Now, we love loyalty here. Players building a connection with a club and supporters, sticking out […]

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Harry Kane, It’s Time To Go

After their latest disappointment, it is time for Harry Kane to leave Tottenham…

Harry Kane, lad, you do not need this negativity in your life. You are a fantastic player; you do not need to be dealing with this.

Now, we love loyalty here. Players building a connection with a club and supporters, sticking out through hard times to be there when the success is had, leaving as a cult hero among a community of people. That is an aspect of football that seems to be dwindling, rightly or wrongly, in this new generation. This is a very nice aspect of the sport for me, someone who supports two clubs that, in the grand scheme of the current football world, are not “big” clubs. We should love the amount of love and dedication and loyalty that Kane has shown Tottenham over the years, and he is without a doubt the most important Spurs player of this generation and one of the best to play for the club in my lifetime, if not ever.

But come on, man. You deserve so much better than this.

Tottenham’s 3-2 aggregate defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League, the latest in a long line of crushing disappointments, shows just how far away Spurs are from winning major honors. From the highs of the Pochettino era, Spurs have now fallen to the outside of the frame of main contenders, having to scrap for a Europa League place last season and possibly not finishing in a European place at all this season. They were one of the best teams in the league just a few years ago, but now they have fallen to a level where having talented players cannot save them from being largely forgettable. We are reaching the end of one of the brightest eras in the history of this club, an era that gave them a player who will likely end his career as one of the best Premier League strikers ever, and there is nothing to show for it.

Now, before you all come at me and say “but actually…”, yes, I know Spurs are in the EFL Cup Final. Yes, I know anything can happen in a cup final. While any halfway sentient living being would look at that match up and favor Manchester City and their team of football-playing terminator robots, anything can happen. And yes, I understand that, for a club that has not won a trophy since 2008 (that being their only trophy since 1991), winning the EFL Cup is progress. As a supporter of a club that has not won a trophy since 1995, I would gladly take Everton winning the EFL Cup to break that trophy drought.

But after all of these years, all of these goals scored, all of the fight and sacrifice, just an EFL Cup? Is that worth Harry Kane wasting his entire prime at this club? To have won the same amount of domestic honors for Spurs as Jermaine Jenas? To say that you have one (1) more trophy than Matt Le Tissier? And you are supposed to be one of the best English strikers ever? One of the best players in the world?

If there is one thing that was proven by that game in Zagreb, it is that the club has gone backwards under Mourinho. Tottenham’s peak, going wire-to-wire with Leicester for the title in 2016 and making the Champions League Final in 2018, is just that, a peak. They are descending down the mountain, the Pochettino highs getting further and further away as each day and each match passes. Mourinho was brought in to make this club into winners and reverse the defensive frailties that were becoming exposed under Pochettino, yet we now find Spurs out of Europe after a calamitous defensive display in Zagreb, ripped to shreds by Arsenal in the North London Derby, and falling further behind the race for European places. They are no closer to winning a league title than they were in 2016, and they have seemingly lost the traits that made them a Champions League constant under Pochettino.

This is obviously not Harry Kane’s fault. Without him, Spurs would likely be a mid-table team. But Kane’s adamant loyalty to a team that does not deserve a player of his talent is, quite frankly, ruining what could be a legendary career. Should he stay in the Premier League, it is very possible Kane will end up as a top four all-time league goalscorer, but that is about it. Will his amazing talent be overshadowed by being the “almost trophy winner”? He almost won a league title, he almost made it to a World Cup Final, he almost won a Champions League. Will this put him in the Le Tissier category of player instead of the Shearer or Agüero or Henry category? And if this admittedly fairly-ridiculous-but-not-completely-off-base take is even remotely close to being the case, then why should he stay at Spurs?

Kane clearly deserves better. He deserves to be playing for a club that is contending for league titles and European honors on a regular basis, and it is clear that Spurs are no longer that club. It is also clear that there is definitely a market for a player of Kane’s quality. Dortmund’s Erling Håland is obviously the most-wanted striker on planet Earth at the moment, but obviously only one club can sign him. Whether that be Real Madrid or Man City or Chelsea or whoever, that will still leave plenty of teams needing a striker who are unable to secure the Norwegian’s signature. And that is where Kane comes into the picture.

If it has not happened already, I imagine we will start seeing reports of Kane demanding to leave Spurs. Since he is still under contract at the club until 2024, Spurs will likely not be motivated to sell him for anything under a £120 million-plus mega deal, a world-class fee for a world-class player. The financial impact of the COVID Pandemic likely means that deal is not possible this summer for the vast majority of top teams in Europe, but it is still possible that Kane is able to pressure Tottenham to accept a lower bid. Who would be the contenders for his signature? Manchester United need a striker. Chelsea and Manchester City could be involved if they do not sign Håland. The same goes for Real Madrid and Barcelona, should Barcelona figure out how to balance their books that quickly. All of those teams, to varying degrees, would give Kane a much better opportunity to contend for silverware than this current Spurs team. And at the end of the day, Kane deserves his chance at winning trophies. He deserves to be playing for a team that is contending for league titles and Champions League glory, and right now, Spurs do not appear to be one of those teams. He has simply been wasting away his prime footballing years as an unbelievable player on a team that is at least good enough to be in conversations around top teams, but not good enough to actually be hoisting major honors or to contend on the biggest stages.

