David Silva to Manchester City

Insert mean joke about his breaking the news to Craig Bellamy here.

Manchester City's position as the most powerful spenders in English football was reaffirmed today when they flexed their financial muscle to sign David Silva, the Spain midfielder, for a fee in the region of £25m-30m.

Silva has agreed a four-year contract despite initial reservations about leaving Valencia for a club that had not qualified for the Champions League. The 24-year-old is likely to be followed to Eastlands by Yaya Touré, with City confidently expecting the Barcelona holding midfielder to become the latest signing in a recruitment programme that will almost certainly see them spend more than £100m this summer.

Backed by the enormous wealth of the Abu Dhabi United Group, City have already signed the Germany international Jérôme Boateng from Hamburg for £10.5m and will renew their interest in James Milner of Aston Villa now he has returned from the World Cup.
8 goals and 7 assists in 30 games for Valencia last season. Add to that 27 shots on target and you have the makings of a fantasy bargain.

 +10, and the Citeh machine (at least in the transfer market) just rolls along.

Wigan Athletic sign Mauro Boselli from Estudiantes

Wigan Athletic sign Mauro Boselli from Estudiantes
Wigan have confirmed the signing of striker Mauro Boselli from Estudiantes for an undisclosed fee.

Boselli, 25, has agreed a four-year contract at the DW Stadium after scoring 32 goals in 52 appearances for the Argentinean club.

Roberto Martinez told the official Wigan website: "Mauro is a goalscorer who lives to put the ball in the back of the net and he is somebody we have been looking at for a long time.
27 goals in 42 matches in all competitions in 2009/10 including the Copa Liberatores (4 in 9!) which is the South American version of the Champions League.

Wigan became something of a joke by the end of last season, but there are signs that Martinez is coming to grips with things. Certainly he is moving in the right direction in the transfer market. His team will have a strong South American flavor next season with Boselli and Alcaraz joining established players like Figeuroa and Rodallega. Granted there's not much history of South American's having a great time of it in the Premier League, but maybe that's changing with the aforementioned Wigan duo, and the likes of the more high-profile Carlos Tevez or Javier Mascherano.

WC Travel Log, Take Two

Despite the fact that the US of A has gone crashing out of the tournament despite a game effort against Ghana, we still bring you some choice moments live from South Africa.  This post is courtesy of friend-of-the-blog, diplomat, troubadour, and all-around good guy Bob Gerber who is stopping over in South Africa on his way home from yet another posting in one of those war-torn parts of the world.  We're happy to be getting him back on home soil soon and in the meantime, we'll post his thoughts on his time in South Africa for those of you who, like us, weren't able to make it in person.

Parallels on Both Sides of the Atlantic

How Ingerland Is Killing England...
My take on our progress against our friends across the Atlantic...

1) On the field...well, our winning streak against England in just about anything that matters (wars and soccer matches mostly) remains undefeated.  The English fans can continue to call us crap but that makes it P2 W1, D1, L0 for the good ol' US of A and P4, W3, D1, L0 if you include the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 ;-)

2) In the press...seems that our media (and apparently the President of our Soccer Federation) is picking up the habit that John Nicholson eludes to in his article, namely that of overestimating our chances of winning.

You can quibble with some of Bradley's line-up decisions (especially Ricardo Clark of Maurice Edu) but I'm not sure that was really the difference between us winning and losing last Saturday.  We were probably about even with Ghana both on the field and in terms of talent.  It would have been great to win but to say that the team failed to meet expectations by losing to an equally matched team seems to be putting our program at a level it just hasn't achieved yet.

Anyway, just a few thoughts as I read the fallout from teams dropping out of the tournament. 

With teams going home, hopefully the transfer action (as opposed to the rumors) will pick up soon.

Schwarzer to Arsenal

Passing the torch?

Mark to spark keeper merry-go-round
Fulham will reportedly move for West Ham's Robert Green if Mark Schwarzer joins Arsenal, with the Hammers tipped to move for Asmir Begovic.

Schwarzer, 37, is expected to complete a switch across London to The Emirates following the end of Australia's World Cup adventure.

The former Middlesbrough custodian will cost the Gunners around £3.5million, according to the News of the World, and the Cottagers will put that fee towards a deal for England blunder keeper Green.
Have we been asleep at the wheel, distracted by the World Cup, or just don't trust the News of the World?

