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Global Soccer Update March 2017

This world soccer update focuses on three key competitions:

  • World Cup 2018 Qualifiers
  • UEFA Champions League
  • UEFA Europa League

World Cup 2018 Qualifiers

After an extended winter break the qualifier rounds are restarting this week.

North/Central America has only played two rounds with three of six teams qualifying directly. Costa Rica leads (6) followed by Mexico (4), Panama (4) and Honduras (3). The U.S. is last after two losses which cost Klinsmann his coaching job late last year. They face Honduras in a critical match and a win puts them back in the race, a loss and the prospects of going to Russia will be bleak for the U.S. boys.

In Europe teams are entering match day 5 of 10. There are nine groups with the winners qualifying and the 8 best second place teams going into elimination games. In group B second place Portugal (9) faces third Hungary (7). A Portugal win would likely seal Hungary’s fate. Group E is seeing key showdowns between first place Poland (10) and second Montenegro (7) and third Denmark (6) against fourth Romania (5). Group G features first place Spain (10) against third Israel (9) for what might be Israel’s last chance. Second Italy (10) plays fourth Albania (6). Group H features first place Belgium (12) against second Greece (10) with the winner in great shape to qualify. A similar scenario exists in group I with first place Croatia (10) taking on second Ukraine (8).

South America is entering game day 13 of 18 with the top four qualifying. Brasil safely holds top spot with 27 points, followed by Uruguay (23), Ecuador (20), and Chile (20). Argentina is in fifth (19) which would get them into a play-off with an Asian group team. They are challenged by Columbia (18). Argentina v. Chile is the key game, a loss by Argentina and they will be in trouble.

Africa is playing in five groups with only the group winners qualifying. Teams are entering round three of six. The key game is in group B with leaders Nigeria (6) playing Africa Cup champions Cameroon (2). A Cameroon loss and they are all but eliminated.

In Asia the two groups are half way through. Group A is lead by Iran (11pts) followed by South Korea (10) and Uzbekistan (9). The top two teams qualify directly. Syria (5) is playing Uzbekistan in a last chance game. Group B is much tighter with Saudi Arabia (10), Japan (10), Australia (9) and United Arab Emirates (9) in a tight battle. The key game is Japan vs. UAE.

Oceania teams are playing in two groups of three with the group winners playing a each other for a qualifying opportunity against a North American team. New Zealand is comfortably leading group A while Tahiti and Solomon Islands are tied for top spot in group B.

UEFA Champions League

The quarter finals are set to start April 11 with Dortmund – Monaco, Juventus – Barcelona, Bayern – Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid – Leicester. Who would have thought Leicester to be the only EPL team left. And I believe they have a realistic chance to make the semi with my other picks of Dortmund, Bayern, and Juventus. Yes, I see all three Spanish teams going out.

UEFA Europa League

Quarter finals start April 13 with Ajax-Schalke, Celta Vigo-Genk, Lyon-Besiktas, Anderlecht-Man United. I see Man U. as the clear favourite to win it all.

Enjoy watching any games you can.

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FIFA Expands World Cup To 48 Teams

From FIFA:

“The FIFA Council has unanimously decided in favour of expanding the FIFA World Cup™ to a 48-team competition as of the 2026 edition. World football’s supervisory and strategic body held its third meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 9 and 10 January, and decided on a new tournament format with the 48 national teams split into 16 groups of three. The top two teams from each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage……”

Read the full article on FIFA’s web site: FIFA expands World Cup

There have been many articles about the pros and cons of this already, and everyone will need to decide for themselves. Here are some of the views:

PROS

  • more nations qualify and hence more global engagement in the sport
  • more games on TV for the TV soccer addicts
  • more revenue for FIFA (+20%) leading to more money available for development
  • more exposure for good players from countries that typically don’t qualify
  • more Cinderella story potential

CONS

  • watering down the competition and devaluing the qualification process
  • less meaningful games in the first round, less chance of two top ranked teams meeting in the group stage. With 16 groups the top 16 teams will not meet in group stage, therefore no group of death.
  • Only two games per team in the group stage takes away the “tournament” flavour.
  • Two out of three teams in a group qualifying is 67%, two out of four was 50%. This makes the drama of elimination, especially for top teams, less meaningful.

