Friday, June 30, 2006

Donovan: Where Do We Go From Here?

Disclosure: I am a Landon Donovan fan. Or, more accurately, I was until he went belly-up in this World Cup. And he didn't do that from a lack of technical ability or from tactics gone awry. Rather, Landon -- our self-confessed "kind of Buddhist" -- just didn't have the stomach for the fight.
And really, who can blame him? He's rich, he's well taken care of on the bird front (Bianca Kaljich, anyone? Yes, please!), and his place in the starting 11 is all-but guaranteed by "Our Fat Coach" (as Eric Wynalda calls him) Broooooce!!!!!!! Arena.
That said, it would have been nice if the Golden Boy of American Soccer (TM) showed up for more than the 45 minutes against Italy that we were treated to over 270 minutes of his field time. Landon, you're better than that. I know your California mindset might not allow for such thinking, but you really caused the Germans a spot of bother in that 2002 quarterfinal, Heck, with a bit more confidence maybe you stick one of those shots past Kahn and we find ourself in the semifinal.
But this time around, when you could have taken the initiative to the opponent (I'm still trying to figure out why you pass to Olsen while in the box v. Ghana), you chose to be the Zen master.
Bad choice, Donovan.

Reo-Coker: Oh Captain, My Captain!!!!

Psssssttttt ... Here's a little secret: This fella is the key to our 2006-07 season. Yes, we need Marlon to come good again with 15-plus goals, for Anton and Gabbers to lock down that middle in the final third and for Yossi to do what he does when it comes to match-winning quality. But anyone who watched the FA Cup final with a critical eye saw Nige boss the midfield whenever he had the ball at his feet. Nigel's near-winner late on aside, the best player on the pitch in the initial 90 mins (after Gerrard, of course) was our own No.20, when, considering you had the likes of Hyypia and Carragher on the field, was no small feat. Even with Benayoun shining beyond his usual standard, NRC was crafting a performance for the ages.
Our Reo Mark II has speed and guile, but also a nose for the big game. Don't sell this geezer, Pards. He'll win you some silverware, and sooner rather than later.

Zizou's Last Hurrah?

While, seemingly, all the world wants Brazil in the final of the World Cup, open your heart for the old man of French football, Zinedine Zidane. The French spent 6 World Cup matches (3 and out in 2002 and 3 uninspiring group matches this time round, although the referee hurt their efforts v. Korea) sleepwalking, only to come awake v. Spain in the Round of 16 in midweek.
This is a dangerous side, with young talents like Henry, Ribery and Trezeguet complementing old hands such as Zidane, Makelele, Barthez and Thuram. Domenech might easily be the worst coach left in this Cup, but Les Bleus have the talent to win in spite of him. Are they coming up against a Brazilian buzzsaw? Hardly! With better finishing, Ghana could have made a game of that the other day.
Two key men on Saturday: For France, the calming influence but steely heart of Vieira will be crucial, while the Brazilans must finally see a stellar performance from Ronaldinho. Either way, this one goes to extra time ...

Our Spiritual Home

Much talk has been making the rounds in the West Ham community regarding a potential move to a new stadium in Stratford after the 2012 Olympics in East London have played out. Comparisons have been made to Arsenal's migration from intimate Highbury ("The Library") to the more-opulent Emirates Stadium beginning this August.
Another concern seems to be the "Asia-fication" of Green Street and its surrounding areas. As an American who has been to see the Hammers 5 times at the Boleyn and once in Derby (I even stayed in a boarding house near the ground prior to the February 2004 home match with Cardiff), I must say that even though a neighborhood changes, it is still worth the world to have character and longevity as opposed to the empty concrete happiness of a soul-less stadium. (And who can resist the nearby charms of Ken's Cafe, just 2 doors down from the ground?)
We recently celebrated our centennial at Upton Park. I hope future generations of fans can mark another.

Red Bulls: A Real Mess

I've taken the lads to 2 Red Bulls matches this season (v. DC United and v. Bayern Munich; we also have tix for the Barcelona match in August). What a shame that the managerial merry-go-round continues. This team is either snakebitten or inept -- maybe a little bit of both.
The sad bit is there is a fan base waiting to be wowed by attacking soccer and a bravado that the Cosmos seemed to trademark. Maybe when the stadium in Harrison is built and there's a neighborhood feel to the team. In the meantime, stop making stopgap moves like acquiring Todd Dunivant. If this team means business from a marketing standpoint, rescue Freddy Adu from DC United's bench and give New York another media star. He may not warrant the hype, but Adu gets the Bulls another 5,000 fans per game and double the column inches in New York-area papers.

