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Baseball or Soccer: Which is More Afraid of the Numbers?

“They hate what they don’t understand.”—Sean “Diddy” Combs

I’ve never been good at math. Or at least that’s the attitude I’ve carried with me since 1st grade. In elementary school, my parents sent me to a tutoring center two times a week. I’d do endless sheets of arithmetic problems for an hour, and then go home and do more. My mental math was on point, but it always took me longer than the rest of the class to “get it.” I needed individual attention, but was often times too ashamed to ask for it. To this day, I still can’t do long division problems.

When you grow up with an affliction towards numbers, you get nervous whenever they’re presented in a decision-making situation. Adding up the change in your pocket at the deli counter isn’t easy. Simple accounting problems are stressful when they shouldn’t be. Deciding whether Mike Trout deserves to be MVP based on something called WAR, or choosing between Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie by comparing Chance Conversion rates equates to rocket science.

Although I’m never excited to do a math problem, I enjoy analyzing sports statistics. In 6th grade I started carrying a Baseball Prospectus in my backpack. I would pour over the annual additions of the mammoth book in my spare time—the book felt as close to the truth about baseball as any analysis could be. Full of advanced baseball statistics and player projections, it felt like the end all be all of the upcoming baseball season. Why even bother with watching games? Basebsall Prospectus already projected them. In my thirst for the truth about baseball, the “outsider’s” knowledge and perspective found in the Baseball Prospectus books felt indisputable, and it was all coming from guys who had never been on a scouting trip.

I believe there are plenty of sports fans and writers out there who take their “I’m bad at math” attitude and flip it into a dismissal of baseball’s sabermetrics, and soccer’s opta statistics. People are just afraid of the numbers.

Sabermetrics, which is a term derived from SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), have endured a decade-long battle for acceptance in baseball’s mainstream consciousness, starting with their grand introduction through Michael Lewis’ 2003 bestseller Moneyball. (Not forgetting the two decades of work Bill James did before Moneyball was even drafted though.) Over the years, more telling statistics rooted in sabermetrics such as On Base Percentage (OBP) and On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) made their way into box scores and programs. These statistics are easy for any fan to understand and calculate, but still give more insight into a player’s performance than just batting average and home runs. More complicated sabermetrics were left for Baseball Prospectus books and blogs.

The crossing over of sabermetrics into the sporting mainstream peaked with a movie adaptation of Moneyball, and finally hit SportsCenter through the debate over the 2012 American League MVP award.

The 2012 AL MVP came down to two candidates: Los Angeles Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout, and Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Through no fault of their own, each player symbolically represented two different schools of thought in baseball—two schools which were infamously pitted against each other in Lewis’ Moneyball.

Trout or Cabrera: Who should’ve won MVP?

In one corner were “old school” baseball traditionalists. These writers and fans believed that Cabrera was the natural choice for MVP, because in 2012, he was the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to lead the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. That made him the first Triple Crown winner in over four decades, and in old school circles, a deserving MVP. He was the best player on a playoff team (Trout’s Angels failed to make the playoffs, despite only winning one game less than Cabrera’s Tigers), and achieved a season of historical proportions.

Across the debate were the nerds. Baseball’s statistical revolution, popularized by Moneyball, had revealed a bevy of telling metrics to analyze players with. The statistic at the center of the argument for Trout was Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is a calculation for how many more wins a player contributed to his team than a “replacement level” player would’ve. According to FanGraphs, Trout posted a 10 WAR (the highest WAR by a center fielder since Willie Mays in 1964), meaning he was worth 10 more wins to the Angels than say, the Baltimore Orioles’ Mark Reynolds, who posted a WAR close to zero. Cabrera’s 6.9 WAR lagged behind both Trout and New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who’s 7.8 WAR was good for second. Much was made of Trout’s more complete impact compared to Cabrera. Trout stole 45 bases while Cabrera stole 4, and Trout’s fielding was regarded by observers and statisticians to be far superior to Cabrera’s. Cabrera may have been a better pure hitter in 2012, but Trout’s base running and fielding put him over the top.

Through a rounded statistical argument, it’s clear that Trout was a player overall player than Cabrera in 2012. But for many writers and fans, the debate started and ended with Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown win. The Triple Crown has been a distinction that’s become shrouded in mysticism and improbability. The likes of Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr.—the preeminent hitters of my generation—have all failed to win the Triple Crown. Although there’s no physical trophy for the Triple Crown, it’s an “award” based on three statistics that mean less in a world of sabermetrics, and it’s still guarded in tradition, nostalgia, and Cracker Jack boxes. Much of American baseball’s popularity and interest comes from its history, record books, and old-time lore. The Triple Crown is a part of that, and for it—for baseball’s past—to be defended as a significant part of today’s game, Cabrera had to win the MVP. He ended up garnering 22 of the 28 first-place votes from the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. Trout got the remaining six.

“Call me old-fashioned but, if you win the Triple Crown and lead your team to the playoffs, you’re probably going to get my MVP vote.” —USA Today writer Jorge L. Ortiz

Besides, who the hell knows how to calculate WAR anyway? FanGraphs gives a fairly simple explanation of the statistic and how it’s calculated, but still—anytime you wander into unfamiliar and potentially complicated territory populated by guys like Nate Silver (the statistician who perfectly predicted the 2012 Presidential Election state-by-state) you’re going to be intimidated and hesitant to accept something new and different.

When the traditional box score statistics of batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs, and stolen bases are being challenged, marginalized, and perhaps overtaken by something so superficially convoluted as WAR and a whole host of other advanced metrics, writers and fans who didn’t grow up with these new statistics are going be resistant to adaptation. They’re scared of the numbers because they don’t fully understand them, and as seedy old writers, they can’t be bothered to change. These are writers who are covering a sport that didn’t implement instant replay for umpires until 2008, despite the NFL using it since 1986, and the technology for it existing since the 1960s. The league and its media are the furthest thing from progressive. Yet the is future covered in data, which can be difficult to sort through if you’re not inclined to embrace something you don’t fully understand.