Like all change, it will take time to adapt to it but eventually, it will become the “new normal”. We have 10 years to get ready!!!!!

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2017 Soccer Calendar

Welcome to 2017. As usual we offer you a comprehensive calendar of major soccer tournaments (finals) for the year. Watch games (with your team if you can) in person, on TV, or on-line and remember: sometimes the youth tournaments offer the purest and most exciting soccer. Also, keep an eye on the game tactics and how the commentators interpret them. Apply it to your team.

January

  • African Cup of Nations (14 Jan – 5 Feb)

May

  • U17 Women Euro (Czech Republic, 2-14 May)
  • U17 Men Euro (Croatia, 3-19 May)
  • U20 World Cup Men (Korea, 20 May – 11 June)
  • Europa League Final (24 May)

June

  • Champions League Final Men (1 June)
  • Champions League Final Women (3 June)
  • U21 Euro Men (Poland, 16 – 30 June)
  • FIFA Confederation Cup (Russia, 17 June – July 2)

July

  • U19 Men Euro (Georgia, 2 – 15 July)
  • Concacaf Gold Cup (USA, 9 – 26 July)
  • Womens Euro 2017 (Netherlands, 16 July – 6 Aug)

August

  • U19 Womens World Cup (Northern Ireland, 8 – 20 Aug)

October

  • U17 Mens World Cup (India, 6 – 28 Oct)

December

  • FIFA Club Championship (UAE, 12 – 17 Dec)

In case you are soccer starved from February to May, remember that Champions League and Europa League knock out rounds are happening, World Cup 2018 Qualifiers will kick in, and soccer leagues all over the world are in the home stretch towards their championships and relegations.

“Soccer is Life” – Enjoy

Coach Tom

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European Soccer Ticket Prices

Living in North America makes it very expensive to watch just about any professional sport live. NHL, NFL, NBA tickets can easily run in the $ 100 plus range. Add to that the fairly expensive food and drink, travel and parking, and an outing for a family of four can easily add up to $ 500. Play-off games demand premium pricing even above this.

Which limits attendance to a special family occasion, to the wealthy, or to businesses. The fact that games are mostly sold out suggests that the model is working for the clubs.

In contrast ticket prices in top European soccer leagues are much lower. Here are the average prices for the top leagues:

  • Spain $ 45 US
  • England $ 40
  • Italy $ 35
  • France $ 31
  • Germany $ 28

Stadiums still offer standing room spots and tickets can be had for as little as $ 12 in Germany.

In addition food prices are reasonable. A sandwich or sausage on a bun can be had for as little as $ 5 and a beer in Germany for $ 4. Quite often the ticket price includes public transportation to the stadium. This means that fans can park outside the congested stadium area, which often is near a city center, and avoid delays in exiting the parking lot after the game is over. In larger cities trains or trams are used at higher than normal frequency, in smaller centers buses.

Why are the prices relatively low? For the most part because there are so many teams, not just in any particular country, but including neighbouring countries, that games still don’t sell out. The low ticket prices mean less revenue for the teams but make games affordable for anyone. As discussed in a previous post European soccer teams generate revenue through club sponsoring and media, much more so than teams in North America. Imagine the Dallas Cowboys having “AT &T” plastered all over their jerseys.

Two different systems, my preference is the European one as it opens sports up to families.

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Soccer Player Development – Then and Now

It could be argued that soccer follows society or that soccer is a trendsetter for society. After reading this article you can judge which comes first as we examine how young soccer players developed traditionally and how they become professionals today.