Other than the speculation above, other reports have David James going to Fulham instead of Green.   I'm a big fan of Begovic's and would love to see him get a starting gig.  Of course I would love to see him move to Arsenal and be their starting keeper for 3, rather than Schwarzer for between 9 and 12.  Or maybe Benaglio or some other keeper from outside the Premier League.  Just for fantasy team cost purposes.

However it shakes out, it's certain to make for a more interesting August with lots of dominoes falling.

More on Landon Donovan's Goal

First Andres Cantor's radio call.

Let me take a moment to recommend Andres Cantor's excellent history of the World Cup, titled - oddly, if not surprisingly - Gooooal!.

And stirring reactions from across the United States.

Considering Group F

A profane (you've been warned) take on the final Group F matches - Italy/Slovakia and Paraguay/New Zealand - in the style of a blog roundtable.

Clint made a good run in the middle, the ball fell to me ... time kind of stopped," Donovan said. "You can't miss from there."

"We're not done yet," Donovan said. "We believe, man. We're alive, baby."

People Being Stupid, Blaming Clubs

Europe's rich clubs blamed for World Cup woes - ESPN Soccernet

I read things like this...
More than half the players in the Premier League are from overseas and even the Football Association's head of development, Trevor Brooking, said that the national team faces greater problems still once the current generation of players fade.

Brooking said England is producing talented youngsters, citing last month's victory over Spain in the final of the under-17 European Championship, but these players struggle to get the topflight experience necessary to make the leap into the national side.

...and I'm stunned that the people spewing this junk have any jobs at all let alone high paying ones.

So what they're asking you to believe is that there are talented players in England, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, etc. but that experiences with non-Champions League clubs in those countries somehow disadvantage the young up and comers from those countries.  However, apparently the players growing up in Argentina, Brazil, and the other countries that dot the rosters of the "big clubs" manage to turn themselves into "proven winners" without the benefit of playing for "big teams" from an early age. 

I agree that there seems to be a bit of a lost generation within some of the European giants as players like Cannavaro, Terry, Gerrard, Beckham, Henry, Zidane, et al fade into the sunset.  Is that the fault of the clubs whose job it is to win matches and championships? 

Hardly.  In my opinion there are two things at work here...

1) The football world is getting bigger - with more countries having been involved in the game for longer and longer stretches, it stands to reason that the rest of the world is catching up.  This happened to the US in basketball and it should come as no surprise that it is happening to Europe in soccer.  Most of the "big" European nations are fairly small population-wise so to expect that the best players to continue to emerge from this small percentage of the population is highly optimistic. 

2) Resource gap is closing - it used to be that there was a huge imbalance in the resources available to up and coming European players compared to their counterparts from "lesser" soccer nations.  In comparison to some nations the basics like childhood nutrition was far superior in Europe.  In comparison to almost all nations, access to facilities, high quality trainers, and coaches with deep understanding of technique, tactics, etc.  Today, between European coaches renting themselves out, top clubs scouting much more broadly and bringing better coaches/techniques/training to high potential players of more nationalities there should again be no shock that there are more and more high quality players from other countries.

Apparently this is the cycle where these global changes and changes in the nature of the sport are catching up to tiny European countries that used to have the top spots in world locked down.  Given that some of the best players in the previous generation - Zidane and Deco are the first couple that come to mind - weren't REALLY from the countries that they represented in the World Cup doesn't it stand to reason that more and more high quality players would begin representing the actual country of their birth as those players see those countries as having a better and better shot at competing for a title?

Just something to think about as your favorite pundit tells you that there is something fundamentally wrong with the infrastructure of the European powers that are losing some of their traditional glamor this tournament.  This is only going to get worse for European powers as the rest of the world catches up.  It isn't going to get better and there's nothing that UEFA or the big clubs in Europe can do about it any more than there is anything the NBA can do about the fact that Brazil, Spain, and Argentina are closing the gap in basketball talent. 

Enjoy the rest of the tournament and prepare yourselves for more and more "surprises" in the years to come.  

Bolton sign Martin Petrov from Manchester City

Bolton sign Martin Petrov from Manchester City

Bolton Wanderers have announced that Manchester City midfielder Martin Petrov will join the club on a free transfer on 1 July.

The 31-year-old was out of contract at Eastlands and was told in June that he would not be offered a new deal by manager Roberto Mancini.

Not exactly for what I was hoping. Neal is right to wonder, "what becomes of MTay?". Does MTay move infield? Does he go back to defence? Do they *gulp* rotate? We'll see. I sure wish this were a much more clear-cut move as we really do still like MPet for Premier League fantasy.