The same reluctance to fully embrace advance statistics in baseball is currently being played out in professional soccer. Up until a few years ago, there were exactly five ways to quantify a player’s performance on the pitch. Goalies were judged by their saves and clean sheets, defenders by their tackles and clean sheets, and midfielders and forwards by their goals and assists. With only so many goals, assists, and tackles happening per match, it was difficult to gauge a player’s value. How could a player like Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso, who plays in a deep-lying midfield role and doesn’t make many tackles, goals, or assists, have his impact quantified? There was no statistic for controlling the tempo of the midfield.

In the past five years, that’s changed. Opta, a sports data company founded in 1996, has seen its visibility skyrocket as access to their information has become more public. They track every movement in a match to sort out dozens of different statistics for players. They have an iPhone app so fans can observe Opta’s data, a website so fans can dig deeper into the data, and a Twitter account so fans can see the most preeminent data from match-day.

Now, stats like saves, tackles, clean sheets, goals, and assists no longer make up the entire profile of a player or club—they’re just parts of a bigger, more contextualized picture. EPLIndex.com gives subscribers access to 11 different types of statistics with further statistics within those types. For example, the statistics under the “Attacking” category are much more than goals and assists. Assists are cute, but they’re the RBI of soccer—it’s a statistic that’s dependent upon another player. They’re not an independent reflection of an individual player’s performance. A good pass into the right area must be made for an assist to be possible, but that pass is still dependent on another player to finish the movement and score the goal, and for the passer to get the assist. Why bother with assists when Attacking statistics like Chances Created and Clear Cut Chances Created truly measure the creativity of a player? Those two metrics give credit to the attacker for creating the chance even if the player on the other end of the pass doesn’t convert for a goal.

And is it enough to simply say that the Golden Boot winner is the best striker? What if it takes that striker takes an inefficient number of shots to score? According to EPLIndex’s database on April 12th, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez leads the English Premier League with 22 goals this season. It took him a league-leading 130 shots to get there, putting his Chance Conversion rate at 17% and Shot Accuracy at 48%. Meanwhile, Manchester United’s Robin van Persie has scored 20 goals, but only on 94 shots for a Chance Conversion rate of 20% and Shot Accuracy of 54%. While the goal count implies that Luis Suarez is the better striker, a more in-depth look at the opta statistics shows that van Persie’s is a more efficient, clinical striker.

When I first read Moneyball, it wasn’t the characters, stories, business methods, or introduction of sabermetrics that grabbed my attention. It was the notion of objective vs. subjective thinking in situations where it was possible to think objectively. There’s no objective way to discuss how good a hip-hop album is—your ears either like it or they don’t. It’s personal taste. But when it comes to sports, observing a player isn’t enough when objective statistics exist.

Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen may not win plaudits for his aesthetic play. Critics say he’s too small to be useful defensively, and he doesn’t to pass the ball forward enough to contribute to the attack. During any one of his matches this past season, it’d be easy to say that he had a bad game, because he doesn’t make the unlocking passes or the grinding tackles. He doesn’t catch the eye. But his statistics show that he’s 3rd in the EPL in Minutes Per Possessions Won, while boasting a 90% Pass Accuracy with 30% of his passes going forward. The eye doesn’t tell the whole story.

Much of the aversion to opta statistics by soccer fans and writers is due to an incorrect notion of the phrase “Moneyball” and what it means. Real Moneyball is when players within a market find inefficiencies in that market and exploit them for gain. In the book Moneyball, the Oakland Athletics, led by General Manager Billy Beane, saw that college prospects and fringe players who had good OBPs weren’t being valued as highly, so they exploited those two areas (among many others) to field a winning ball club.

When Liverpool were taken over by Fenway Sports Group (FSG), they were labeled by the media as soccer’s new Moneyball club. After all, FSG also owns the Boston Red Sox, who had won two World Series titles during General Manager Theo Epstein’s tenure. Epstein, a Yale University graduate, was known in baseball circles as someone in tune with sabermetrics and the ideals of Moneyball. FSG were seen as the owners to bring a Moneyball philosophy to Liverpool.

Shortly after buying the club in fall 2010, FSG appointed Damien Comolli as their Director of Football Strategy. In 2011, he signed Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, and Stewart Downing for over £100 million in transfer fees. Except for Adam and Downing, all of Comolli’s signings were under 23 years old—such a tremendous outlay of cash for young players raised a few eyebrows, especially the respective £35 million and £20 million fees for Carroll and Henderson (Carroll’s was the largest figure ever paid for a British player).

Moneyball Man Damien Comolli

Comolli’s new class of signings intensified Liverpool’s Moneyball label. There were two strands of logic behind the signings that connected them to Moneyball, albeit incorrectly. The first was the signing of young players for high fees in the hope that over the long-term, the lower wages and high performance of the players as they entered their prime would justify the price tag. Comolli signed Carroll, Suarez, and Henderson to be at the club (hopefully) for the next decade, and over a period of time thanks to debt amortization, those transfer fees would be seen as appropriate. Comolli was paying the price for future performance. He was treating his signings like a stock, buying early for a big payout down the road.

The second idea was the implementation of opta statistics to determine ideal transfer targets. In previous years, Liverpool had struggled to create goal-scoring opportunities. The signings of Henderson, Adam, and Downing were supposed to rectify Liverpool’s offensive woes. All three midfielders were in the Top 12 of the EPL’s Chance Creators from the previous season, and were all viewed as excellent passers and crossers of the ball. Their crossing, combined with Carroll’s outstanding heading ability (46% of his goals were headers—the second highest proportion in the EPL that year), and Luis Suarez’s dual threat as a creator and goal scorer should’ve made for an attacking juggernaut.