Missing Deco on Saturday

For family purposes I will be supporting England in their quarterfinal against Portugal on July 1, but in pure footballing terms Portugal are the better team to watch. Deco, the Brazilian-born midfield maestro, shone brightly in Portugal's chippy 1-nil win over Holland in the Round of 16.
Unfortunately, his temper got the best of him when he absolutely cracked a Dutch player who refused to do the sporting thing after an injury and kick the ball back. That resulted in a yellow. Later on, Deco picked up the ball and was adjudged to be time-wasting, bringing his second yellow and a dismissal.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a joy to behold and Figo is the wily veteran, but Deco is the engine that makes this team run. With him watching from the bench, England -- who are due a good performance -- could just shade this one.

Luca Toni meets the world

Thirty-plus goals for Fiorentina aside, Italy striker Luca Toni was still an unknown prior to this World Cup. His brief career with the Azzurri had produced 7 goals, but with names like Inzaghi, Del Piero and Totti kicking around the roster, there was a hint of doubt surrounding Toni.
During Thursday's quarterfinal against Ukraine, Toni stamped his quality on this Cup with a brace in Italia's 3-nil win.
Toni is that rare commodity in Italian forward players; he's a bruiser who can't often be marked out of the game. There's no Baggio-style finesse and ponytail here, just pure physicality, touch and a nose for the goal.
The Italian backline kept Shevchenko in check, and Gianluigi Buffon came up trumps in goal for the blueshirts. Forza Italia! ... Germany next.

Why take off Riquelme?

The Argies blundered monumentally, in my opinion, by taking off Juan Roman Riquelme in the second half of today's FIFA World Cup quarterfinal against Germany. Even though he was laboring, Riquelme is the one player on the pitch (Germany's Michael Ballack included) who can change the game with that one incisive pass. The Argentines dominated the first half; the Germans were definitely on the back foot. Carlos "Carlitos" Tevez is a revelation, although Crespo looked a shade off his game.
But once Riquelme left the pitch, it was advantage to Germany. There was just a bounce in their step from that point onward. Klose's goal was class, and the Argies paid the price for not making their early dominance result in more than a 1-nil lead.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Bretos interview