Considering Groups G and H

Video of this "wonder" goal after the jump.

In which we are disappointed with Ronaldo, curse the Swiss, and bash a generation of players through no fault of their own.

Wolves complete deal for Stephen Hunt

Wolves complete deal for Hull forward Stephen Hunt
Wolves have announced the signing of forward Stephen Hunt from Hull for an undisclosed fee.

Stephen Hunt has long been linked with a move to Wolves
Hull rejected a £5 million bid from Wolves in January, but Hunt later revealed he struck an agreement with chairman Adam Pearson that he would be allowed to leave if the club failed to stay in the Premier League...

He is Wolves' fifth signing of the summer, following Steven Mouyokolo, Jelle Van Damme, Steven Fletcher and Adlene Guedioura in sealing moves to the Molineux club as McCarthy bids to build on 15th place they achieved on their return to the top flight.
Mick's been busy, and it seems like he's bringing real quality to his side. Mid-table quality, but quality all the same.

Considering Group C

The only goal-mouth action we got from England/Algeria.

In which we consider the situation in Group C after yesterday's matches and somehow end up talking about Arsenal. But then again, don't we always?

Talking Tactics

Should the USA switch to a 4-3-3 for it's final Group C match against Algeria?  Let's consider:

Robbie Findley's second yellow card in as many matches - this one for a hand ball offense when the ball clearly struck his face - rules him out of the Algeria match.  If he weren't banned, it still might be worth considering dropping him as he's been unable to make anything of his chance.  That leaves the USA with Jozy Altidore as their target man.  Bob Bradley could introduce Herculez Gomez into the starting eleven, but his speed probably isn't what is going to unsettle a fleet-footed Algeria side.

In fact, our best goal-scoring options - and indeed our best players - are our wide midfielders, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.  Both players are as comfortable playing at striker as they are wide, so why not just bring them in from the flanks in support of Jozy?  That immediately gives the USA a direct, and in Altidore and Dempsey a tall and physical, front line.

Going for a front-three wouldn't just be a physical advantage, however.  It would also be a psychological advantage as it would signal the American's intent to win the match, which indeed they need to do if they want to ensure qualification into the next round.  Algeria were too comfortable with England's front two and this shift could unsettle what really isn't a strong defense.

Switching to a 4-3-3 would also be beneficial in helping Bob Bradley select the right midfield mix.  For my money that would be a central trio of Michael Bradley playing in front of both Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clarke.  The Ranger's man did his reputation a world of good with his performance off the bench today, and in truth Clarke didn't have a terrible game against England.  I'm not a huge fan of Clarke's but perhaps in tandem with Edu, sharing the responsibilities of holding the midfield together, he would do the job.

Those two holding midfielders would allow Bradley to roam forward more and support the front players with his range of passing.  This would be Bradley's moment to step up and run the show, and I think he's capable of doing so.

Playing two holding midfielders should... should... also help the shore up the USA defense and hopefully keep their sheets clean through the first 15 minutes of the match.  Algeria will likely try to exploit the USA's nerves in a must-win match when they've been unable to stop from going behind to early goals through qualification and into this tournament.  They will also look to exploit the space in front of the USA's backline from which we've had all sorts of problems.  I would expect Karim Ziani to live in that pocket between defense and midfield and if the USA doesn't pick him up he'll be able to put them under pressure from the off.  Between them, Edu and Clarke would deny Algeria this space.

Of course this formation will put pressure on the USA's fullbacks to offer an attacking impetus and give the team a wide outlet.  Before the tournament I would have been terrified of such a prospect, but after seeing this new and improved version of Steve Cherundulo play I think it could work.  I would even think we could play an unbalanced formation, a la Argentina.  Bocanegra would be the more "stay at home" defender on the left, and Donovan could play wider on that side to compensate for that.  On the right, Dempsey would tuck in closer to Altidore allowing Cherundulo to get forward.  Hopefully this overlapping would keep Nadir Belhadj from getting forward himself.  Belhadj is a much better attacker than a defender so it will be important for the USA to pin him back - something England failed to do today.

So that's my take.  What do you think?  I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

Spot the foul

Spot the foul in the build up to what should have been Maurice Edu's winning goal and win a prize.

Offsides on Bradley? Really??

Dempsey Goal. Green Howler.