Although Comolli was exploiting exactly zero inefficiencies in the transfer market (promising young players and creative midfielders are always in consistently high demand. I’m not sure they’ve ever been out of favor), it was seen as a Moneyball approach, because he used financial techniques and opta statistics to decide on his signings. Writer Joe Hall for the popular website Sabotage Times wrote an article in April 2012 titled “Damien Comolli: Here’s Why The Moneyball Philosophy Was Never Going To Work At Liverpool.” It’s perhaps the finest example of the misunderstanding of Moneyball. He speaks on the film more than the book, and writes, “Football, however, is a vastly different sport to baseball and the sport is still some distance away from fully embracing the “moneyball method…to what extent can this model, of recruiting and deploying players based solely on statistical data, be applied to football?” (At that point in the article, I lit myself on fire.)

Through a misinterpretation of Moneyball‘s ideals, Moneyball suddenly meant using statistics to build a team—a gross oversimplification to say the least. In the case of the Oakland A’s, an undervaluation of certain statistical categories was the market inefficiency they observed. Because of that, statistics and Moneyball were lumped together. In a Bizarro Baseball World, that inefficiency could be quality scouting in a market dominated by only statistical analysis, but the principles of Moneyball would be the same. They’d still be exploiting an undervalued area for their benefit. Comolli did no such thing.

The Moneyball headline was further perpetuated when none other than Billy Beane sang his praises for Comolli’s work at Liverpool. In an interview with The Daily Mirror, Beane spoke about his friendship with Comolli, and defended the signings of Carroll, Henderson, and Co. With Mr. Moneyball himself publicly siding with Comolli, Liverpool was forever stamped as the Moneyball Club—a team built on statistics and clever accounting.

Comolli was fired seven months after the Beane interview. The season following his £100 million spending spree, Liverpool continued to struggle in front of goal, and languished to an 8th place finish. Comolli was lambasted for spending so drunkenly and failing to improve the squad, and soccer fans the world over instantly become skeptical of opta statistics. As it turns out, Carroll, Henderson, Downing, Adam, and Suarez, despite all of their previous metrics pointing to a new team full of creativity and goal-scoring ability, didn’t fit together tactically. The Chances Created statistic is useful, but unless the players are put in proper position tactically, they won’t be able to create. The supposed Moneyball Club built on numbers was undressed by tactical naiveté. The eye actually told more of the story than Liverpool paid attention to.

“You want to make sure you are getting more value than you are paying.”—Billy Beane on Comolli’s signings for Liverpool

Those who were initially skeptical of Comolli’s methods were vindicated. Don’t leave a number cruncher to do a football man’s job. Those who had admired Comolli (myself included) were left without a good answer—only tactical excuses. As was the case in baseball, soccer is now struggling to bring credibility to their own statistical revolution, because of the one-off failure of Liverpool’s falsely identified Moneyball Experiment.

In actuality, every EPL club uses some form of opta statistics and advanced data tracking to assess themselves and their transfer targets. They all employ statisticians and data analysts, but those departments are less visible than the one Comolli ran at Liverpool. Last summer, defending EPL Champions Manchester City open sourced all of their opta data from the previous season. Liverpool weren’t the only club to use opta statistics to build their squad—the title-winners were too, along with the other 18 clubs. On Opta’s website, they list the 122 soccer and rugby clubs they work with, including Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, the MLS, the Italian and Dutch soccer federations, and all of the United Kingdom leagues.

In the media and in our own conversations, there’s been extreme deference to statistics in both baseball and soccer. Both are old games tied to the cultures and histories of the United States and Europe. Both have been analyzed using only a handful of statistics and subjective observation. Both are two decades too late in their current implementation of instant replay. Both are controlled by an old guard—soccer by FIFA’s fossils in Zurich, and baseball by the Writer’s Association’s nostalgic hacks.

Many of the fans of each sport grew up looking at the same statistics: goals and assists, home runs and RBIs. Progressive thinking and new ways to evaluate players were always going to be held back in two old timer’s games, but a breakthrough is inevitable. The 2012 AL MVP discussion brought attention to WAR and the logic behind it—soon enough, we’ll be seeing WAR on baseball cards and in programs. Although Comolli’s Liverpool failed, the negative perception it gave opta statistics can only last for so long, especially as successful clubs like Manchester City develop their public databases, and websites like EPLIndex and WhoScored? rise in viewership.

Nobody ever won an argument in a bar by opening up EPLIndex’s database and running through Joe Allen’s possession stats. It’s easier to yell “he’s crap” and move on. Listing the WAR and UZR of baseball players never decided a water cooler debate at work. Triple Crown numbers are more familiar. I prefer to let the WAR and opta discussion play out in the one place they actually matter: the field. It’s harder to fear the numbers when they mean wins and losses.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

English Premier League Preview: This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race

In a decade, we’ll look back on last season in English football and think, “Right there: that’s when it all went mad.” The madness was spawned by Manchester City, who spent nearly £1 billion in four years to grab the English Premier League title—their first since 1968. Chelsea ended up claiming their first Champions League trophy in the Abramovic Era, despite fielding arguably their worst, albeit it most expensive team, in recent memory. The Blues and the Baby Blues won the biggest trophies in club football last year, all through the might of the all-powerful pound. The astute managing of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United wasn’t enough, and the stingy, yet measured Wengernomics of Arsenal couldn’t mount a serious challenge. Cash ruled everything.

The till hasn’t been emptied either. Chelsea have gone out and spent £80 million this summer, the crown jewel being Belgian attacking ace Eden Hazard. Manchester City only bought one player before splurging only £30 million on five players on Deadline Day. After all of their spending in previous years, nobody—except the always unsatisfied Roberto Mancini—is exactly mourning over City’s slightly tighter belt. United, despite the £340 million in debts laid upon them by the Glazer family, have written checks to secure Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie. (It seems like they can live off of that £80 million Ronaldo fee forever.) Out of all of the clubs in the EPL, those three have the only realistic shots at winning the title, simply because they’ve outspent the rest of the pack.

