The Newsroom Briefing: The Corporate Reality We—Including Will McAvoy—All Face

This episode, “The 112th Congress,” took place during the last 6 months of 2010.

In 4th grade, I remember getting into an argument at the cafeteria table with two of my other friends. I was losing. It didn’t even turn into a shouting match where whosever voice is loudest wins. I was just not convincing anyone. The topic at hand: “Who’s more political, Justin or Maya?” It’s an adventurous argument for 4th graders to have. If you had asked my 10 year old self what “political” meant, I would’ve probably told you it’s whatever Keith Olbermann had said on the previous night of “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” (Maya was the smartest and prettiest girl in the class so I was never going to win anything over her—even if she wasn’t even arguing for herself). I grew up watching Olbermann’s nightly newscast on MSNBC. I was so captivated by his convictive rants that I decided that in 5th grade I wanted to work in government.

As I got older, I became more interested in things like SportsCenter, a woman’s butt, and Kanye West. My political tinge faded. I used to be engaged in my father’s hyper-political dinnertime conversations. Now I just complain, “Dad can we go one fucking dinner without having a political debate?” and go right back to hypothetically answering 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” in my head. If I didn’t smell good would you still hug me? Depends—are you Kate Upton? I tune out most political conversation these days.

Now, I’m a 19 year old student who faces a six-figure student loan debt once I get out of (notice how I didn’t say “graduate”) college. Occupy Wall Street began 15 minutes away from my dormitory, but I didn’t care. The man who I’ll probably vote against in my first election this November is more likely to lower my parents taxes (we’re not middle class but we’re not eating out every week either) to help me pay for college than the man I’ll vote for. I’m a disillusioned member of the electorate who is more likely to watch a Knicks game than a Presidential Debate, because I know that no matter what, things are swayed in the United States by those who have money, no matter how moral or immoral the cause. The Newsroom reminded me of that tonight.

The episode began with an on-air editorial comment by Will. He basically called every news broadcast he’d done in his career a sham, and outlined the new, progressive, honest, factual, “News Night.” Following “The Apology,” a 6-month span of News Night events was chronicled. Instead of injecting fear mongering tactics in their coverage of the 2010 Times Square Car Bombing attack that was thwarted, News Night decided to play down the potential threat, and play up the fact that the system worked to prevent the bombing. Instead of pandering to the conservatives who had been boosting News Night’s ratings, Will launched an assault on the Tea Party. A Republican himself, Will was determined to expose a newly radical Tea Party for infecting his party and radicalizing the centrist Republican base. While he did all of this by simply laying out the facts—I’ve never seen a drama lay out so many statistics—he began to agitate the powers that be.

Elsewhere, Don’s and Maggie’s relationship kept getting played out like that one couple from high school who everybody loathed. They’d break-up, and get back together (repeat 12x), until everyone got sick of them. By the end of the episode, Jim (who has been chasing Maggie), and Neal literally got sick at the sight of Don and Maggie kissing after apparently breaking-up AGAIN the week before.

On the other side of the newsroom, the romantic battle between Will and Mackenzie raged on. Will kept asking his dates to meet him at the office, sparking jealousy in Mackenzie (Will’s first date was a New York Jets cheerleader. When Mackenzie questioned the intelligence of Girl #2, Will responded with: “Neurologist at Columbia Presbyterian. Chief of Surgery. That would make her a brain surgeon. Literally, a brain surgeon.” Blow job joke #1 recorded). After being guilt tripped by Maggie into apologizing to Mackenzie, Will stopped short after she brought one of her dates to the office in retaliation. Let the Love Games begin.

Spliced in with scenes from that 6-month span was a meeting between Will’s boss Charlie Skinner, and the CEO of the network Leona Lansing. During that 6-month stretch of news, Will kept asking Charlie whether the higher ups were okay with the new direction. As Charlie’s meeting with Leona proved, they weren’t. As Charlie put it: “We stand for something. It’s a moral obligation—get used to it.” Apparently, a moral obligation doesn’t have advertising dollars to dole out. Because of Will’s crusade against the “witches” in Washington, corporate and political powers punched back against Atlantis Cable News instead of turning the other cheek. The corporation that was friendly with the network had been exposed by News Night for bankrolling the Tea Party, and the newly elected Republican Congressmen who regulate media and communications were bashed by News Night repeatedly for months.

The Newsroom is 98% based on reality (some news stories are stretched a bit for drama, but it’s still based on real events), reminding me of how hopeless I, along with many millions of Americans, feel about our present situation. Corporations fund the media and politicians, and in return, everybody circle-jerks each other and there’s no cheating involved. That leaves everybody else in a state of insubordination, which is the opposite of how a Democracy is supposed to work (hence the “99%” and the “1%” are born). (Let me step down from my barely political high horse for a moment.) In The Newsroom, “News Night with Will McAvoy” is the Private Eye who’s photographing the immoral circle-jerking, and publishing the photos on a blog for free. But in “The 112th Congress,” that Private Eye got kidnapped for all his good work by the people he’s photographing, and faces a choice: either stop, or get killed. At the end of the episode, Leona Lansing orders Charlie to reign Will back in, or Will gets a pink slip—a black slip actually, as a clause in his contract would legally bind him to stay off the air for 3-years if he were to get fired (Funny how Charlie wanted to prevent the next “McCarthy” from being elected to Congress through Will’s Tea Party witch-hunt. In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy persecuted members of Hollywood who were suspected communists. Nobody was ever proved to have ties to the USSR, but his public hearings caused these people to be blacklisted from all lines of work, ruining their lives. In this case, Leona would’ve practiced her brand of McCarthyism on Will).