USA vs. England Running Diary

2:16 PM (Eastern Time) - I'm back from spending the morning watching the preliminary matches elsewhere - KOR/GRE at the gym and ARG/NGR outdoors with a surprisingly large crowd in Dupont Circle in downtown DC.  Watching the studio show on ESPN and it isn't bad - Alexi Lalas is just a natural in front of the camera despite his shameless homer pick of the US.  Ruud Gullit also apparently knows where his bread is buttered and picks a draw.  Macca seems to know that he has to go home to England and predicts a 3-1 win for the Three Lions.

2:20 - Starting line-up analysis: About what we all expected for the US.  Would have liked to see Torres over Clark but Bradley has been leaning this way throughout qualifying and the warm-up matches.  The England line-up is very odd, especially in midfield with three players - Milner, Lampard, and Gerrard - who are at their best attacking through the middle and two - Milner and Lennon who do or have played on the right.  They are the best 4 midfielders that England have but not sure they work well together.  I guess we'll see.

2:25 - Based on club performance, I'm not sure why Capello wouldn't have gone with Hart over Green.  Seems that national team managers get too risk-averse when it comes to playing younger players.  An entire season playing against the likes of ManYoo, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea is enough seasoning to face off against the US.

2:29 - Captains shake hands

2:30 - And we're off...

Correct Offsides Call in South Africa vs. Mexico

ESPN Flubs South Africa vs. Mexico Offsides Call
When everyone took a breath, it turned out the refs got the call correct.

In short, the offside rule reads as follows:
"A player is in an offside position if: he is nearer to his opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent."
Since South Africa keeper Itumeleng Khune charged off his line, trying to push away Gerrardo Torrado's corner, it left only Steven Pienaar left on the line. That meant when Khune went forward, Vela was in an offside position, regardless of the Everton man's position on the line. Just think of Pienaar becoming the de facto goalie on the play.

World Cup 2010 - South Africa v Mexico

Chat recap, after the jump.

More World Cup Funny

"ZIDANE" print ad for KRONENBOURG BEER in Canada by AMEN

The (Lego) Hand of God

Too good not to share. Courtesy of flickr user, Balakov.

Shameless Self-Promotion

There's a lot of outreach amongst the fantasy blogs right now and that's nothing but good for our little community. In the latest installment of the trend, Neal and I were interview by 11Kicks, who blog and even run their own weekly fantasy competitions (very cool!). We talked about the World Cup and fantasy football in general. You can read the whole thing at:

The 11kicks Interview – Jeremy Spitzberg & Neal Thurman

World Cup - Week 1 Lineup

Due to some family issues, I may be offline for parts of the next week. However, I wanted to be sure to share my line-up (barring any "Friday trades") for week one of the competition. We're playing the ESPN World Fantasy game - join "Beat the Bloggers 1".  You should be able to see my picks for the starting XI and captain by clicking the image above.  Below is my full 15-man squad with my take on each player.

M. Neuer - "ze Germans!"  Neuer was a buck cheaper than the likes of Cesar or Casillas and the money can be reinvested elsewhere.
D. Benaglio - back-up plan.  He's just 4 and might make the line-up against Honduras.  A useful enabler, then.

P. Lahm - "ze Germans!"  Like Neuer, he was cheaper than Maicon or Ramos but which ever flank he's on, he'll get forward and the Germans are good bets to keep clean sheets and advance far.
A. Pereira - We do love us some wing-backs and Uruguay could make the 3-5-2 fashionable again.
M. Cech - I never learn, do I?
N. Belhadj - See Cech, Marek.

G. Dos Santos - A striker listed in midfield against the host nation who only make the 32 because of geography.
Á. Di María - The cheapest entry in to the Argentina attack.
M. Özil - He'll either play centrally or wide right, but either way the new hope of German football should be the major presence in their attack.  The only caveat is that Schwienie will likely take penalty kicks.
M. Fernandez - Our dark horse pick.  Attacking midfielder on an attacking side for 5.  A VERY useful enabler.
Kaká - He gets in (and gets the armband) against the North Koreans.  Likely to be CRon by week 2.
M. Jovanovic - Another striker listed as a midfielder.  He's cheap and he'll make my starting XI against the Socceroos at least.

L. Fabiano - Golden boot?
Robinho - Always seems to shine for the national team and should enjoy himself in week one.  Another Brazilian who may make way as the opposition toughens.
D. Forlan - On the bench this week against France, but he should pay off big against Mexico and especially South Africa.  One of the cheapest stars in the game at striker.