The next tier of EPL clubs are now left trying to catch up. Arsenal had their best two players poached this summer, Tottenham lost star midfielders Luka Modric and Rafel Van der Vaart, and Liverpool remain unable to attract a big-name signing from across the continent. These clubs have, however, made an effort to reload. Arsenal brought in strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud to fill the scoring void left by RVP. Tottenham secured a permanent move for 17 goal hitman Emmanuel Adebayor, hulking midfielder Moussa Dembele, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson, and American striker Clint Dempsey. Liverpool ousted four borderline Starting XI players and replaced them with three surefire starters in Joe Allen, Fabio Borini and Nuri Sahin, and the first quick, tricky wing threat the club has had since Yossi Benayoun in Oussama Assaidi. (The ghost of Ryan Babel still haunts the Anfield wings too.)

Looks like an arms race to me.

Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool all know that they can’t compete with City, United and Chelsea. They can’t compete financially, because they’re short of pounds, and they lack the pull to sign the best talent from around Europe. There’s a reason why Hazard chose only between City and Chelsea. There’s a reason why RVP wanted out of Arsenal, and chose between only United and City. A decade ago, Arsenal and Liverpool might have been in the thick for Hazard, and RVP surely wouldn’t have traded shades of red. Players know the ambitions and possibilites of clubs just as much as management does, and the gap between the new “Big Three” of City, United, and Chelsea—the only three teams while realistic title aspirations—and everyone else is massive. Not only spending wise, but in terms of squad depth too. Sergio Aguero, City’s leading scorer last season, is out for a few weeks, but they have £70 million worth of striker options in Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, and Carlos Tevez to provide cover. Wayne Rooney is out for a month now for United, but no biggie—they’ve got RVP.

The gap in talent and spending has been properly reflected in the league table. In 2011-2012, Arsenal finished third behind behind the two Manchester clubs (both finished tied at 89 points), and they were still 19 points off the pace. It was the largest gap between the 1st and 2nd highest points totals since 2005, when Chelsea won the league 12 points clear of everyone.

That’s why this summer, clubs are trying to load up just to fight another season. Without Champions League football, you’re doomed to the scraps of the transfer market, and have no possibility of making the leap to catch the Big Three. Liverpool have agreed to pay nearly £5 million in total fees just to have Sahin on loan from Real Madrid this year, because they know that they need to stock up on all the guns they can get their hands on before they run out of shots to take. Tottenham decided find a manageable, but high figure between within budget limitations to come close to Adebayor’s previous £175,000 per week salary to complete his transfer from City. They’ve even taken former Liverpool targets Sigurðsson and Dempsey away from Anfield by spending a little more, seemingly just to keep them away from the competition. The Big Three is loading up for a fight at the top, and the rest are just battening down the hatches to fight out the storm and survive.

For those other clubs, that golden sky at the end of the storm are UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FPP) restrictions. These clubs know that they’re just living year to year until FPP starts wielding a commanding influence over spending. UEFA will enforce FPP starting in 2013-2014, meaning teams that compete in UEFA competitions (Champions League and the Europa League) must break even on their balance sheet, or face consequences. Even in that 2013 year though, a deviation of £35 million will still be allowed.

Liverpool owner John Henry and Arsene Wenger have already expressed doubts over the effectiveness of FPP. Given the overall popularity of the sport and the still growing business of it all (no league or country has had the kind of new stadium boom that spearheaded the MLB, NBA and NFL to the top. Also, nobody has figured out how to maximize television and internet profits yet either, which is scary. There’s still billions to be made out there.), Henry’s states before that “clubs seem to be ignoring UEFA’s rules, which may be porous enough to enable clubs to say that the trend of huge losses is positive and therefore be exempt from any meaningful sanctions.” Wenger added that clubs aren’t doing enough now to cut wage bills in time for 2013: “I cannot see it when the wage bill is bigger than the turnover. Frankly, that cannot happen in one year.” Basically, clubs will continue to give FPP the finger until UEFA decides to grow some balls and take real action.

But only clubs that participate in UEFA’s competitions would be subject to FPP—it wouldn’t stop another Man City from being born. Any billionaire can still take a mid-table side, pump hundreds of millions into the squad, and turn them into a juggernaut. While FPP has the potential to curb spending for the current big clubs, it does nothing to account for any future giants.

So outside of the Big Three and Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, and for now, Newcastle, what chance do the other 13 clubs have in the EPL? They have no hope of even nabbing a Europa League spot, and for the clubs that are good enough to not be in relegation danger, the only real joys come out of the occasional upset win. Given the upgrades some teams have made this year, however, those upsets might be plentiful. Sunderland have spent nearly £30 million on Louis Saha, Steven Fletcher, and Adam Johnson: two proven EPL strikers and a City misfit who can be one of the best wingers in the league on his day. Swansea City have flipped the Joe Allen and Brendan Rodgers fees into Michu, Ki Sung-Yueng, Kyle Bartley, and Chico. After two weeks, they’ve led the league in scoring. Everton have also had an early ray of hope, with former £15 million signing Marouane Fellaini scoring two goals, including one in a win over United.

With three legitimate title contenders and a whole host of teams that can grab points against them on any given day, this title race and Champions League race should be the tightest in years. Who’s going to deliver the kill shot this year? Well whoever spends the most money, of course.

I might have been a Fall Out Boy fan in my middle school years.

My table prediction:
1) Manchester City
2) Manchester United
3) Chelsea
4) Arsenal
5) Liverpool
6) Newcastle
7) Tottenham
8) Everton
9) Swansea City
10) Sunderland
11) West Bromwich Albion
12) Fulham
13) Aston Villa
14) Stoke City
15) Queens Park Rangers
16) West Ham United
17) Southampton
18) Wigan Athletic
19) Reading
20) Norwich City

Table projections based on TPI values simulated 10,000 times. (The value of teams based on transfer fees as of August 17th were used as input in a predictive model. Data using fees from 8/17-8/31 isn’t available yet.) As you can see in the far right column, there’s no clear cut 3rd or 4th place team. It’s that tight between teams going for the title and teams going for 4th. Via Zach Slaton for Forbes.