With Leona’s own “You’re either in or you’re out” ultimatum delivered to Charlie (we’re averaging about one ultimatum a week on this show now), Charlie, Will, and Mackenzie are all in the firing line. The romantic and corporate trenches have now been established for the rest of the season. It’s time for things to get ugly. Let the battles begin.

Notebook dumps: When will News Night allow Olivia Munn’s character to live report the rising price of car washes in only a bikini? Also, Sam Waterson has the best non-Drake bushy eyebrows, as well as the best bow tie since Andre 3000.

Just LOOK at those bad boys.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Why Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani Must Leave Liverpool This Summer

The reasons are pretty clear. I’m not rooting against them if they do stay at LFC—I hope they can make a strong impact in the starting XI rotation. I’m just saying that it’s improbable given their history, so I want them out because their wages are too high. Fully explained in the video.

EDITORS NOTE: I say that Aquilani didn’t play much for AC Milan last season due to injury. I was incorrect. He didn’t play because a clause in his contract limited his appearances. Regardless, my point about him being injury-prone still holds true.

I actually advocated for Aquilani’s departure last summer using the same reasons. Has he done anything on the field to counteract my argument? NO! Video from the summer of 2011:

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Curious Case of Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers is in a peculiar position at Liverpool FC. Aside from the fact that he’s replacing the Liverpudlian Jesus, has to evaluate a strange mix of players bought by three different managers over the past five years, and represents the final buck between LFC fading into mid-table obscurity till the end of time, he has to accomplish another monumental task that 95% of incoming managers either don’t have or simply don’t take on. He has to instill his very specific footballing philosophy at the club with no time to lose.

Rodgers’ philosophy is so specific, so systematic, that he’s now faced with the challenge of forcing it upon his players. Whereas most new managers—while coming in with their own plans on how their side will play—will usually take the players at hand and adapt to them, Rodgers is handcuffed to a degree. The men who’ve run Chelsea the past decade are the best examples of managers altering their tactics to the players at hand. Because of their willing flexibility (and Abramovich’s pockets), Chelsea has been competitive, finishing either first or second in the League seven times since 2004. Only when a manager has come in and tried to overhaul the team from top to bottom and control players has Chelsea finished poorly, as Andre Villas-Boas and Frank Lampard can attest. But failing to make an imprint has led to Chelsea managers being sacked on an almost yearly basis.

Every manager has their own overarching philosophy on how the game should be played, and plenty of tactics to use game-to-game (in Rafa’s case, a notebook of tactics). Mourinho likes to keep the game tight defensively and then strike on the counter. Wenger employs a neat possession side that generates the easiest of chances down the middle of the penalty box. Guardiola unleashed the most perfect form of Tiki-Taka and with the best false 9 ever put on this planet in Lionel Messi. Much has been made of Brendan Rodgers’ own version of Tiki-Taka (This article and this article from EPLIndex.com explains how he’ll operate at LFC).

There are a million different ways to play counter-attacking football—there’s only one Tiki-Taka, altered here and there to mesh the strengths of the players together. Rodgers will still have to rewire his players brains to conform to his passing patterns and movements. Liverpool’s players have never played in a system like this before, and they’re all essentially starting from ground zero. Like AVB, Rodgers will stamp his brand onto the club immediately. Doing anything else would be selling himself short. It takes time for a side to come together under any manager, but Rodgers is a man who will need more time if he’s to seize total control over the club.

Aside from the keeper, the back four, two midfield slots (Gerrard and Lucas), and one attacker (Suarez), nobody knows how the team will look come opening day. That leaves three crucial spots either in midfield or in attack that have to be decided upon and employed to a wide range of players (Henderson, Carroll, Adam, Downing, Shelvey, possibly Maxi, Cole, or Aquilani, and maybe even Sterling). In that mixture, there’s a true #9 (Carroll), an English-style winger (Downing), a modern winger (Sterling), a fake Xabi Alonso (Adam), two idealistic #10s (Cole and Aquilani), a midfielder of some trade (Henderson), and a Maxi. How those players will fit into Rodgers’ system is only known to Rodgers himself. He’s handcuffed with the squad he has—a squad that doesn’t look much like a Tiki-Taka one at present state.

If Rodgers is afforded enough patience by LFC (there will be lots of growing pains), the club will resemble Barcelona in style and execution one day at every level. Check out this video of the Barcelona U-11s:

While they don’t have a transcendent player like Messi to break down defenses down the middle (these kids are 11 years old, mind you), they play exactly how a Barcelona side would. Lots of passing triangles, intelligent off the ball movement, and a total stranglehold on the game. These kids could beat the best American high school sides. It takes years and years for an organization to be that well drilled from the 1st team all the way down to the U-11s. Give Rodgers that time, even through the darkest of results, and he will achieve that. Patience is the name of the game for Rodgers’ sides, and it’ll be the hot-button word for LFC fans the world over this year. Patience.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The New “Big Three” In English Football

Less than a day after Arsenal chairman Peter Hillwood said, “As far as I am aware, nobody has made any offer for him [Robin van Persie] and he is away so we are not in any dialogue at all. We are not in the remotest bit interested in selling him,” RVP has come out of the woodwork and declared that he would not be renewing his contract with the Gunners, opening the door for him to leave.