THEN

When I say then I mean the time up to the end of the 2oth century, to the late 1990s. It was a transition time for children in how they spent their leisure time. Until then sports was a key activity and in Europe, South America, and Africa that meant soccer. Electronic and internet entertainment was gaining popularity and competing for children’s time.

Soccer was played on the street, in parks, in school yard on make shift fields. Often the goals were made using bags, hats, cans as goalposts. Soccer was also played in organized teams and clubs. I would suggest most of the hours were spent outside clubs. In these hours there was no coaching, skills and tactics were learned through necessity, leading to individual creativity. If you wanted to beat someone in a 1 v 1 situation you invented a move, a fake, and creative use of the body. Passing and shooting techniques were acquired through hours of play and fun competitions. I remember spending hours competing with some friends trying to hit the cross bar from various distances. We were fit because we ran for hours every day.

At the club level teams practiced once or twice a week and played a game on the weekend. Coaches were volunteers with no formal coaching training or certification, just knowledge of the sport. The main job was to figure out which youngster to put in which position and what formation to use. Then practice revolved around honing specific skills and team play.

Players who were particularly talented were noticed by their coaches who might suggest to try out for the youth team of the nearest professional or semi-professional club. If accepted you worked your way up through the ranks until you were offered a professional contract, somewhere between the age of 18 and 22.

In this environment individuality, toughness, leadership, and creativity was developed in young athletes. What was missing was an overarching concept at the national, regional, local, and team level.

This led to countries with the most all around talented players dominating the world of soccer – Brazil, Italy, Germany, England, Holland, and Argentina.

NOW

As more options became available for youngsters, the street soccer concept began to fade away. Participating in organized team sports through joining clubs often remained as the only pathway to playing soccer.

This meant that much less time was spent with the ball each day and each week. Consequently all the benefits of this eroded – less skills, less creativity, less individuality, less toughness.

The leading soccer nations started to lose their player advantage and the dominance of the leading countries waned. It is no coincidence that the wealthier countries suffered most and the not so wealthy countries, whose families couldn’t afford technology, started to rise. Their children stilled played street soccer. And so African, Eastern European, Asian, and generally smaller nations started to become competitive.

This did not go unnoticed by the likes of Italy, Germany, Holland, etc. So they developed new visions and strategies. This gave birth to so called centres of excellence or academies, often mandated to be associated with professional clubs.

Today it often looks like this:

  • Nations have an overarching soccer vision and philosophy
  • Training books, coaching courses, practice plans are developed to implement the vision
  • Coaches are trained and paid to deliver the programs
  • Large soccer centers are built including:
    • Residences for players
    • Schools
    • Indoor/Outdoor fields
    • Rehabilitation Centers
    • Transportation
    • Full time employees
  • National/regional scouting programs scout suitable candidates to entice them to join a center, often at the ages of 10 and up.

This means that children are recipients of a huge service machinery. Everything they need to develop soccer skills, tactics, fitness is planned for them, standardized across a nation. Schooling is looked after until graduation and career development options for the post professional years are offered. No surprise, player agents have an easier time as they know where to find talent. Kids are signed to management contracts with agents at ever earlier ages and professional contracts are offered in parallel. Players transfer between teams at ever younger ages for ever larger sums, they become investments in addition to means of building competitive teams.

It is a valid response in the competition for children’s time, it is a way of engaging them.

The positive results are that the pendulum is swinging back and sufficient young soccer players are spending lots of time with the ball. The leading countries are producing talent again and are slowly regaining their dominance on the world stage. Emerging soccer powers such as the United States, Canada (women), Iceland, Belgium have adopted the academy concept and are starting to catch up. Also it is a good thing to have an overarching national vision for how to best play the sport in a particular country. An analogy from business. Decades ago companies competed against each other, now global supply chains compete against each other. Decades ago soccer players competed against each other in club and national competitions. Now soccer philosophies compete.