Click to enlarge.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Lonely World of the Football “ITK”

I’ve been following European soccer/football/association football/the-British-invented-the-term-soccer-so-whatever since 2008, and last weekend marked my 5th season of English Premier League fandom. Through JLBSportsTV’s videos on football, specifically Liverpool FC, I’ve been engaging in the peripheral world of the sport for five years now. I’ve been actively using Twitter since 2009, and it’s become my one-stop shop for every piece of news I could possibly care about. It allows me to pick and choose what news I want to know. I don’t care about what Rush Limbaugh said yesterday, so I won’t follow a smörgåsbord of political journalists and media outlets. I do, however, care about what company makes Michael Vick’s rib plates, so I’ll follow ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell. Although I’ve been engaged in footy news via Twitter, I’ve never taken the interest that far. I like to keep my timeline clean, and my following count at or around 350.

When I opened up shop with this website, I also opened up a Twitter account for it, @JLBSportsTV49. I’ve used it to spread news, plug the website, and engage in friendly banter with other football fans. To help get the account going, I decided to follow back it’s first 200 followers for their early support. Because this site is built off the strength of the JLBSportsTV YouTube channel, which is almost exclusively viewed by football fans in the UK, most of the early followers were just that. With them on my timeline, I was introduced to an entire world of sports “media” I was previously unaware to: agents and front office personnel who share their “inside” knowledge with clubs about transfers. These ITKs (stands for “in the know) are giving us the scoop on the most surprising transfers of the summer market—a period that’s full of hysteria, anger, and the occasional triumph from fans, all of whom become more concerned with the check books of millionaires and billionaires than their own outstanding credit card bills. Why worry about keeping the lights on when Matt Jarvis is worth £11 million and Nuri Sahin thinks he’s Dwight Howard?

But the Jarvis transfer and the Sahin saga are all facts—stories that have been thoroughly covered by the BBC, The Times, and other reputable news agencies. The Twitter accounts of ITKs, insiders, and agents produce news like this, which is totally baseless, salacious, and fear-mongering to a hyper-sensitive fan.

(A day later, this same “agent” would backtrack on his Evra report, stating that the deal will be done in January. By then, everyone will have forgotten about this false news, and the person behind this Twitter account can continue to rack up followers.)

Every day, it at least one ITK or fake agent gets retweeted onto my timeline, and I block and report them as spam. “Kill them all and keep moving.” The problem is, people genuinely put their faith in them, because it feels good to get wrapped up in transfer talk. Evra to LFC? Time to start a Twitter rant about how that’s a crazy move for LFC. Did Suarez approve it? I should tweet my buddy and get his thoughts. It’s all part of a ploy to make you more social, and when you feel social, you feel good. You’ll probably remember who told you that Evra was going to LFC, and since that news made you feel good, you’ll give a follow to that Twitter account.

It’s clear, however, that these accounts are run by people who aren’t on any club payroll, and are certainly not agents. They spread false rumors, or just report on rumors that the mornings tabloids run, but with an inside twist, an inside ethos based on nothing. So why do people open up Twitter accounts to blatantly lie about transfers? Well to gain Twitter followers of course. But why does a person who hides behind the veil of a name like “agent_153” and an avatar of a pair of hands shaking want to gain followers? Nobody will recognize them in person, and what good does 30,000 followers do you if there’s no sense of personal acknowledgement in the real world? And since there’s no money to be made off Twitter, where’s the personal gain?

These people are undoubtedly lonely, and all they have are their Twitter followers and hundreds of mentions a day to keep them cozy. Last night, @agent_153 and @FootballDave01 said they had received news about Edinson Cavani’s transfer and a striker Arsenal is after, but would only reveal the news if their tweet was retweeted—an obvious and pathetic attempt to gain mentions and followers to fulfill a late-night social desire.

The real-life image of a football ITK is this in my mind: a male in his 30s who is divorced, hates his middle-class job, and needs something to do. People to interact with. A sense of place and accomplishment in a single world. A few statistics back up my image. The average Twitter user is 39 years old, and 57% of all users are between ages 30-44. According to the Office for National Statistics in England, people who are 40-44 years old get divorced the most, and three of the four most divorced age brackets are from people ages 30-44 years old. Additionally, the largest cluster of English Premier League fans are 35-44 years old (or 1 in 3), are overwhelmingly male, and are non-season ticket holders who earn £31,000 a year. That unhappy divorced male 30-something who doesn’t make a ton of money seems to fit the bill.

The profile of people likely masquerading as ITKs, insiders, and agents is clear, and kind of sad. These people have had to create a character of important stature who spreads fake rumors to drum up a following built on lies (kind of like Rick Ross, but way less rich). It can’t get much lower than that in the football world, unless you’re an Arsenal fan this transfer window. And even then, at least you have your fellow fan to lean on—all @agent_153 has to keep him up are 43,000 followers and a timeline full of inventive fiction.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

EPL Recap Week 1: “It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint!”

With the opening weekend of the English Premier League season behind us, it’s worth noting that the League Table is going to look very different in May compared to how it looks now. Yes, some teams got some very good results, while others faltered or disappointed. But it’s worth noting that this is a marathon of a competition, and even if you win big in your opening match, you could still play like shit in your next 37 matches and get relegated. The tortoise always wins over the hare.

There are two perfect quotes in my opinion to describe the Premier League. Both of them come from Brian Clough, who won the Football League with Derby County and Nottingham Forest back in the 1970s. When Clough was being interviewed by the BBC’s John Motson, he was asked what Nottingham Forest’s priorities were for the upcoming season, given that they were defending the European Cup and seen as favorites in contention for the Football League, FA Cup, and League Cup. Clough responded in a rather bold and hilarious manner:

“The Football League, always has been and always will be (our top priority). I would gladly go out of the European Cup, the Football League Cup, and the FA Cup, which we’re not even in yet. I would gladly go out of all of them tomorrow if you could guarantee me winning the Football League.”