It’s already being reported that a £22 million transfer fee with Manchester City for RVP has been agreed upon, with RVP making £225,000 a week in wages. [Editor’s note 8/15: Arsenal have agreed to sell RVP to Manchester United for £24 million. The points below still hold true.] It’s a huge blow for Arsenal on and off the pitch, but for footballing reasons, selling RVP now is the right move. Although he was the English Premier League’s Player of the Year last campaign, he’ll be 29 in August and has only had one injury-free season with the club. Wenger has a knack for selling players right as their descending from their peak (Henry, Campbell, Vieira), and this transfer is one that he’ll probably feel comfortable with.

As for RVP, nobody can blame him for wanting to leave. He knows his own mortality, and that he can only play at this level for 1-2 more years if injury-free. He needs to win now, and Manchester City United can gift-wrap him a medal next year. Can Arsenal? No, because they’ve joined the second-tier of English Football. Not the literal 2nd division, but the second-level of football clubs. They’ve lost their best player three-straight seasons (Fabregas to Barcelona, Nasri and RVP to Man United), have over £70 million to reinvest in player sales that hasn’t been touched (RVP’s transfer fee essentially pays for the Podolski and Giroud buys), and went another season without a trophy.

Once the RVP transfer goes through, Man United will have officially cemented English football’s new “Big Three.” Along with Manchester United and Chelsea, they’re now part of a Big Three that can outspend every other team. Let’s examine the Big Three, and where the other members of the old “Big Four” now lay.

THE BIG THREE

Manchester United
Forbes has listed the club as the most valuable sports organization in the world. Valued at over $2 billion, they’re worth more than the New York Yankees. Despite debts of over £400 million laid upon the club by the Glazer family, and despite the lack of big money buys the past few years, the team still has incredible spending power. A $100 million IPO on Wall Street doesn’t hurt either. Aside from their financial strength, Manchester United is always the odds-on favorite to win the League. Big Three material.

Chelsea
Winning the Champions League was nice, but they finished 6th in the League last season. Even with their floundering League form, Chelsea joins the Big Three because of owner Roman Abramovich’s billions. Realistically, he’s the only man who can compete with Man City’s spending. They’ve already fought off Man City for Eden Hazard’s signature this summer, so constant reinvestment into the squad to win titles will never be a problem for Abramovich’s Chelsea.

Manchester City
They’ve bought every star player imaginable. Owner Sheikh Mansour has spent nearly a billion pounds to since he bought the club, with roughly £565 million supplied solely by Mansour (the rest generated through Man City’s own operations). In September 2008, £500 million was set aside just for player investment—Man City has spent roughly £300 million of that in four years. They can’t spend quickly enough! All of that money finally returned something tangible last season, as they won the League title. Like it or not, Man City is now the most powerful club in world football.

THE “OTHER” BIG THREE

Arsenal
No trophies in over six years, no reinvestment into the squad, and watching their best players leave has caused a real split between Arsenal and the new Big Three. They just can’t compete on the same level so long as Arsenal’s board refuses to spend until Financial Fair Play regulations come in.

Liverpool
Still recovering from the financial and sporting calamity that was the Hicks and Gillett Era at Anfield, Liverpool finished 8th last season. New owners John Henry and Fenway Sports Group have the financial muscle to get Liverpool back into the Big Three’s zone (they’ve spent over £100 million out of pocket since their takeover), but the right mixture of coaching, players, and organizational principles will be needed to return Liverpool to glory. John Henry has to rebuild the organization from the staff to the stadium while trying to compete for Champions League spots. A difficult task that makes them a member of the second-tier.

Tottenham
They’ve only recently competed with the likes of the old Big Four and Manchester City, largely in part to the emergence of youngsters like Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon stars. Coupled with a bargain buy in Rafael Van der Vaart, and the loan of the season in 17-goal man (and former Arsenal striker) Emmanuel Adebayor, Tottenham has assembled a quality, top-four side. Where they’ll ultimately fail is their lack of cash. Adebayor may have to leave because the club can’t pay his wage-demands, and they haven’t spent more than £10 million on a player since 2009. Their record buy was four years ago in the form of £17 million David Bentley. At present state, they simply don’t have the investment to compete long-term.

With the new Big Three, and the “Other” Big Three being laid out, who do you think will finish in the top four next season?

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The League Cup and The Europa League: “A Pot Worth Winning” or Self-Inflicted Curses?

The Europa League began this week, so Greg hashed out the blessings and curses of the competition and England’s League Cup.

As a Liverpool FC fan, I can honestly say that I enjoyed watching the 2011-2012 Carling Cup (which will properly be referred to as “The League Cup” for the rest of this article because of the impending name change). Needless to say that us winning the competition played a huge part in my enjoyment, but even if we had lost in the Semi-Final or Final of the competition, I could honestly say that I enjoyed every single minute of it. From pummeling Exeter City handily in the second round to winning a phenomenal Final on penalties against Cardiff City, the entire cup run was, far and away, one of my favorite parts of the season.

However, The League Cup isn’t universally considered to be a major trophy by a significant amount of English Football. This is partially because of the competition’s relatively low Prize Fund; losing semi-finalists receive £25,000 apiece, the runner-up £50,000, and the winner £100,000. To put that in perspective, the FA Cup Prize Fund rewards £900,000 to the runner-up & £1.8m to the winners. In other words, Liverpool made nine times more losing to Chelsea in the FA Cup Final than they did for defeating Cardiff City in the League Cup Final.

Because of the competition being seen as a “Mickey Mouse Cup” by fans, managers, and clubs as a whole, some managers use it as an excuse to play a weakened side or give young players a chance to get first team experience. One Premier League manager who preferred for many years to play weakened sides in the League Cup is Arsenal Manager Arsène Wenger, who described it as a “non-trophy” in early 2010. His preference to play young players in the League Cup has been mirrored by other top-flight managers.