I'm heavy on Brazil, hoping that they put a beating on North Korea. I figure with 12 transfers, I can move from Brazil to Portugal (CRon, etc) or Cote d'Ivorie when they line up against the hermit kingdom. Or Spain after they move beyond the tough Swiss.

So that's that, then.  Good luck to all.  It's going to be an awesome month.

Maradona to go with 3 strikers

... and more surprisingly, three at the back.

Diego Maradona appearing to go with 3 strikers for Argentina
Maradona is widely expected to start the following team: Sergio Romero in goal behind defenders Gabriel Heinze, Martin Demichelis and Walter Samuel.

The midfield will be Jonas Gutierrez, Angel Di Maria, Mascherano and Juan Sebastian Veron. They will be joined by the three strikers [Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain].
The shame about this formation is that it is tailor-made for Cambiasso to play in the role that has been assigned to Jonas - a wide player being shoehorned into a holding role. Wouldn't Cambiasso/Mascherano (or even Zanetti)/Veron make SO MUCH MORE SENSE?

I guess the thinking is that Jonas can cover more ground, being a more athletic player. But why start over-thinking things with this much talent? Put the extremely capable (Champions League winner here, people!) round peg in the round hole.

 Gah! It boggles the mind.

England vs. USA Part 4: This Time It's Personal...

The Spirit of '50

You may have read somewhere in your history books that the US has faced off against England a number of times throughout history.  In most of those encounters, the Yanks have been prohibitive underdogs.

The Revolutionary War (1776) - granted we had home field advantage in this one but if there were bookmakers in international conflicts at this point in history we would have looked a lot like North Korea going up against Brazil in the opening round of this World Cup.  No chance.  As it turns out, we did slightly better than expected.

The War of 1812 (well, 1812) - Washington, DC was burned to the ground and my soon-to-be hometown of Leesburg, VA (a bucolic town about 30 miles up the Potomac River) was briefly the center of government for the United States.  That said, home field advantage still held and we actually built a winning steak against the highly favored Brits.  Let's just say that we became their "bogey team" well before they started losing grip of their empire.

1950 World Cup - Could the magic hold when we didn't hold a decided home field advantage? Well, in 1950 we produced an incredible upset that, until we hosted the Cup in 1994 and started what I like to think of as the modern era of US involvement in the world's game, was without question the high water mark for US Soccer.  It may still be the single greatest accomplishment in the US game but since 1994, we've certainly had our share of moments that at least approach it (draw vs. Italy in 2006, beating Spain in Confederations Cup, etc.).

Since 1950, there have been friendlies between the two countries but there haven't been many moments that mattered.  The friendly matches have, as you might expect, been dominated by the more talented English squads.  So, where does all of this leave us? Well, I'm not a huge fan of sequels but let's see how this one is likely to play out...

World Cup - Week 1

So confession time. I haven't figure the World Cup out yet. I haven't even tried. Yes, we did some preliminary research a few months ago for the World Soccer Unofficial World Cup Guide and I still stand by what we wrote. But I've barely looked at the fantasy games on offer, and to be perfectly honest I've been considering not doing fantasy at all! I'm not sure I'm ready to get into the weeds on Ghana's starting back line or getting myself tied in knots trying to figure out who will be taking kicks for South Korea. Furthermore, I don't want to be watching the USA - the one team for whom I'm unabashedly rooting - and temper my celebrations of a Dempsey goal because I had Donovan on my fantasy team instead.

But that being said, dear reader, I don't want to leave you in the lurch as you (and let's be honest, probably I) set your fantasy team for this month's extravaganza. Every site seems to have team and group previews. Frankly, I'm finding all that a bit over-whelming, and not all that useful for fantasy. The fantasy games seem to be some variety of "pick your team and then utilize n number of transfers over the course of the group and then knock-out stages". So it hit me that what's missing is a chronological look at the matches on offer. While you may care to look through group G in depth, what you might just need is a look at the first round of group matches to set your initial team and then further looks at the later rounds to help you asses your transfer strategy.

I'm not sure that this will inspire me to set up my team (and public groups), but it just might. Regardless, I hope you find it helpful.

Google hides World Cup Easter egg in search

(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)

Google hides World Cup Easter egg in search
Google has changed a single search page to prepare us all for the FIFA World Cup, which is slated to begin in just two days.

When users type "World Cup" into Google Search, they will find a different header at the bottom of the page where Google allows users to click on the desired page in results. Instead of the familiar "Goooooogle," the page says, "Goooooooal!."