Max Bretos Hammers Home His Enthusiasm, Love Of The Game To U.S. Audiences


We football fans in the United States are extremely lucky for a number of reasons.
Video images of the world’s best club sides and players are pumped into our living rooms nightly via the satellite-television offerings of Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV, while the Internet has given us a portal to the latest news, views and pulse of the soccer universe.
This improved access has bred a new type of consumer of the world’s game: one who’s savvy, informed and, most importantly, able to tell the wheat from the chaff.
That’s why, in many ways, 33-year-old Max Bretos has come to represent the best of America’s new breed of broadcaster. He’s able to speak in the soccer vernacular, and does so during his multiple hours on FSC without thumbing his nose at the casual fan who might be tuning in.
The fact that’s he’s an unabashed West Ham United supporter also shows the lad has some taste.
Seriously, though, Bretos’ journey to Hammers fandom bears a resemblance to those taken by many of us Yank Hammers. The circumstances always seem to revolve loosely around pure chance, the team’s colours, and an instinctive tug at the heart strings that says what we seem to have stumbled upon is well worth clutching to our bosoms and never letting go.
“The more I learn about West Ham, the more I love the club” the globe-hopping Bretos said in a late-March telephone interview from his home base in Los Angeles. (His recent assignments for Fox Soccer Channel included broadcasting the Scotland v. United States friendly live from Hampden Park in Glasgow, as well as the unveiling of the new United States Nike uniforms in Berlin.)
Bretos, like any of us native-born Americans, could have taken the easy route and cast his lot with Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. We have no geographic ties to our English soccer clubs, which allows those who love a front-runner to pave an easy road toward glory.
But when Bretos, who was born in Ohio to a family of Cuban immigrants, found himself transplanted to Australia as a young boy, he chose to follow the exotic rather than the familiar.
“My father moved us to Australia,” Bretos said, “and there was plenty of English football on the television. There was just something about West Ham. There was a certain way they played, plus the color of their shirts made an impression on me. As much as I could at the time, in an unconscious way, I chose to support them.”
The Bretos clan moved back to the U.S. and settled in Miami for 11 years. Max still kept his eye firmly trained on soccer, but his stint Down Under had also spawned an interest in rugby and cricket.
“All of the Commonwealth sports had this sort of mystical pull on me,” said Bretos, who eventually reconnected with his Cuban roots through baseball. The quintessentially American sport of basketball also gained some sway over him.
“Cricket was actually my favorite sport for quite some time, and until recently I played a lot of rugby.”
After graduating from Florida State University with a degree in International Relations, the multilingual Bretos unexpectedly found himself working as an on-air personality for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox TV conglomerate in Los Angeles.
By this time, his allegiance to West Ham was growing stronger by the day.
“I had continued to be a West Ham supporter from afar,” Bretos said. “But little things kept pulling me in more and more. Paolo Di Canio was a big factor in me getting closer to the team. He was such a skillful player with a real flair for the dramatic.”
Bretos cemented his Hammers fandom with a trip to the Boleyn to see the match against Cardiff last winter. Carl Fletcher scored a late winner in our 1-nil win over the Bluebirds at a time when manager Alan Pardew’s side was far from a sure bet to emerge from the second flight (or “Coca-Cola Championship,” as the rebranding merchants would have you call it) and claim a spot in this season’s Barclays Premiership.
“It was by no means a classic game of football,” Bretos said. “But the atmosphere was second to none. It was unbelievable. I was trying to explain to my sister, who came with me and my brother to the match, the significance of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.’ We made it just in time for kickoff, and I got goosebumps when the song started playing.
“She didn’t understand why a song with that sort of lyric would mean anything to a bunch of football fans,” Bretos continued. “I told her to stop thinking about it so much and just take it all in. It was a real East London moment.”
And should any of you think Bretos’ Hammers roots aren’t deep or permanent, revise that position right now.
“We recently had that seven-game winning streak,” he said, “but I got just as much satisfaction from following the side when they were down in the Championship the last two seasons. Once you decide to become a Hammer, there’s no going back.”
You can understand Bretos’ level of devotion when you hear his tale of exchanging drinks, as well as three hours’ worth of Hammers-based banter, with Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris at the Rainbow Room in Los Angeles one night.
“It was a chance encounter,” Bretos said. “I’m a huge fan of Iron Maiden’s music, so I introduced myself as a Hammers supporter. That was right about the time the club sold Jermain Defoe for Bobby Zamora and cash (in 2004), and Steve was full of opinions. No one loves the club as much as he does.”
Such a personality trait that allows a willingness to engage in deep conversation with a total stranger serves Bretos well as a soccer broadcaster. He has a rhythmic, urbane and physical style while calling a match. His wit is sharp, and his eye for a match’s essence seems second to none.
“I’d love to do a World Cup someday,” Bretos said. “That would represent a pinnacle for me in this profession.”
And don’t be surprised if during a halftime break during a broadcast of, say, a Belgium-Nigeria match somewhere in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Bretos marks the time by whistling a chorus of “Bubbles.”
After all, once you’ve got the Hammers in your blood, it seems fortune’s always hiding. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Brooking interview

The Brooking interview
I spoke to Trevor Brooking (who was in Chicago with the England national team as they prepared for Saturday's friendly against the United States at Soldier Field) on Friday afternoon, May 27th, 2005.