Another big issue with the League Cup is a relatively new perception by many that focusing on the competition has had a tendency to negatively affect results at the end of the season. This has been exemplified of late by Liverpool’s fall from grace after winning the Cup this season, in addition to Birmingham City getting relegated after winning it in 2011 coinciding with Finalists Arsenal going from title contenders to fourth place in the aftermath.

This belief that success in the League Cup has a negative effect on league form is very similar to another theory: that being in the Europa League has an adverse effect on clubs while in the competition.

The Europa League, known as the UEFA Cup until the 2009/10 season, is Europe’s second-tier cup competition. Founded in 1971, the format for this competition has changed constantly & drastically over the years, as UEFA has merged the “Cup Winners’ Cup” & Intertoto Cup into the competition, expanded the number of teams that qualify, the number of rounds, etc. for a number of different reasons. The Europa League’s current format consists of four qualifying rounds, a 48-team “Group Stage” (from which the top two teams in each group advance), and is closed out by four two-legged knockout rounds, the first of which contains the 24 teams that advanced from its Group Stage in addition to the eight third-place finishers in the Champions League. The last two teams remaining play in a 90-minute Final held at a pre-arranged “neutral” venue. The winner of the tournament automatically qualifies for the group stage of the tournament the following season.

Since being rebranded and re-formatted in 2009, the Europa League has, for the most part, been an entertaining competition. Teams such as Athletic Bilbao, Fulham, and S.C. Braga have made entertaining runs and reached the Final of the competition, defeating the likes of Manchester United, Juventus, and Liverpool on their cinderella runs. It’s a competition that produces entertaining football and gives the fans some enjoyable moments along the way.

However, the Europa League, much like the League Cup, has its problems. While most of Europe enjoys the competition and treats it seriously, clubs, pundits, fans, and managers in the UK view it in a very negative light, and consider the competition to be more of a burden than anything else. Playing on Thursday nights, half the time with kickoff being at 6 PM, isn’t exactly the most entertaining thought for clubs that consider themselves to be a part of the most competitive league in the world. The competition is shown on Channel 5, the UK’s least appealing basic network, a fact which was subject of a chant from United fans as a way of ridiculing LFC for the better part of the two seasons they were in the Europa League (“Thursday night, Channel Five!” repeated at nauseum). For the most part, the competition isn’t even shown on live television outside of Europe, with most hardcore foreign fans watching via internet streams on very sketchy websites, making the appeal even bleaker.

Playing on Thursday nights means having to play the majority of your league matches on Sunday, giving your side just Friday and Saturday to rest prior to a match against a league opponent. When you consider the fact that you might have to fly back from Lichtenstein for a Europa League game on a Thursday night prior to playing at Old Trafford in a league match on Sunday afternoon, it’s understandable why teams might not take the competition as seriously as UEFA would like.

The big problem with playing in the Europa League is the adverse affect it supposedly has on a team’s League form. By only having two days’ rest and enduring some long travels prior to returning home, teams supposedly suffer as a result of being in the Europa League. This is especially bad for clubs that are aspiring to get into the Champions League (such as Liverpool and Tottenham), as Champions League qualification in England is based almost solely on finishing in the Top Four. If you’re stuck in the Europa League and have a faltering League form, you’re stuck in this zone of mediocrity. It’s a ridiculous catch-22 in some people’s minds: By losing in the Europa League, you feel ashamed about getting eliminated from Europe’s second-tier competition, which could have an adverse effect on morale and an already mixed League form. But if you win, you have to keep playing in this second-tier European competition and risk fixture congestion and continuously faltering league form at the sake of winning a European competition which has a winners payout that’s equivalent of a Champions League Quarterfinalist that had to play 5 less matches to earn the same amount of money.

That’s the big problem with the Europa League today: the supposed “big clubs” have no incentive to go out and win it. The luster of the competition is not what it was in the 1970s and 1980s. It doesn’t pay as much as the Champions League does, and if you win, you seal a spot in next year’s competition, which is where you’ll probably play because your league form wasn’t good enough to qualify for the Champions League. With that, your cycle of mediocrity continues, and goes on and on and on until either you get lucky and somehow get back into the Champions League or fall out completely, which is even more humiliating and degrading than being in the Europa League.

So, all of the above in mind, the question must be asked: are the League Cup and Europa League competitions worth focusing on at the sake of sacrificing a club’s League form? Is either competition, in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, “A pot worth winning”?

The first answer to this, at least in my opinion, is that it’s relative to each club. If you are a club that has an ambition of getting into the Champions League, you play your reserves in those competitions and focus on winning in your domestic league. If you advance, then great, it’s a bonus. If you get eliminated, who gives a fuck? That’s the beauty of the League Cup in some ways: if you lose, some fans really don’t care, and if you win, at least you can say that you won one more trophy than the majority of teams that season (yes, Arsenal, I’m looking at you.).

In spite of the relevence of a competition to a club’s goals for the season being a major factor in determining whether or not a trophy is “a pot worth winning,” there is another spectrum to the argument that I can’t ignore, and that’s playing a weakened side just because you don’t give a fuck. Why in God’s name would any club play a weakened side and then have the nerve to charge fans for the right to come in and see the reserves play in a competition that you don’t care about? It’s horrifying. Obviously, exceptions to this rule do exist (e.g. Man United not charging season ticket holders for Europa League tickets as a part of their auto-cup scheme), but numerous clubs have made this such a regular practice in the Europa League and League Cup that bigger headlines are made when a club doesn’t charge for a match than when they jack ’em up, a fact which, as a sports fan, sickens me to my core.