Wondering if the change occurred on every search page related to the World Cup, I started trying other queries out, like "soccer," "world cup soccer," and others. In each instance, the familiar "Goooooogle" was listed at the bottom of the page. So, it would seem that, at least based on my experience with Search, only the "World Cup" query will reveal the Easter egg.

City release big name trio

City release big name trio
Manchester City trio Martin Petrov, Benjani Mwaruwari and Sylvinho will all leave Eastlands this summer after the club opted not to offer them new contracts.

All three were used only sparingly by boss Roberto Mancini last season and their departures were expected, with the Italian set to bring in a number of players during the close season.
Dear Fantasy Gods,

Please let Petrov find a good home this summer. One with a Premier League team who plans to use him on a weekly basis and let him take kicks. It doesn't have to be Newcastle, but that would be a lot of fun.

Neal and Jeremy

Nani Out

Nani injury hits Portugal hopes
Portugal suffered a major injury blow on Tuesday after it was announced winger Nani would play no part in the World Cup after damaging his collar bone.

The Manchester United star is thought to have suffered the injury in training on Friday and will be replaced in the squad by Benfica midfielder Ruben Amorim.

A statement on the Portuguese Football Federation's official website, www.fpt.pt, read: 'Following the injury to the left clavicle suffered by Nani, a daily assessment of the damage and the completion of medical tests, we have concluded he is unable to be competitive.'
No word on whether or not he did it celebrating a goal.

For fantasy implications, I guess this brings Simao into your reckoning.

England Lose on Penalties

Watch as the Rest of the World beats England on penalties at UNICEF UK. Soccer Aid 2010. Skip ahead to 7 minutes to see Woody Harrelson score the winner.

Our Man in South Africa, Part 1 - USA vs. Australia Warm-up

Like all great news organizations, we here at the blog have a worldwide network of reporters and affiliates dedicated to bringing you the best from the world of soccer.  With fantasy and/or the Premier League usually being our major focus, that usually means that we have people stationed in front of televisions and computer screens in the US (birthplace of fantasy sports) and the UK (home of the Prem).  With the World Cup the major event of the day, we have spared no expense to bring you live coverage from the venues.  This coverage comes in the form of one Jamie Harper, a business school classmate of Neal's, member of the legendary Emory business school intramural-championship winning squad of 1997-98, soccer fanatic, and ex-pat living happily in South Africa.

Given that you can get a run-of-the-mill match report from the Associated Press or Reuters anywhere on the web, I have asked Jamie to give his impressions of the things you won't likely get from those match reports.  His impressions of the crowds, the flow of the match, the manager's decisions, and the overall experience.  So, with that typically lengthy introduction, here we go with our first installment of our live coverage from South Africa.  Take it away Jamie...

Hammers Sign Hitzlsperger

London Bridges falling down, falling down...

West Ham have announced the signing of Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger on a three-year deal.

The 28-year-old will join the club on a free transfer on July 1 following the expiry of his contract at Italian side Lazio.

Hitzlsperger becomes the first new arrival at Upton Park this summer as the club bid to rebuild after narrowly avoiding relegation last term.

Changes are afoot at the Hammers with Avram Grant due to be installed as manager later this month subject to a work permit, and West Ham co-owner David Sullivan expressed his satisfaction with the direction the club is taking.
Hitzlsperger was always a decent fantasy bet in his time with Aston Villa. He got his share of set pieces and had a, um, hammer for a left foot. He was Huddlestone before Huddlestone was Huddlestone.

It will be interesting to watch West Ham this off-season. Getting Grant was an excellent move, and Hitz should add more steel (or at least depth behind Parker) to the midfield.

Boateng to Manchester City

Manchester City have begun what is expected to be another busy transfer window by sealing a deal for Germany defender Jerome Boateng.

The 21-year-old will officially become a City player on July 1, having agreed a five-year deal to sign from Hamburg.

Boateng was in Manchester to confirm the details of the move before jetting off to South Africa to join up with the Germany team.

No fee was announced by the club, but it had been reported that Boateng would cost around 12.5million euros.

Robben Hamstring Injury

Holland coach Bert van Marwijk admits he is very concerned about the hamstring injury picked up by Arjen Robben in today's World Cup warm-up victory over Hungary.

Robben came on as a half-time substitute in the 6-1 rout at the Amsterdam ArenA and scored two goals before being forced off with the injury five minutes from time.
Robben injured?  It's a bit man-bites-dog.  But it is a shame because he's always so much fun to watch.