On the down side this system leaves a lot of disillusioned young adults behind  – most of the academy residents do not become professionals, yet their expectations were higher than those of the street soccer kids of days past. Individualism has been replaced by standardization leading to a certain lack of individual leaders and characters on the field. Like in the rest of society, the ability to use elbows has been replaced by a certain degree of pampering.

WHERE TO?

I believe in the current system of soccer centers and academies driven by overarching visions, philosophies, and implemented by trained coaches. What is needed is to build elements of street soccer into these centers and into clubs to foster, encourage, and promote individuality. Not everything has to come via the cookie cutter method and strict application of prescribed programs and codes of conduct. The clubs and nations that will succeed in the next decades will be the ones that learn how to integrate the concepts of standardization and individualism.

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Global Soccer Update

It is an exciting time of year for soccer as competition fires on all cylinders around the globe. European soccer leagues have shaken off the summer dust and are about 1/3 of the way through their seasons. The North American MLS is in play-offs at the semi-final stage, South American leagues are in full swing or near the end (Brasil).

In Europe the Champions and Europa leagues are more than half way through the group stage and national cup competitions are entering the final knock-out stages.

And FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers are well underway.

With all the activity at the club level FIFA needs to block out certain weeks for it’s competitions. This week is one of them as qualifying picks up across the globe. It’s a good time to review some key facts from around the world of soccer.

European Club Soccer

The fierce competition I predicted in England is happening. Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal are separated by two points, followed by Tottenham and Manchester United. Last year’s surprise champion Leicester is in the middle of the standings.

Bayern is on top of the German Bundesliga, no surprise here. What is surprising is that newcomer RB Leipzig is in second place, tied on points. Recall that Leipzig is part of the Red Bull soccer franchise with Salzburg and New York. Rounding out the top six are further surprise teams Hoffenheim, Berlin, Dortmund (not a surprise) and Cologne.

The usual suspects Real and Barca are sitting atop the Spanish league separated by two points. Villareal (surprise), Atletico, Sevilla and Sociedad round out the top six spots.

In Italy Juventus has a four point lead on Roma with AC Milan one point behind Roma. Milan is celebrating a return to the top after years of mediocrity. Lazio, Atalanta (surprise) and Napoli follow. Inter is in 9th and still struggling.

In France Nice, Monaco and Paris SG are separated by three points, followed by Guincamp, Rennes, and Toulouse (surprises) leaving Lyon and Marseille behind.

All in all the big names are where you’d expect them but some smaller clubs are challenging for top spots.

Americas

The MLS is in the semi-finals. Two Canadian clubs (Toronto and Montreal) will meet in the Eastern final after knocking out NY City FC and New York Red Bulls. In the West Colorado and Seattle will fight for a spot in the final.

In Mexico Club Tijuana sits at the top. With four games to go Palmeiras is leading by six points in Brasil. Estudiantes has a surprising five point lead over Boca Juniors after nine games in Argentina.

Champions League

After four of six group games the following teams have already qualified for the knock out stages:

Arsenal, Paris SG, Atletico, Bayern, and Dortmund. Virtually through are Barcelona, Real, Sevilla, Juventus,and Leicester (surprise). This leaves six spots contested. Again, the usual suspects are present with Leicester trying to repeat last year’s league upset on the big stage.

The Europa league has still too many teams (48) to be worth a review. Once the field gets down to the final 16 we’ll review it.

World Cup Qualifying

Europe is entering the second half of group play. So far four teams have won their first three games – Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and Greece. Already struggling are the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, and Turkey. Surprise teams at or near the top of their groups are Azerbajan, Montenegro, Lithuania.

South America is entering match day 11 of 18. Brazil and Uruguay are sitting on top with 21 and 20 points respectively. The next five teams are separated by just two points and will determine the last four qualifiers. The mild surprise is that Peru seems out of the running.

North and Central America are just starting the final group match with six teams competing for four spots.