Another factor that hurts is the lack of pride that a club portrays in playing a weakened side. It literally says to the opposition and the fans: “We’re sorry, we don’t care about this match, so we’re gonna send out the reserves to play this game, and if you don’t like it, then screw off. Also, if you’d like to buy a ticket for a match we actually give a fuck about, please go down to the box office after the game.” On top of that, if you get eliminated, it’s even more humiliating and degrading, because not only did you lose to a lower league side, but you didn’t even bother to send out a half-decent side. You didn’t even go for it.

That’s what hurt most for me when LFC lost to Northampton Town in the League Cup in 2010. Gerrard and Torres were both on the bench, and youngster Nathan Eccleston was handed his 2nd club cap (He has yet to appear in a League match and hasn’t been seen in the LFC first team since). Roy Hodgson put out such a poor side that he was essentially saying to the fans in attendance “We’re not even gonna bother advancing in this tournament. Thanks for your money, but we’re not sorry for being piss poor today against a League Two side at home.” What pride is there in that? That’s right: There’s none.

Look, I’d love to see Liverpool make it back into the Champions League next season, but I’m of the belief that every match, regardless of the competition, is one worthy of a full-strength side. We should be going into this season with the intention of winning every competition we’re in. Playing a few reserves in a match isn’t a bad idea every once in a while, and sometimes it’s necessary with injuries, suspensions, and matters that are out of a Manager’s control. But if I was told before last season started that I’d get to choose between seeing Liverpool finish Top Four or have a shot at a Cup Double, with no gray area in between, I would’ve honestly chosen the Cup Double. Because that means that the fans would get the chance to go to Wembley three times and have some fun along the way. It also would’ve meant two shots at winning our first trophy in six years compared to a single year in the Champions League.

The last season, while incredibly frustrating, was a lot of fun and gave me some memories I’ll never forget. A cup run, regardless of what competition it is, can be just as exciting, if not more exciting than finishing fourth. From Bellamy’s goal against Man City to Kuyt’s winner against Man United to Carroll’s winner against Everton, all three were cup moments from this season that put me and other Liverpool fans on Cloud Nine. We celebrated each goal like it was a goal that had won us the Premier League. Each moment made the fans happy. That’s why any trophy is “a pot worth winning” in my book, because at the end of the day, professional football would not exist without the fans themselves. When you win a competition, you win it for those people in the stands, not owners or sponsors or anybody else. I know that’s a minority opinion, and it’s old fashioned, but I stand by it 100%.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

The Newsroom Briefing: Will McAvoy vs. Will McAvoy

The Newsroom picked up the pace in it’s second week. It was dramatic, had moments of humor, and some great characters were unwrapped. There were no bullshit speeches or overwritten dialogues this week. Prompted by this good episode, I’ve decided to write Newsroom recaps every week, or until I decide the show isn’t worth the time to write about. Whatever comes first.

This episode was based on events in the world from April 23, 2010.

We all know somebody like this: A person who’s grumpy, unfriendly, and condescending to everyone, but actually quite caring, sensitive, and oddly insecure deep down. You don’t simply “know” a person like this to be in touch with all of their external and internal modes of thought and reason—you know them as well as you know your telephone number. After “News Night 2.0,” Will McAvoy became just as transparent as our telephone numbers.

Will began the episode by internalizing profiles of every person in his office. He learned names, titles, previous accomplishments, and inter-office feuds. He wasn’t shy to share his newfound knowledge either—he began the morning pitch meeting by declaring, “I learned everyone’s names last night,” followed by, “Seriously, I know everyone’s name… I care. I’m nice.” Will then spent the entire meeting by listing facts about people in the room, and calling them by their first and last names with perfect pronunciation. Instead of subtly and gradually having people find out that he had taken the time to learn about them like a normal person would through casual, energizing conversation, he wanted his office to immediately feel indebted to him for his little personal homework assignment. (Aside from employers armed with resumes and freshmen in college researching their new roommate through Facebook stalking, who actually reads P.I profiles on people to get to know them? The impersonal but not really impersonal Will McAvoy does.)

The one person on the planet who knows Will like a telephone number is his ex-girlfriend, and new Executive Producer Mackenzie McHale. After offering Sloan Sabbath (FINALLY we get some Olivia Munn action)—economic analyst at the network—a small nightly segment on the show, Mackenzie dove right into her about how the office views Will. Sloan told her that the general view was that Will is an ass who cheated on Mackenzie three years ago. Mackenzie fiercely defended Will, saying that he has the “heart the size of a Range Rover.” Later, Mackenzie would again try and defend Will in a staff meeting. After nobody would believe her, she hurriedly try to email Will about his perception in the office. That email was accidentally sent to the entire company, exposing some very delicate details about their relationship. The lowdown: Mackenzie actually cheated on Will.

After that bit of gossip was thrown out there, the two sides of Will McAvoy kept popping up. Maggie was convinced she would be fired after botching a pre-interview with the Governor of Arizona’s office, leading to the Governor choosing to take her interview on a new immigration bill to a different network. Mackenzie was adamant that Will wouldn’t fire anyone, which quelled nobody’s fears of a pink slip. Even after Maggie confessed to Will that she was responsible for the Governor, and offered her resignation, Will showed as much compassion as publicly capable from him by saying, “I hope you don’t do that. I hope you stay here.”