I guess we won't have to worry about will they or won't they play Sneijder and Van der Vaart together (which is Dutch for Lampard and Gerrard) but they'll miss Robben as he's been in the form of his life this season.

Tanaka Breaks Drogba's Elbow

hat tip to Dirty Tackle - Yahoo! Sports' World Soccer Blog

Summer Reading: Ajax Youth Academy

How a Soccer Star Is Made - NYTimes.com

As we're waiting for the World Cup to get under way and don't have much other than transfer speculation and injury news to contemplate, I give you this (very) long but excellent look at youth academies and the business of producing young talent (mostly at Ajax with some discussion of Fulham, DC United, and the US developmental program as well).  If you have a solid 30 minutes to read, this is really worthwhile.  It doesn't really come to any conclusion, per se, just a great overview of how both the clubs and kids see their time training for a career at the top level of soccer.

Bummer about Drogs and Rio being out for the tournament.

Cheers - Neal

Bloggers of the Round Table 2: Top 4 Pretenders

From Neal's kick-off:
I am going to nominate James Milner as the topic of this next post and even get more specific about what he means as a symbol of the ability of each of the current pretenders - AST, MAC, LIV - to challenge for a Champions League spot for next season OR the ability of England's highest profile club - MAN - to attract and pay top level talent given their financial situation, their location, and the higher taxes imposed on footballers in the UK compared to elsewhere in Europe.
You can read the whole discussion at Y!AM's blog.

Liverpool offer Rafael Benitez a way out of Anfield

What, me worry?

UPDATE:  It's official.  Rafa out.

Apropos of our Liverpool round table discussion, today's news is that Liverpool have offered Rafael Benitez a way out of Anfield.
In what amounts to a vote of no confidence in Benitez, the Liverpool board approved a proposal to the Spaniard which would see him depart Anfield with a lucrative pay off worth in the region of £3 million up front.

Such is Liverpool’s palsied fiscal state, they recently posted record annual losses of £55 million and are saddled with debts totalling £351 million, Broughton was simply unable to offer Benitez the guarantees he was looking for and after a desperately disappointing campaign in which they finished seventh in the Barclays Premier League and failed to qualify for next season’s Champions League the club’s hierarchy would not have been keen to extend Benitez’s tenure anyway.

Inter Milan ready to offer Benitez an escape route to Italy should he show any willingness to follow in the footsteps of Jose Mourinho, his managerial arch rival, although Benitez’s agent, Manuel Garcia Quillon, has insisted that the reigning European and Italian champions have not made any contact with his client.

It would be problematic for Liverpool to find a top class replacement given that they cannot offer managerial candidates either a squad that is equipped for a title challenge or a substantial transfer package to tempt them. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the club is up for sale and the Liverpool board may not feel able to offer Benitez’s successor a long-term contract in case potential investors are not impressed by their choice. That could mean a temporary manger is the only viable solution, at least until a buyer is found.

More in the article. A very - well, another very - thorough review of a sad state of affairs.

Bloggers of the Round Table - The Finale

Wow, seems like we've been at this forever (OK, less so to you guys since I posted it all pretty much at the same time while most of you were sleeping).  Trust us, we, the Blogger Round Table - Mike, Nik, Ses, Mohamad, Jeremy, and Neal have been furiously writing emails back and forth to make this happen for quite some time now.  If you want to catch up, you can do so by reading Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of the conversation before checking out Jeremy's summation and closing statements below.

If you are up to date then we'll get you right on to Jeremy's thoughts on Liverpool:

Bloggers of the Round Table - Liverpool Discussion Part 4

I don't know about you, the readers, but I've really been enjoying the discussion thus far.  Different views and some interesting options.  They continue now with some thoughts from Mike "The Fantasist" from Yahoo! UK.  If you're just catching on that this conversation is clearly the most in-depth discussion you'll find on the Interwebs about the Premier League this summer, here are the first three parts to convince you...Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3...

Now, on to Mike's thoughts...

Hi guys, sorry for the delay in replying.  It's clear that Liverpool need to spend this summer, but therein lie two major problems - cash, or lack of it, and the manager. With doubts remaining over both, it's not yet clear how best Liverpool can address their problems on the pitch this summer. But what is absolutely clear is that it is imperative both issues are sorted out before Liverpool can dip their toes into the transfer market. There's no real debate on whether the current ownership works for the club - it doesn't, financially or in terms of personality, and change is needed if Liverpool are to shake off their current malaise.