Africa is playing the second game in group stage (five groups) and no conclusions can be drawn yet.

Asia is entering match day five of two groups. In group A Iran, Uzbekistan and Korea Republic are at the top while Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan lead group B. No surprises.

So enjoy watching the competitions wherever you are and whenever you can.

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Soccer Salaries In Europe

The big number is $ 15 Billion. That is the total salary spent by the 596 first division (tier) clubs of all 54 UEFA member countries in 2015. In 1996 the total was $ 2 Billion, making the increase 650% over 20 years.

At the same time total revenues of all clubs were $ 25 Billion, thus having salaries account for 60% of revenues. That is far higher than manufacturing industries and at the high end of service industries (restaurant, trades, etc.). But it does fit with service industries and one can certainly place professional sports in that category. It is about providing live entertainment, food, travel, retail stores, television/media, etc. Yet at the grass roots level it is still about people getting together to play a sport they enjoy and to get physical exercise to stay healthy.

Total expenses were $ 25.5 Billion leaving the “industry” with a loss of $ 500 Million. Some clubs turned a profit, others lost money, regardless of the size of the organization. I wrote previously about the increased amount clubs are getting from television contracts, but that doesn’t prevent losses; 100 clubs declared bankruptcy in recent years.

Let’s add some perspective. Assuming that UEFA is the highest revenue soccer confederation, I will assume that all other federations together generate another $ 25 Billion. Add second and lower divisions globally and say they total another $ 25 Billion. That makes the total global soccer revenue $ 75 Billion. Round it up to $ 100 Billion. Seems enormous, but remember we are talking about thousands of clubs, i.e. businesses, all around the globe. Compare this to Walmart, the largest corporation in the world with $ 500 Billion in revenues. One company, five times the size of ALL soccer. Soccer would rank in 50th place of global corporations.

The real philosophical, social, and moral question is not unlike the one asked about salaries in industry, health care, and other professions. Is any one person worth say $ 50 Million per year? And like in business the gap between the lowest and highest wage earners is huge. In banking for example the CEO can also earn over $ 100 Million a year while the front line bank clerk earns maybe $ 35,000. The lowest paid top tier professional soccer contracts run well below $ 100,000 a year. Some thoughts:

  1. As long as the market generates funds driven by consumer demand it is financially doable. But not at the risk of bankrupting teams.
  2. There is always the dream and opportunity for players to advance through the system. A lot has to do with natural talent, but a lot also has to do with hard work.
  3. The paying fans are happy to support highly paid athletes as long as they see effort, humanity, and results.
  4. And the big one: If players use their wealth to give back to the community then it is good to have wealth. Many players have charitable foundations that build schools, hospitals, training grounds, etc. in their home community.

Sports is a big business and globally soccer is the biggest. It still works, the excitement grows, and we’re all having fun. So let’s keep enjoying it.

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Rio 2016 Olympic Soccer Wrap Uo

The Olympics are over and the soccer medals decided. As I have said during the last few weeks, games were worth watching.

On the women’s side Germany defeated Sweden 2-1 in a game featuring many scoring opportunities. Surprisingly it was Germany’s first Olympic gold in this sport. The bronze medal game had much more at stake, as it featured host nation and heavy favourite Brazil against Canada. Against the pressure of the largest audience they ever faced the Canadians came up with a 2-1 victory. Remembering these were the regular senior national teams we essentially got treated to an extra World Cup.

On the men’s side Brazil and Germany played an epic match. It reminded me of two heavyweight boxers going fifteen rounds. For those old enough to remember the Ali/Foreman “rumble in the jungle” or “Rocky”– you will understand what I mean. At times both teams threw caution in the wind with continuous and free flowing attacks/counters. At other times they took a rest and kept possession daring the other team to make a foray to win the ball, just to switch to a fast break. At the end of 90 and 120 minutes both teams looked  like they were in a standing KO only for one player to make a last gasp run. Truly one of the best games this author has ever seen. In the end it went to a penalty shootouts which Brazil won 5-4 an overtime 1-1 score.