Following the opening game of their tour the England squad then travels to New York ahead of Tuesday's friendly vs. Colombia in East Rutherford, N.J.
Brooking will be watching the West Ham vs. Preston match live on satellite television on Monday at an undisclosed location in New York City.
The following interview lasted approximately 10 minutes.
James Clark: Mr. Brooking, thank you for allowing me the time for this interview. It's much appreciated.
Brooking: It's not a problem. I'm delighted.
Clark: Sir Trevor, you have such an emotional connection to West Ham United. How will it feel to watch the club play one of the most important games in its history on television from an ocean away?
Brooking: It will be very tough. I do take a little glimmer of hope from the fact that I missed the two play-off legs against Ipswich due to work considerations. For the first leg on the Saturday, I was in Northern Ireland for the FA. For the second leg on the Wednesday, I was in Lisbon for a UEFA committee meeting and to watch the UEFA Cup final. I was relying on the dreaded text message on my mobile phone to keep abreast of our game. You get that little bleep and it's a bit worrying at first, but then I saw that we were 1-nil up. My son actually telephoned me after the second goal. He said he didn't think I would believe a text message saying we were 2-nil up. After that, I was able to relax and enjoy the last 15 minutes of the UEFA Cup final. We have a saying in England that things come in threes. I'm hoping that since I've missed being at the two play-off games in person, the fact that I won't be at the final in Cardiff on Monday will be to our benefit. Maybe I'm the one who messed it up for us last year!
Clark: Trevor, you command a universal respect from Hammers fans. You truly are a club icon, having served as a player, a caretaker manager on two occasions, and a board member. My sons and I attended the home match at Upton Park vs. Reading the season after we were relegated, and the fans sang "Trevor Brooking's done all this!" on many occasions that day. My sons still sing that around the house! Do you find your status with the West Ham fans to be daunting in any way?
Brooking: I've been very lucky. I played 19 years for the club I supported from the terraces as a youngster. It never surprises me how loyal West Ham supporters are. Of course, I've served on the board and was the caretaker manager on both occasions, which was a bit strange. Especially the second time, my family were not keen for me to continue managing on a permanent basis. They were afraid that if something went wrong, I would jeopardise the affinity the fans feel toward me. Everywhere I go, I run into West Ham fans who have kind words for me. Today, there were four of them, wearing their shirts, who came up to me. We were sharing our anxieties regarding Monday's match!
Clark: This might be a tough question for you to answer. Do you feel Alan Pardew has been treated fairly by the supporters and the press over the course of the last two seasons?
Brooking: If you look back on the history of our club, we have a tradition of giving the managerial position to an ex-West Ham player. I think Alan, not being a West Ham man ...
Clark: Like Lou Macari?
Brooking: Exactly. I think that has affected the way Alan has been viewed by the fans. As you know, we also have a style of playing that relies on the technical and creative side of football. We have a bit of a reputation over the last 25 years or so as being able to beat anyone on our day, as well as lose to anyone on the day! We're not always as good as we should be defensively, but that entertaining style is what the supporters are used to seeing. Being relegated as we did at the time that we did, it's difficult to find that bit of quality. In this division, everybody works hard and there's not always that extra dimension in a player.
Clark: Is that why someone like Matty Etherington, when he's playing well, can stand out so much?
Brooking: Yes. On his day, Matty shows the ability of being able to make the jump up to the Premiership. We have two or three other players who are in a similar situation. That's actually the conundrum we face if we do go up. Do you stick with the players who got you there, or do you change the playing squad dramatically? West Brom have had to make that decision twice in the last few seasons. It's a nice problem to have, however. As everyone knows, going up to the Premiership will be worth 25 to 30 million pounds to the club, factoring in television money and two seasons of parachute payments if we do go straight back down. That's what makes Monday's match so vital.
Clark: When you were caretaker manager, especially the second time around, you favoured out-and-out attacking formations, much to the pleasure of the supporters. I remember you playing David Connolly, Jermain Defoe and Neil Mellor in the same lineup. With Teddy Sheringham being fit for Monday, should Alan Pardew find a way to get him, Marlon Harewood and Bobby Zamora on the pitch from the start
Brooking: I don't think Alan will start that way. He most likely will stick with the same 11 that started the second leg against Ipswich, with Etherington on the left, Harewood wide right and Bobby Zamora alone up front, where he seems to be happiest. We'll probably play three across the centre of midfield. Preston are strong defensively and can keep things quite tight. I feel if we go too gung-ho for the goal and happen to concede, Preston are more than capable of shutting up shop to defend a one-nil lead. I don't think Alan will want to give them a man advantage in the centre of midfield for the first half-hour, so he most likely will keep Sheringham on the bench. Looking back to when I was managing the team, Connolly and Defoe were great goalscorers, but they lacked that physical presence you need in the box. That's why I sacrificed a midfielder to get Mellor in the starting 11. The team Alan has at his disposal now is more balanced.
Clark: Trevor, on your travels does it ever surprise you that a West Ham supporter is always relatively easy to find?
Brooking: No, but I suppose I've got used to it by now. I've been as far away as Australia, and you see the same passion and loyalty for the club. I know there will be people in all corners of the world making an effort to watch Monday's game, as well as 35,000 dedicated supporters in Cardiff. We hope to avoid the deflation we felt after last year's final. I mean, you moan and groan about West Ham, but that's the attraction, isn't it? You never quite know what we will produce on a given day. Hopefully Monday, we'll give the supporters a reason to smile.
Clark: Thank you so very much, Trevor. Cheers.
Brooking: Cheers James.
*This interview was originally published on

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