John Motson quickly asked why Clough felt so strongly about the Football League being his top priority. Clough responded in a rather harsh manner yet again, but he did so with a lot of insight, making it clear how tough it really is to win a League Championship:

“Because that (the Football League) is the one that you have to have every single aspect of football management about you to win it. You’ve got to have endurance, you’ve got to have talent, you’ve got to be a little bit daft, you’ve got to have strength, psychology, you name it, and of course, you’ve got to have very good players, but it’s a real endurance battle over nine or ten months.”

That’s what makes this competition so special in my opinion. You could have the talent to win against the best teams in the league on your day, but over the course of nine or ten months, all of your results will be averaged out by the strength of your overall playing squad and how you’ve done throughout the season. To win the football league is an accomplishment that isn’t taken lightly. It’s always deserved by the winners. You can’t call it a fluke. Maybe injuries play a part, but it’s the responsibility of the team to keep playing and to ensure that the injuries don’t effect the results too much.

Every week, I’ll be writing a quick recap of the weekend’s games, highlighting the “good,” “bad,” and “ugly” action. We’ve labeled this “Title Contending,” “Mid-Table,” and “Relegation.” Now when teams or players are mentioned under these specifications, it doesn’t mean that they’re title contending or relegation sides, it just means that for that week, their performance was worthy of such a distinction. Although the entire league is a marathon, I’ll be highlighting the, um, jogs that happen every week that ultimately make up the race.

TITLE CONTENDING: Newcastle’s 2-1 win over Spurs sends Premier League the message: “We’re Here to Stay”

Last season, Newcastle floated around the Top Four in spite of making very few high-profile moves a year after selling Andy Carroll for £35m to Liverpool. Many thought they would fade away eventually, and while they didn’t finish Top Four, they stayed around & endured. They’re in a position to push forward from there and maybe make a run into the Top Four. Alas, they were being forgotten by a lot of pundits, with the likes of Spurs and Chelsea being picked to finish above them. With the likes of Demba Ba (16 goals last season) and Papiss Demba Cisse (13 goals in 13 starts last season), this strike force can carry Newscastle far. This huge win against Spurs at home does indeed send the message to the rest of the Premier League’s big dogs that Newcastle is here to stay, and St. James’ Park is a scary place to play.

MID-TABLE: Manchester United struggle at Goodison Park as Everton pulls off a 1-0 stunner on MNF

After losing the Premier League in the final seconds last season against city rivals Manchester City, Manchester United came out with guns blazing in the transfer market, looking to reclaim the top spot in the league and the city. United brought in Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie in the off-season, but it was Everton who started their Premier League campaign with a bang on Monday Night. The Blues dominated the majority of the night, with Marouane Fellaini scoring from a corner in the 57th minute to send Goodison Park into a rapturous roar. It was a deserved victory for Everton, with Robin van Persie’s Manchester United debut being a less-than-stellar performance off the bench.

RELEGATION: Norwich City and QPR each lose 5-0

On Friday, the mood around Fulham FC was one of nervous disposition given Martin Jol’s not-so-shocking admission that Clint Dempsey would not play for Fulham in their season opener against Norwich City and had requested a transfer to Liverpool. Fulham, minus Dempsey, went on to smash Norwich City in their opening match of the season, winning 5-0 at Craven Cottage, as Duff, Petric, Kacaniklic and Sidwell scored the goals in a nightmare debut for Norwich City manager Chris Hughton.

While Chris Hughton’s Norwich City debut was much less than desirable, Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City debut could only be described as a dream start, as his boys went on to crush QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road. If that sounds familiar to you, you’re probably thinking of QPR’s Premier League opener last season, when they lost 4-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers. QPR had the last laugh, however, as they stayed up on the last day of the season, while Bolton were relegated thanks to numerous injury problems and other issues. It’s just a simple yet ever-so-true reminder of the fact that the league is not won and lost in the first week of the season.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

The Passion Of The Lucas

It’s been five years since Lucas Leiva signed for Liverpool from Brazilian club Grêmio. He’s lasted longer at Anfield than most of Liverpool’s current squad, three managers, and an entire ownership group. Brendan Rodgers will be Lucas’s fourth manager in as many years, but through all four of them, he’s been a first-choice option through and through. From Rafa to Rodgers, he’s been one of Liverpool’s most frequent members of the starting XI. He’s won the hearts of Liverpool’s endearing supporters (fans voted him as the Player of the Year in 2011), the trust of management, and the recognition of his country. Lucas is arguably Liverpool’s most important player, if not their most consistent.

It hasn’t always been this way though. Only three years ago, if you asked most of the Liverpool fan base whether the words “Lucas” and “Player of the Year” would ever combine in a sentence, they’d laugh you across the English Channel. Before his breakout 2010 season, Lucas was vilified. In a 2009-2010 season which saw Liverpool—a side that had nearly edged out Manchester United for the Premier League title the year before—crash out of the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, Carling Cup, and out of the Top 4, Lucas was consistently blamed for the team’s poor performances. Rafa got the boot at the end of that season, and there would’ve been cheers across Merseyside if Lucas had too.

I participated in the public bashing of Lucas. On my YouTube channel, I blamed Lucas for everything that had gone wrong tactically. 2009 was the year Xabi Alonso departed for Real Madrid, leaving a gapping hole in midfield. Lucas was inserted to pair with defensive destroyer Javier Mascherano, and Liverpool struggled to score goals. In Rafa’s 4-2-3-1, Lucas and Mascherano were charged with holding down the fort defensively, allowing Steven Gerrard to link up with Fernando Torres up front. I only saw Lucas’s faults. Gerrard was leaving Torres isolated, seemingly to make up for Lucas’s inabilities in midfield. Any time Lucas received the ball, the pass was always either side-to-side, or back to the center back. He seemed nervous on the ball—an unsure dribbler. Or at least that’s all I remember of him—memories that are probably flawed. The Lucas-Mascherano axis proved to lack any eye in the attack, but instead of questioning the tactics of the partnership, I, along with many Liverpool fans, lay the blame at Lucas’s boots. It didn’t matter that he was in the starting XI every match as a 22 year old—fans had already passed judgement on a player before his time.