But to stay “true” to himself, Will tortured Maggie by driving the mistake into hell on purpose. The Governor was replaced on the show by a prejudiced academic from the University of Phoenix, a red-neck border patrol officer, and a beauty contestant. He kept pressing and pressing for non-answers from this horribly unqualified panel, turning the segment into a laughing-stock. To punish Mackenzie, because, well, in his mind everything is her fault—he defended Sarah Palin’s famous Holland-Norwegian misquote against Mackenzie’s script, just to satisfy his conservative viewers who were driving his ratings. For a show that vowed to “drive ratings through content” and not “content through ratings” while under Mackenzie, this was a blow.

After the show, Mackenzie offered Will an ultimatum: either he was in 100% with he changes for the following show, or out, implying that she would leave. At the end of “News Room 2.0,” Will would find his mind and his heart. He decided that he was “in,” and even did a good deed (before the Karma Police would nab him). In that ill-fated morning pitch meeting, Neal Sampat (played by Dev Patel, who’s spent more time looking annoyed/worried in the background of dialogues than acting), proposed to interview a man who’s drivers license was revoked in his state because it was discovered that he was an ilegal immigrant. He couldn’t drive to his job or pick up his kids from school because of it. In the closing scene, Will called Neal and ordered him to tell the man to take a taxi to for his job and kids—Will would foot the bill. Neal insisted on posting the act of charity to Will’s personal blog, but Will wanted the whole thing to be done anonymously.

In “News Room 2.0” we were introduced to a man who gloats and frustrates others for the wrong reasons, but does the right things in secrecy. He hides behind his veil of arrogance, while inside he’s exactly the man Mackenzie wanted everyone to think he is—he just doesn’t want everyone to think that way just yet.

Will told Mackenzie his decision and Neal his orders over the phone. He had memorized Neal’s personal telephone number from the profiles. Will learned about his co-workers, and we learned about Will. Whether his co-workers will get to know the real Will is a different story for a different newsroom.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Deron Williams Would Be An Idiot To Turn Down the Nets

Tomorrow, Deron Williams will be meeting with representatives from both the Brooklyn Nets and the Dallas Mavericks. Today, he became the biggest free agent in basketball, but one who’s limited his options. Does he return home to Dallas and compete for a championship next season? Or does he stay in Brooklyn, seize the basketball business opportunity of the decade, and help build the Nets into a legitimate threat in the Eastern conference? Let’s hash out a few myths and facts for Deron as he wavers between the red and blue pill.

MYTH #1: He can win a championship in Dallas
In tandem with Deron’s ties to home, the biggest factor that’s seemingly sealing his move to Dallas is the Maverick’s perceived ability to win championships. Deron has repeatedly said that he wants to sign with a team that’s going to compete immediately. He’s 28 years old, and for any athlete, it’s a mystery what your body will do when you turn 30. He needs to win now. With Mark Cuban as his owner, he’d be in bed with a man who’s willing to bend and break the cap to contend, and Rick Carlisle, a championship winning coach.

But what can the Mavericks seriously offer Deron? They have Dirk Nowitzki, who lead the Mavericks to a championship two seasons ago after finally saying, “This might be my last chance to win it all. I don’t want to be the Charles Barkely of my generation. Eat my jump-shot, Miami Heat.” Nowitzki’s 34 years old, is getting worse at rebounding (how a 7 footer only grabs 6.8 rebounds a game is fraudulent), and may not have that burning desire to grab a 2nd title. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: he’s still good for an efficient 20-25 points a game, and could maintain that level for years with Williams passing him the ball.

Is there anything else around Nowitzki? Jason Terry, Delonte West, and Ian Mahinmi are free agents, either Brendan Haywood or Shawn Marion will need to be amnestied to make room for Deron’s contract, and there’s a team option on Vince Carter. If Deron were to join the Mavericks, based on salary cap-decisions, he’d be surrounded by, most notably: Nowitzki, Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham, and Brandan Wright. They’d be about $7 million under the cap after that, but Jason Kidd said he’d join Deron wherever. The two are a package deal. If Kidd takes a massive pay-cut and accepts $3 million, then the Mavericks could fill out their rotation with either West or Mahinmi. Deron’s “championship” starting 5 would be: himself, Jones, Marion, Nowitzki, and Mahinmi (assuming he signs over West). That makes them challengers for… the 5th best team in the West, fighting alongside Chris Paul and the Clippers for that distinction. That’s championship pedigree right there.

MYTH #2: The Nets are a lame franchise
I’ve discussed at great-length why the Nets are actually one of the coolest franchises in the NBA right now, despite what NBA fans would say. Here’s an abbreviated version of my argument: The Nets are now residing in the hippest place in the United States, as well as this country’s 4th largest city (pretending that Brooklyn was never annexed by New York City). They’ve seized upon hip-hop branding principles, making the logo fashionable and their apparel suitable for streetwear shops in SoHo. Whereas Manhattan and the New York Knicks are symbolic of the old, established powers of today, the Brooklyn Nets are a young, exciting, trendy team. Untold love and marketing opportunities await.

MYTH #3: Dwight Howard will not be a Net
Apparently, Deron won’t sign with the Nets unless Dwight Howard will be in uniform with him. Last night, Chris Broussard reported for the billionth time, that Dwight Howard requested a trade to the Nets for the billionth time. Deron’s impending free agency and Dwight’s demands are timed perfectly. Both will be a Net this time next week, even though I’m not taking Chris Broussard AKA the TMZ of Sports Reporting for anything. Even though Dwight did sign that ridiculous I Promise To Stay With The Magic One More Year contract at the trade deadline, that piece of paper matters very little. In the NBA, players always get what they want, and the Magic would be insane to hold onto him. Best case, he stays and walks after 2013. Worst case, he poisons the team with his irrational behavior next season—why not get something in return while they still can? Reality: he’s a head case, and the Magic are tired of being held hostage. The Packers got tired of Brett Favre. The Nuggets got tired of Carmelo Anthony. Today, the Magic get tired of Dwight.