Rafa Benitez is another problem entirely and whether he stays or goes will shape how the club approaches their summer transfer activity.  If he stays, with the backing of any new owners, Benitez will have a great deal of work to do if he is to make up for what can only be described as some atrocious wheeling and dealing to date.  His preference will no doubt be to maintain the Spanish flavour which he has so far brought with him to Merseyside, meaning likely raids on his homeland.  But the question has to be: can Liverpool attract the likes of David Villa or David Silva? Without the draw of Champions League football, the answer has to be no. In which case, they will have to rely on Liverpool's great tradition as a European footballing giant and the promise that things can be turned around. But even with a rich Arab at the helm - and the sky high wages that go with that - prospective targets will take some convincing to move to Merseyside this summer. It's just not the same draw as it was five years ago.

At least Fernando Torres will stick around for another season if Benitez stays. And Steven Gerrard cannot leave the club, whether Benitez leaves or not, having so emphatically pledged his future to them a couple of summer's ago. Or is  it naive to hope that a footballer is capable of keeping to his word? [Neal's note, really? Do you even have to ask this question? Football players aren't to be trusted under any circumstances]

As for a technical director coming in to aid Benitez, it's certainly an interesting proposition. Clearly, Benitez needs some guidance on how best to spend the money available to him - the disastrous acquisition of Alberto Aquilani proved that - but many managers struggle to cope with an 'overseer' present and construe their involvement as meddling.  If such a role were to be created, Benitez would have to have a big say in who is brought in. A friend would be an ally, but an outsider could be perceived as a threat.

So what if Benitez leaves? It would certainly mark the end of an era, and his departure would likely herald a mass clear-out. Torres, Jose Reina, Javier Mascherano et al might well fancy their chances elsewhere if the Spanish-speaking community was broken up.  That would give carte blanche to whoever came in to immediately stamp his authority on the club, bring in whoever he likes and prove he is a wiser owl than Benitez in the transfer market. 

His first task would be to address the striking situation. Quite simply there is no strength in depth at the moment and, without Torres, no strength at all. The likes of Ryan Babel and David Ngog are not players who can turn games -the kind of players Liverpool need to turn things around.  It seems like whatever happens this summer, Liverpool cannot realistically expect to regain their membership of the top four, and next season promises to be one of consolidation rather than real progress.

And Jeremy gets the last word in…

Bloggers of the Round Table - Liverpool Discussion Part 3

Our esteemed blogger panel consisting of The Fantasist, YFF Assistant Manager, YFF Scout, Mohamed Kileeny, and your favorite bloggers from this here site (Jeremy and Neal) continues with our entry from Ses, the YFF Scout.  If you want to catch up on where we've been, you can see Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Bloggers of the Round Table - More Liverpool Discussion

The Blogger Round Table returns with Nik's comments on the future of Liverpool.  Nik is better known as the YFF Assistant Manager.  If you're just joining the conversation, you can see the beginning here...

Bloggers of the Round Table - Part 1: The Fate of Liverpool?

In a constant effort to keep things interesting here at the blog, we've assembled a panel of people whose work and comments we've enjoyed over the past year to discuss some of the key topics of the summer.  We'll not only be hosting the conversation here on this blog but also on the blogs and sites of others participating in the conversation.

Before I kick things off, I'll introduce everyone to the people behind this exercise.
  1. Mike Hynter - Writer at EuroSport and part of the team that produces The Fantasist;
  2. Nik Argiropoulos - Author of the YFF Assistant Manager blog;
  3. Susiendran Karunananthan - Author of the YFF Scout blog;
  4. Mohamed Killeeny - Loyal reader of our blog and Top 100 finisher in the YFF game this season;
  5. Jeremy Spitzberg - My co-blogger on our blog that is so old that we didn't need to name it to differentiate it from the others (hmm, maybe we should get on that now that there are so many good blogs out there);
  6. Neal Thurman - your host and co-blogger at http://fantasyepl.blogspot.com
For the first topic which we'll post on our blog when we get to the end of it, I'd like to start discussing club needs from the summer and I'd specifically like to start the group discussing what I think will be the most interesting story of the summer...Liverpool. What do you think SHOULD happen at Liverpool?  What do you think WILL happen at Liverpool? So many questions to answer here...additional investment? Outright sale of the club to someone who can afford to operate it? a change at manager? high profile players coming in? leaving? Seems like it could go just about anywhere.

What does every one think about Liverpool's fate this summer?

First up, Mohamed Killeeny…