Alonso was gone, Lucas was in his place, and Lucas wasn’t Alonso. Fans joked that he was the “only Brazilian who couldn’t pass the ball.” Lucas had been signed in 2007 as an attacking, box-to-box midfielder. When the words “attacking,” “midfielder,” and “Brazilian” come to mind, people instantly think of Kaka—the best Brazilian midfielder the past decade. Lucas was no Kaka, no Alonso, and offered nothing going forward. So what was he?

It took Mascherano’s sale the next summer for Lucas to blossom. Although he featured in midfield with a rotating cast of either Raul Meireles, Jay Spearing, Christian Poulsen, or Steven Gerrard—whoever didn’t happen to be injured or ineffective at the time—Lucas was a beacon of light during Hodgson’s pitiful reign, and a straight-up superstar during Dalglish’s return. Lucas certainly got better from the previous season, but he wasn’t playing much differently. Lucas took Mascherano’s role in defensive midfield and made it a position of strength in his departure. Without Mascherano flying all over the park to foil the opposing offense, Lucas filled in, and did the same job with less recklessness and less yellow cards. He lacked Mascherano’s insane desire to fire at least one shot from 30 yards every game, while also possessing an intelligence in the passing game. He would single-handedly steal the ball, hold it, and spray it accurately to a more creative player all on his own. Last November, against an unbeaten Manchester City side, Lucas man-marked David Silva (the league’s most unstoppable creative threat) better than anyone had that season in a 1-1 draw that should’ve gone Liverpool’s way.

In 2009, people didn’t realize that Liverpool was playing with two defensive midfielders, neither of which had the passing ability to make up for Alonso’s loss. Instead of allowing Lucas to play his game, he was bemoaned for not playing Alonso’s. Our need for a scapegoat in a very trying season was filled by Lucas, who was unfairly casted as something he wasn’t. The blame cannot be placed on Rafa, who was simply making due with what he had given Liverpool’s dire financial times, and it cannot be placed on Lucas. Blame for that season can be placed upon Hicks and Gillett for running the club into the ground economically, but blame for the nasty, unwarranted scathing of Lucas lays at my feet, and the feet of many other fans. We unfairly judged Lucas, and all he’s done is go out and become a world-class player and a popular choice for the captain’s armband whenever Gerrard is injured. The mettle and drive of Lucas to prove fans wrong is admirable to say the least, and he’s been rewarded with love.

Fans would do well to learn from Lucas. Liverpool players like Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson have received the bulk of the criticism after their expensive fees netted an 8th place finish last season. Downing didn’t have the gaudy goal or assist numbers one expects of a £20 million player (he finished with an ugly zero in both categories), but he did finish top 5 among all Premiership wingers in “clear cut chances created” and top 3 at Liverpool (among remaining players) in “chances created.” As a team, Liverpool had a very poor chance conversion rate and finished with less goals than Norwich, Blackburn, Fulham, and Everton. Scoring was a team-wide problem, not just a Downing problem. Henderson was shunned out to the right side of midfield where he struggled for most of the season, eventually coming on strong once Lucas and Gerrard got injured, taking a spot centrally—his strongest area. There, he thrived in his role as a poised pivot player and a fine recycler into the attack, never really having the creative freedom he had at Sunderland.

In the case of Downing and Henderson, both have been scapegoated because fans weren’t satisfied on the surface. Eyes can be deceiving. They saw Downing’s lack of goals, assists, and man-beating pace as a “lack of confidence.” The same was said about Henderson’s lack of creativity in midfield, even though he was never tipped tactically to get forward. A “confidence” issue for a young player. (How “young” can Henderson be? He has the most starts of any 22 year old in the Premiership.)

Liverpool fans should learn from their mistakes in the handling of Lucas, and support Downing, Henderson, and the rest of the squad. It just takes a little bit of perspective to turn a “Lucas” into a “Leiva“—into “there’s only one Lucas.” To turn a scapegoat into a GOAT. From jeers to cheers. It’s easy to misjudge players when they’re misplayed, but it’s the Liverpool Way to dig deeper and encourage greatness in whoever wears the Red shirt. The same can be applied to any fan in any sport.

They hate what they don’t understand.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Liverpool In For American Striker Clint Dempsey?

It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but every indication (websites are accidentally leaking links to purchase his jersey, NESN.com accidentally ran a story on the signing; etc) is telling us that he’s signed. Liverpool is probably waiting to unveil Dempsey in conjunction with the start of their US Tour this weekend. A shrewd piece of marketing there. Having his shirts available at the Liverpool-Roma game in Boston will be a big merchandising move for the American striker, and Liverpool. I’ll be at that game, and if Dempsey shirts aren’t available, then I’m gonna flip a shit.

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Your thoughts on the signing?

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Why the John Terry Racism Episode is FAr from over…

Over the weekend, Chelsea Defender John Terry walked out of Westminster magistrates court a free man after chief magistrate Howard Riddle found him not guilty of a “racially aggravated public order offence.” In other words, the judge said that he could not conclusively prove that when JT said the words “fucking black cunt” to Queens Park Rangers Defender Anton Ferdinand, that he was not repeating them back to him sarcastically in response to Anton thinking he heard the words.

In the aftermath of the verdict yesterday, I watched Sky Sports News for quite a while. After the first hour, the way they reported the story made it seem as though the case was over and that John Terry was an innocent man. People on my Twitter timeline, the majority of which are Liverpool fans, thought that the case was over and that John Terry, despite the video evidence, was gonna get away with yet another heinous act.