FACT #1: Agents run this league
When it comes to taking the money over the better team, agents will always steer their clients to the most money on the table. The Nets can offer Deron a full year and $25 million more than the Mavericks can. We’ve already debunked that the Mavericks can contend for anything significant next season, but even if that perception is still in place, it won’t matter. People will point to LeBron, Wade, and Bosh’s decision to take pay-cuts to join forces and say, “Deron’s the same way. He wants to win like those guys. Money isn’t an option.” Well, money means a lot to those agents who take commission checks, and guess what? LeBron, Wade, and Bosh all share the same agent. Their agent, Henry Thomas, is collecting a commission off a total of $300 million in combined contracts for the three. I’m sure he was okay with their pay-cuts. Deron will follow the money.

FACT #2: The Nets will contend for more than the Mavericks will next season
They’re certainly in a better position to. By adding Dwight Howard, and then Deron Williams, they maybe become the 2nd or 3rd best team in the Eastern conference. If the Magic finished 6th last season, then the Nets can finish above them, the Boston Celtics (old, old, old, and old), the Atlanta Hawks (a team that will never make the leap), and maybe the Chicago Bulls (in flux with Derrick Rose injured) or the Indiana Pacers (now Larry Bird-less). The Heat have two big weaknesses: their ability to guard elite point guards, and their defense in the post. A team with one of the three best point guards in basketball and the best real center in the game could give the Heat some trouble.

FACT #3: Beyonce will be courtside to your games. Beyonce, Jay-Z, AND Blue Ivy! Maybe even Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West. Jay-Z is totally ready to step into that Jack Nicholson role, and Kanye’s the next Spike Lee of fans.

Deron the choice is yours. Do you really want to play for a pretender in Dallas and have old “friends” hit you up for money and tickets back home? (I’m guessing there’s a reason why he doesn’t live there in the offseason. His “home.”) Or do you want to play for the next coolest thing in the NBA with Dwight Howard and make an extra $25 million in the process? The Decision sounds easy enough to me. But what do I know? It’s not my life.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Breakdown: Spain vs. Italy Euro 2012 Final Preview

Here’s the first article from contributor Greg Visone.

Historically speaking, this is probably the best Euro Final matchup we could’ve asked for. This is only the fourth time that the Final of the European Championship is a rematch between teams that met earlier in the competition (the other three: Soviet Union v The Netherlands in Euro 88, Czech Republic v Germany in Euro 96 & Portugal v Greece in Euro 2004). There is, however, a lot more history to Spain-Italy than the 1-1 draw we saw earlier this month in Group C action.

Spain and Italy have played each other thirty times, with Italy having a marginally better overall record, boasting a 10-12-8 record (win-draw-loss) against La Roja. The record, however, does not show the whole story. These two countries have played each other five times in major competitions. At the 1934 World Cup, hosts Italy defeated Spain 1-0 in their quarterfinal replay en route to winning their first ever World Cup.

The two teams would not play each other in a major tournament for nearly fifty years, until they were drawn together in Group B at Euro 1980, another tournament hosted by the Italians. They drew 0-0 in their first group stage match, with Italy finishing second in the group and Spain last. Italy went on to finish fourth in the competition.

At Euro 88, Italy defeated Spain 1-0 in their Group A match. Much like Euro 1980, Italy would advance from the group stage at the expense of Spain. Italy also went on to defeat Spain 2-1 in their 1994 World Cup quarterfinal match, with Italy’s Roberto Baggio winning it in the 88th minute for the Italians at Foxboro. Italy would go on to lose the World Cup Final on penalties against Brazil, with star man Roberto Baggio missing the ultimate penalty at the Rose Bowl.

Spain would finally get a leg-up in this rivalry with a win over the Italians at Euro 2008, when they won their quarterfinal matchup on penalties. Spain would go on to win the tournament, hoisting their first major trophy since they won Euro 1964 on home soil.

Now that we have the history of this matchup out of the way, we can finally focus on how the two teams might focus tactically against each other in the Final.

Spanish coach Vincente Del Bosque isn’t going to change his tactics or lineup just because it’s the Final. The thing about this Spain side that I love is that they will not deviate from their style of play for any opponent. They will go into this match with their thought process being “We are Spain, we’re gonna pass you to death, and eventually pass it right into the net. You know what we’re gonna do, now try and stop it.” That is the mindset of a side that’s won the last two major tournaments they’ve competed in (as much as I’d love to count the Confederations Cup, I won’t do it because it’d be wrong).

For the most part, Spain’s lineup will be a formality: Casillas in goal, with Pique, Sergio Ramos, Arbeloa, and Alba at the back four; Busquets, Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, David Silva are going to play straight across the midfield. What will be interesting to see is whether or not Spain will have a striker in the starting XI—the first time Spain and Italy faced each other, Spain had midfield maestro Cesc Fábregas line up alongside the other five midfielders, leaving high-quality strikers Fernando “Judas” Torres, Fernando Llorente, and Álvaro Negredo on the bench. This “False 9” formation is what AC Roma invented with Francesco Totti in Fabregas’s role. More recently, Barcelona has employed with a False 9 with Messi up front.