The bronze medal game was interesting as well. After Honduras received a 6-0 semi-final drubbing by Brazil and was down 3-0 to Nigeria, I switched off the TV midway through the second half. Only to find out later that Honduras scored two quick goals and closed the gap with 15 minutes to go. What a finish.

Remember that on the men’s side teams were U23 (with an option of three senior players). There were definitely future stars on display. Follow the senior squads to see them emerge. To me the Brazilian team looked better than the one at World Cup 2014 and the German team better than the one at Euro 2016. A bright future lies ahead for both nations. If you want to see the genesis of the 2020 Olympic teams start watching and following U 17 to U19 tournaments now. There are European and World championships for these age groups.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Coaches in European Top Leagues

A recent article analyzed the national origins of soccer coaches/managers in the five largest European soccer leagues. Here is what was found:

English Premier League: UK coaches – 7 (35%), Foreign coaches – 13 (65%)

German Bundesliga: German coaches – 11 (61%), Foreign coaches – 7 (39%)

Spanish La Liga: Spanish coaches – 14 (70%), Foreign coaches – 6 (30%)

French League 1: French coaches – 16 (80%), Foreign coaches – 4 (20%)

Italian Serie A: Italian coaches – 17 (85%), Foreign coaches -3 (15%)

The corresponding statistic is which country supplies the most coaches to the four leagues other than their own. The results are:

  1. Italy – 5
  2. Argentina – 5
  3. France – 3
  4. Spain – 3
  5. Many countries 1-3
  6. Germany – 1
  7. K. – 0

The conclusion seems to be that Italian, French, and Spanish coaches are most respected and in demand. Surprisingly Germany doesn’t export many coaches within Europe despite successful performances of club teams in European competitions and the national team in general , but does supply coaches globally, particularly for national teams. The reason may be that Germany has a reputation for developing good tournament teams. Even the best German Bundesliga team, Bayern Munich, has been relying on two foreign coaches (Guardiola, Ancelotti) at the club level. England seems to struggle with producing top level coaches, supplying only seven for the top five leagues, all of them employed in England. The last UK coach to win a Premier League championship was Sir Alex Ferguson and other than him it was Howard Wilkinson with Leeds United in 1992. England has recognized a lag in coaching development and spent 120 million € on a program starting with St. George’s Park in Burton-upon-Trent. It will take years before graduates from the program will enter the top leagues. All other top European countries, as well as emerging countries, have well-structured and established coach development programs.

So having a top notch player development AND coach development structure with a vision and a strategic plan will breed success.

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International Champions Cup

There is an interesting competition going on at the moment called the International Champions Cup. I don’t know why it is called that because not all the club teams are league champions, nor is there a “winner” of this cup. The structure is as follows:

Games Played in USA/Europe:

  • Celtic Glasgow, Leicester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Ac Milan, Paris St. Germain, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona

Games Played in Australia:

  • Melbourne, Juventus Turin, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid

Games Played in China:

  • Manchester United, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund

The main reason for these “local” tournaments is to promote European soccer outside Europe to generate fan bases and eventually revenue through TV contracts and merchandise sales. All the teams are in their pre-season phases so it does allow the coaches to test strategies, tactics, and give new/youth/bench players an opportunity to play and perform. With many new coaches and player transfers it is an excellent opportunity for teams and staff to get to know each other – travel time offers many one on one discussion times. So there is a lot of coaching value, somewhat off-set by travel requirements and being away from regular training grounds.

From a fan perspective these games are fun to watch, in person and on television. I encourage you to tune in if they are broadcast in your area.

Lastly, kudos to whomever organizes this event – it cannot be easy to get commitments from teams of this calibre.

To follow all the results, check the web site International Champions Cup