I’m writing this piece to tell you this: Contrary to popular belief, the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand racism case is not over. The fat lady isn’t singing yet. Quite frankly, she hasn’t even started warming up.

I wasn’t bothered by the not guilty verdict. Having followed the trial, I fully expected him to be found not guilty, because there was no sufficient proof beyond a reasonable doubt that John Terry wasn’t telling the truth as far as his testimony was concerned. Besides, if he was found guilty, the punishment would’ve been in the area of a £2.5k fine—peanuts for a man making £150,000-a-week in wages. Regardless of the verdict, one thing was certain in my mind: John Terry would be charged by The FA after the criminal trial ended. There, he would have to fight against the dreaded legal burden known as “balance of probabilities,” (a burden of proof that’s much, much, much less than a “reasonable doubt,” as Luis Suarez can attest to) and face much greater punishments in the region of a six-match ban and a five-figure fine.

In the first hour of their coverage of the verdict, Sky Sports News interviewed a former FA executive and Anton Ferdinand’s lawyer. Both of them said that the matter was far from over and that the FA now would launch their own investigation to try to figure out what had happened, much like they did in the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra case. The FA even released a statement on their website, where they stated that their own investigation was now underway. For some reason, SSN didn’t show those two interviews again for the rest of the day, nor did they mention the FA statement. Instead, it was back to singing the praises of Brave John Terry, the wrongly defamed former England Captain who can do no wrong.

The former FA Executive and Anton Ferdinand’s lawyer are correct: this matter is far from over. The FA will launch an investigation and, should they simply look at the court evidence, or even the televised footage of the game, will find that there is enough substance to Anton Ferdinand’s statement to charge John Terry with misconduct, having violated Rule E3.

Rule E3, under the sub-heading “General Behavior”, holds the following language in its first point:

“A participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”

As you could see in the TV coverage, John Terry did indeed say “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand. He used those indecent words. Regardless of whether or not he meant what he said, he did say them. That alone merits an FA Charge for the former England Captain.

The sub-heading’s next point specifically covers the use of racial abuse:

In the event of any breach of Rule E 3(1) including a reference to any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability (an “aggravating factor”), a Regulatory Commission shall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, taking into account the following entry points:

For a first offence, a sanction that is double that which the Regulatory Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.

For a second offence, a sanction that is treble that which the Regulatory Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.

Any further such offence(s) shall give rise to consideration of a permanent suspension.

As mentioned above, John Terry did indeed say to Anton Ferdinand “fucking black cunt”. That is a reference to Anton Ferdinand’s race. Regardless of whether not there was intent, John Terry’s actions violated rule E3. He has admitted to saying those words in court. As a result, he should be expecting an FA charge.

In spite of this, however, I’ve received quite a few replies from people on Twitter saying that if the FA charged John Terry, they would be undermining the English Judicial System. I don’t believe this to be true, because of the lowered burden of proof The FA would require for a conviction to be handed out, they would be able to charge Terry and prosecute him under their own jurisdiction in a court independent of the English Justice System.

If you don’t understand that, I’ll give you an example: OJ Simpson, Hall of Fame half-back for the Buffalo Bills of the NFL, was infamously charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. In the criminal trial, OJ Simpson was found not guilty of the murder, thus escaping criminal punishment. OJ, however, was found to be liable for damages in the civil trial. The jury in the civil trial only needed to determine that there was a preponderance of evidence on either side to reach a verdict. That civil trial did not undermine the American Justice system because it took place in a separate court and required a much lower burden of proof to find OJ guilty.

If charged by The FA, the burden of proof John Terry would have to fight against is “balance of probabilities,” a ridiculously low standard which makes it so that if one side is found to be more credible than the other, even by a marginal amount, the court will find in their favor. That was the burden of proof that Suarez had to face when Evra accused him. He was found guilty under “balance of probabilities,” forever branded a racist, in spite of the fact that The FA and Patrice Evra have said that they don’t believe Suarez to be a racist.

I personally believe that the burden of proof in that sort of case is far too low, because it can irreparably harm the reputation of someone with what would be considered a lack of evidence in a criminal court. That being said, Suarez did admit to referring to the color of Patrice Evra’s skin. It is because he admitted to referring to the color of Evra’s skin that he was found guilty of misconduct, thus violating rule E3. The FA acted within their guidelines and ruled as they saw fit. By those guidelines, they got it right.

I no longer argue the Suarez ruling. I’ve accepted it and, while I still have problems with how it was handled, I’ve have moved past it. The one thing I would like, however, is consistency from The FA in the application of their rules. Now is the time to hold John Terry to the same standards and charge him with misconduct, as he has clearly violated the same rules as Suarez. They would not be undermining the English Justice system because they would be holding him to a lower burden of proof than the criminal court.

To top it all off, if they do not charge John Terry for directing the words “fucking black cunt” at a player on the field at one of their own top-flight matches, an act which was caught on camera and broadcast live around the world, they can no longer act as the moral compass of the football world when it comes to racism and bigotry, something which they have taken great pride in over the last decade. Remember the BBC Panorama special about racism and antisemitism at Polish and Ukrainian football matches occurring regularly? If Terry doesn’t get charged, the country would have no right to show that and act as though they’re on a higher moral pedestal than the rest of the world.

If Terry isn’t charged, it allows Liverpool fans such as myself and Justin to scream of a double standard as Luis Suarez, a Uruguayan international with a black grandfather, has been found guilty of violating rule E3; yet John Terry, an England international who has slept with his teammate’s girlfriend, verbally abused Americans at a pub in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and been stripped of the England Captaincy TWICE, has been allowed to walk free. What does that say to the rest of the world, as well as black players in the game today? It certainly doesn’t come as positive that’s for sure.

To quote Will Smith, “I ain’t heard no fat lady!” I hope you haven’t heard one either.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

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