Harry, take this advice from someone who you have never and will never meet in your whole life. I know, I am clearly a very reputable voice, but still hear me out. Leave Tottenham. Push to leave the club. You have given them years and years of faithful, unquestioning loyalty and service. You are not a “Judas” figure for doing so, and there is no one on the planet that can question how loyal you have been to the club. But now you deserve to chase after the highest honors and play under the brightest lights, and at the moment, that requires leaving Spurs.

You do not owe them anything. You deserve your chance at greatness.

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #2

Game Week 2 saw a ton of drama unfold, with Matchday 2 and Matchday 3 of the Singapore Premier League being played mid-week and over the weekends, respectively. To stress, we are featuring the players that have been consistent over the two matches. In that sense, don’t be that surprised about the sheer number of Hougang United players that feature in the squad. Let’s be honest. The Cheetahs were simply unstoppable this week.

Last week we had fans forum contributor, Kim Ng. This week we have Lions Of Asia creator, Sakda Chan. Follow Lions of Asia on Facebook and Instagram!

As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.

The Defence

Mukundan Maran – GK

Even though Mukundan made two howlers (one in each game), the custodian really redeemed himself in both fixtures with some fine saves. He makes the cut this week because of his undeterred resilience to carry on.

Lionel Tan

Known for having the shortest shorts on the block, Lionel was stellar this week in both fixtures. Scoring a goal against the Sailors certainly was the icing on the cake for the centre-back.

Irfan Najeeb

Irfan has really done well since returning to the Stags and he has been pretty stellar at right-back. Turning only 22 this year, the future looks bright for young Irfan, and it will be exciting to see how this season pans out for him.

Baihaiki Khaizan

As usual, the Singapore icon was consistent this week and came close to scoring as well, with his header bouncing off the framework in one of the fixtures. Ever-reliable, it is bewildering to think that Bai is 37 years old.

The Midfield

Fabian Kwok

The man known as “The Truck” in the Hougang camp was superb in both fixtures this week, and his presence in the middle of the park certainly aided the Cheetahs in their resounding victories over Sailors and Geylang.

Kaishu Yamazaki

The “engine room” of the Hougang midfield, Kaishu, who usually featured as a central defender alongside Tajeli Salamat at Lion City Sailors last season, was a real constant presence throughout the Cheetahs’ midfield in both fixtures this week.

Idraki Adnan

In his first season with Hougang, the former Young Lions player has certainly impressed. An exciting player down the right flank, Idraki really contributes with his off the ball play, and his link up play with the Cheetahs’ attack this week was stunning to see.

Farhan Zulkifli

Like his fellow winger Idraki, Farhan put in another outstanding performance over the course of the week. Still only 17, it’ll be interesting to see how he grows this season. With 2 assists in 3 games, Farhan will surely add to this tally and notch a few goals this season. It’s only a matter of time.

The Forward Line

Tomoyuki Doi

What a talent. What an absolute joy to watch. Doi was in red hot form this week as he notched 4 goals and 2 assists over the two fixtures. It may be early days, but my money is on Doi clinching the Golden Boot at the end of the season.

Boris Kopitovic

1 goal and 2 assists this week, Big Bad Boris put in a decent showing in both fixtures to make it into our Team of the Week. Kopitovic should be scoring more, but it’s only a matter of time until the Montenegrin begins to be racking up the goals.

Gilberto Fortunato

The Brazilian may not have scored many goals, but his hold up play has been instrumental for Hougang’s attack. The Doi-Fortunato partnership has immediately set off, and the rest of the league need to be cautious of this seemingly lethal partnership. Hopefully the duo keep it up.

Special Mentions MD2 & MD3

Here are some honorable mentions – standout performers in each day but could not crack into our combined team because of the consistency of the 11 players we selected.

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers,
Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers

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Too Often And Too Many Mistakes – What’s Going On With The Keepers In The SPL?

I usually do not like to criticize our local players, but I really do wonder what has happened to the state of goalkeeping in the league. Don’t get me wrong, the only reason why I voice my concern is because I know for a fact that we do have quality keepers within our ranks. Yet every keeper to feature in the league thus far has made some unforgivable mistakes.

Mistakes do happen occasionally, but the sheer frequency in which goalkeeping errors have occurred so far is a real head-scratcher. So what on Earth is going on?