Naturally, Spain dominated possession and passed Italy to death, with their goal coming from a wonderful build-up, as Xavi found Iniesta, who found Silva right outside the box, who in turn put in a perfect through-ball for Fabregas, who passed it right into the back of the net past Gigi Buffon to equalize.

The big problem with their no striker formation was their lack of possession in the final third. They gave the ball away very easily, mostly because each of the six midfielders looked for someone else to finish off the chances. In short: Fabregas is no Totti and certainly no Messi. When striker Fernando Torres came on, his presence enabled them to keep possession more in the final third and made them look more likely to score. He created channels between the center-backs—his movement always had to be marked 1v1, allowing Spain to more effectively overload the final third. Torres’s finishing was poor, however, with him snatching at chances in a very similar fashion to what we’ve seen from him at Chelsea the last year and a half. Despite Torres’s toothless finishing, Spain has won their two games with him starting by a combined score of 5-0. Without him? 3-1 on aggregate.

Del Bosque hasn’t started Torres in the knockout stage, so don’t expect any changes. Either Negredo or Fabregas will occupy that False 9 role. Spain have enough quality midfielders to be able to play the way they’d like to in this Final. Yes, they’ll have to bring on a striker eventually, but they’re going play very cautious and try to put themselves in a position to win the last half-hour of the match. They’re going to focus on keeping possession the way that they have the last half-decade. It’s what got them to this date with history. They’re looking to become the first country to win three consecutive major tournaments, and they’re one win away from doing just that. Now is no time to deviate from their strategy.

While Italy has yet to go behind at any stage, they’ve not been very convincing overall. They’ve done just enough at every stage to get through, which, at the end of the day, is all that really matters. They started off the tournament with two draws against Spain and Croatia, which had them needing to defeat Ireland and have Spain defeat Croatia for them to go through, in addition to a bunch of whacky scenarios because of the Euro 2012 Group Stage tiebreakers being very self-contradictory (As a side note, I’d like to make the following request to UEFA: for Euro 2016 in France, please just use goal difference to decide tie-breakers. As much as I loved the chaos you caused, it was just too confusing. I mean, for once, FIFA actually has done something better than you. Think about that). They took the lead early against Ireland, went on to win 2-0, and, thanks to some great goalkeeping by Iker Casillas, got the 1-0 Spain win they needed to advance to the knockout stages.

Italy would not be here if it wasn’t for Spain defeating Croatia. Imagine how Spain would feel if they lost tomorrow. It would have them wishing they’d come to that rumored “gentleman’s agreement” with Croatia to draw 2-2 and assure each side went through and knocked Italy out.

As far as performances have been concerned, Andrea Pirlo, star midfield maestro for Serie A Champions Juventus, has led the Italians from day one. His through-ball to super-sub Antonio Di Natale gave Italy the lead against Spain the first time they met in this tournament (which I’ve referenced far too often in so far in this piece). He then scored a stunning free kick against Croatia to give them lead five minutes before the halftime whistle. His free kick against Ireland in the 35th minute gave Italy the lead against Ireland, as it found the head of AC Milan’s Antonio Cassano. Pirlo sealed the win for Italy in the dying moments as his corner found Mario Balotelli, Italy’s leading scorer in this tournament, as he finished it off in stunning fashion. His cheeky penalty against England is yet another highlight of his tournament performance so far, as he chipped it past and already committed Joe Hart in a show of his pure footballing class. He also made a save on the goal-line off a corner against Germany in the first five minutes, which, if it had gone in, might’ve changed the course of the match from there on out. Barring a calamitous performance against Spain in the Final, he is all-but assured to be declared the best player of the tournament by UEFA when the full-time whistle is blown.

Mario Balotelli’s two goals against Germany saw them through to the Final in Kyiv, but like his first goal of the tournament against Ireland, both goals were the product of beautiful passes, with Cassano evading two defenders before putting in the beautiful cross (which he headed in brilliantly) and the beautiful through-ball by Montolivo to set up the second, which saw Balotelli through on goal behind the chasing German defense, something very uncharacteristic of the pre-tournament favorites.

Italy lined up in a standard 3-5-2 against Spain in the Group C encounter, with Giaccherini and Maggio on the wings of the five-man midfield. The primary means of attack for Italy in this formation was through-balls to Balotelli and Cassano, while trying to disrupt the incredibly talented midfield of Spain. Di Natale went on for an already booked Balotelli in the 56th minute before scoring on the aforementioned through-ball from Pirlo slightly after the hour mark. They also lined up in a 3-5-2 against Croatia, but Pirlo played more of a defensive midfield role.

Since the Ireland match, Italy have lined up in a 4-1-3-2, with Pirlo as a defensive midfielder, playing directly behind Thiago Motta or Montolivo, with Marchiso and De Rossi on the wings. Abate would then come in as a right back, moving Chiellini to left back from his center back role in the 3-5-2, with Barzagli and Bonucci being the center back pairing. I would expect Italy to line up in this formation for the final against Spain. However, because of the success of the 3-5-2 in the opening match, I would not be surprised if Prandelli reverted back to that for the rematch.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

As much as I’d love to see Italy win the Final for the sake of my bet, something tells me that this Spanish team has come too far to lose now. They’re on the brink of becoming the greatest national team side ever by winning three consecutive major international tournaments. To lose now would be as brutal as it gets. That being said, I expect both sides to play cautiously. I’m gonna bet $5 on a 0-0 draw after 90 minutes, which is currently going off at 5/1. I think Spain will either win 1-0 in extra time or seal the win on penalties.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

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