Of course, one cannot fault the keeper all of the time. In some instances, the keepers don’t have any help from their back line and, thus, all of the pressure is on them. Yet given that the bulk of keepers have had many professional games under their belt, it is truly bewildering to witness the number of times these errors occur.

It is little wonder that only 2 keepers have kept clean sheets after the first 2 games – Hassan Sunny and Takahiro Koga. Yet both keepers have also made schoolboy errors as well. Hassan kept a clean sheet against Tanjong Pagar in the mid week, but that was because he had little to do. The Jaguars did not even attempt to test him in the slightest, mustering only one shot on target in the process. Against Hougang, Hassan was responsible for two shocking errors.

Koga, on the other hand, seems like a reliable keeper for the most part – until his pass from the back was intercepted by Ilhan Fandi. Thankfully for the Albirex custodian, Ilhan’s touch was too heavy and the ball went out for a goal kick.

Most of the other keepers in the league have also been relatively poor. In a season where many new eyes are presumably tuning in to watch the games, all players have a responsibility to be at the best at all times. We need to prove that the SPL has quality and is worth watching. However, the frequency of goalkeeping howlers have not helped the case. It has undoubtedly made it more interesting for sure with goals aplenty fired in.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to slander these players and vilify them. I aim to do quite the opposite. These players have shown that they can put in top notch performances, and I’m questioning why most have had shaky starts to the season. I think it’s an important question to ask because these players have produced when it mattered in the past and they have the quality in them. I sincerely hope the keepers of the SPL can turn things around.

We, as fans, need to support them whenever we can. As fans, we obviously can critique them, but it’s important that we support these custodians and praise them when they do improve. Case in point – Mukundan Maran. The man made two howlers that led to goals, but he has certainly redeemed himself by making world class saves in this week’s fixtures. This is Mukundan’s first season back in the SPL after serving his National Service and he needs time to settle in again.

The same excuse can’t really be used for most of the other keepers who have been here for a couple of seasons now. What went wrong? And how do we move on from here? I hope these questions are addressed and I sincerely hope that the keepers return to their best.

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We Need VAR For The Singapore Premier League To Help The Referees

While Game Week 2 showed signs of improvement from a refereeing standpoint, I think the Singapore Premier League can benefit from the inclusion of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system. Why? Well, our current referees need all the help they can get. Bad calls ruin a game.

Patrick Kinghorn has been pretty vocal opponent for the VAR system and regularly mentioned it in game week 1. It may have very well been a case of the commentator’s curse, but let’s face it, the officiating in TPU’s opening game was horrible, culminating in an egregious call on Delwinder Singh that lead to a penalty which turned the tide of the game. The referee that fixture had a really torrid first half.

But hey, as human beings, we tend to make mistakes. We are, after all, fallible creatures. So, I disagree with Mr. Kinghorn. VAR is needed because referees need an extra hand. Perhaps how we utilize the VAR system could be refined, but without it, the SPL is at risk of being laughed at because of seriously bad calls by referees.

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting that VAR will completely eliminate errors by the referee . It would, however, help referees re-examine their decisions. It is extremely difficult for referees to spot fouls in fast-paced play and make important calls if they only had a glimpse of things. Refereeing is an extremely difficult job, and there should be more acknowledgement for the job that they do. Mistakes do happen because of how hard it is to referee. Although, at the same time, this should not be an excuse for poor officiating.

VAR would help referees. Yet, is implementing VAR a feasible option for the Football Association of Singapore?

VAR is by no means cheap but if the government and the FAS feel that 2034 is a truly achievable goal, no cost should be spared to ensure. Of course, as an external bystander, it is easy for me to mention that the FAS has the capacity to throw some money around. Yet, if talks about the privatization of clubs actually materialize, then the FAS would definitely have the financial resources available to implement the VAR technology.

The real question is how much does VAR cost? Well, I don’t have any exact figures but based on the 2018 Brazilian top flight season, the cost of the use of VAR was approximately at US$6.2 million (~ZAR 87 million). While the Brazilian Football Confederation proposed a levy on each club to help fund the total cost, such an initiative would not fly in the SPL until all clubs are privatized.

Of course, some would argue that VAR is taking the fun out of football. Well to those people I say, we need to remain relevant. Besides helping referees, the implementation of VAR also helps Singaporean sides remain relevant in a world where teams are adapting their system and style of play to capitalize on the technology. Southampton manager has openly stated that “VAR has changed the way he sets up his team to play.” While others haven’t openly declared it yet, it shows through.

From what we can tell, instead of removing VAR altogether, they are looking at ways to refine it. It is likely here to stay whether we like it or not. Is it perfect? Of course not. However, it most definitely needs to be implemented here. If not, we can never fully adapt to it and we will certainly fall behind.

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