KL: The Super Bowl is over, and we’re happy that Andy Reid finally won the big one. As with every February, my friend and colleague G.P. Kennedy and I are here to help you with your football hangover with our dispatch from the other football. After all, you can debate whether soccer is better than the NFL, but for sure it’ll be better than the XFL. G.P., glad to have you here.
GP: Howdy, KL. We are back in our biannual booth to call the balls and strikes on the soccer’s big transfers. Quick comment on the Super Bowl. Congrats to the Missouri-based Chiefs: Even though the go-ahead touchdown was out of bounds, there’s no doubt that their D was dominant in the fourth quarter and may well have won anyway. In Patrick Mahomes, the NFL might have found their Mo Salah.
KL: Speaking of whom, let’s start with your club, Liverpool. They’re currently running away with the English Premier League title, so they weren’t under the gun to do anything, yet they acquired Takumi Minamino, the team’s first-ever Japanese player and a long-term replacement for Sadio Mané and Salah (not to mention picking up the offensive slack when those players leave to play in the African Nations Cup tournament in April). What’s your take on the move?
GP: Hold your horses there, Kristian. Let’s not be talking about the need to replace Mané or Salah just yet, though I take your point that at some point in the distant future –– after Liverpool have won several league and European trophies –– Minamino may well be the man to lead the line for the Reds. The Mighty Atom certainly looked the part when he was at Salzburg and actually managed to score a goal against Liverpool in a crazy 4-3 win for the European and World Champions at Anfield a few months ago. Minamino has looked a little starstruck during his cameo appearances for Liverpool so far, but he certainly has what it takes to be an outstanding player. Under the tutelage of Jürgen Klopp, he is in the hands of the best soccer coach in the world. Klopp simply makes very good players great.
KL: Players do love playing for the most emotional German guy you’ll ever meet. I’m puzzled by the moves made by Liverpool’s nearest rivals. Manchester City, which direly needed another central defender, got no one. Chelsea, which presumably paid its lawyers handsome sums to be able to acquire players this term, also got no one. Manchester United, needing a striker, spent weeks wooing the nice-but-hardly-overwhelming Josh King before giving up and settling for Odion Ighalo, who was last seen scoring three goals in 36 games for Watford. (He did score a bunch in the Chinese league recently, but I’m not making any coronavirus jokes.) What are these teams doing?
GP: Hahaha. Stop it. No, really. You’re killing me, KL. Manchester United is one of Liverpool’s “nearest rivals”? I am simultaneously LOLing and ROFLing while typing. A’hem! The January transfer window is a curious beast. For the biggest clubs, the task is to discern whether improvements are needed. If so, clubs ask themselves whether the right players are available during the window. Oftentimes, the big clubs use January as a time to position themselves for big signings in the summer transfer window, so I am not surprised to see City not add to their deep squad. You allude to the legal restrictions on Chelsea signing players. This, in some ways, has forced new coach Frank Lampard to focus on developing talent from the youth squad. It is proving to be a blessing in disguise. That coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United has failed to identify, attract, and sign the players necessary for a flailing team should surprise no one. The guy is simply not fit for purpose. The last-gasp signing of Portuguese creative midfielder Bruno Fernandes for in the region of $60 million owes more to the hegemony of the club’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward. He was probably glad to board his private jet out of Manchester this week after his home was attacked and vandalized by fans irate at the state of affairs on and off the pitch.
KL: To be clear, we thoroughly condemn fans shooting fireworks at their team’s executive’s house. Nevertheless, I can understand United fans’ frustration. For once, we move to Germany, where the question every year is, “Can anyone take down Bayern Munich?” USA fans will note that Borussia Dortmund signed Giovanni Reyna, the son of former Team USA captain Claudio Reyna, but the bigger acquisitions are defensive midfielder Emre Can and boulder-shaped Norwegian teen Erling Braut Haaland, who has been scoring goals like crazy. Meanwhile, Hertha Berlin and former Team USA coach Jürgen Klinsmann spent like sailors on MDMA to snag Polish striker Krzysztof Piątek and Brazilian striker Matheus Cunha while jettisoning the coach’s son Jonathan Klinsmann (ouch!). Will any of this move the needle against league-leading Bayern?
GP: German teams can, theoretically, stop Bayern Munich, but they seem psychologically incapable of so doing. They’ve been in position a number of times in recent seasons to best Bayern but have fallen prey to Jigsaw Syndrome, whereby they fall to pieces in the box. My mind now inevitably wanders to thoughts of seamen giddy on molly … loved-up times in the ports of Germany. Anyhoo, Bayern Munich have won seven consecutive Bundesliga titles, and it’s atop the division right now. Who would bet against them becoming octochamps? The rest of the teams are splashing the Euros in a bid to position themselves for Champions league places, which leads to pots of gold and the cachet and financial clout to work on maybe, possibly, someday toppling the übermenschen of Munich.
KL: Over in Italy, Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte seems eager to beat his former employers Juventus with a team of English Premier League castoffs by acquiring Nigerian winger Victor Moses, English utility player Ashley Young, and Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen. How do we rate his chances?
GP: I am not sure that Conte will be successful this season, but he has snagged the bargain of the window –– $20 million for Christian Eriksen is a great piece of business. The nerazzurri have snagged a player in his prime years who can dictate play and score from range and is great from dead-ball situations. That José Mourinho at Spurs could or would not do what was needed to make Erikson happy is as baffling as the North Londoners’ scrap with Chelsea for the last spot in next season’s Champions League. Ronaldo will probably power Juve to the Serie A title through his combination of brilliance and brilliantine.
KL: Nice play on words! Here in America, LA Galaxy fulfilled their reputation for big moves by replacing the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-shaped hole in their lineup with Javier “Chicharito” Hernández while also gaining Emiliano Insúa and Sacha Kljestan. FC Dallas, meanwhile, acquired well-traveled Brasileirão veteran Thiago Santos and SMU fullback Eddie Munjoma while sending Paraguayan striker Cristián Colmán to Barcelona (the one in Ecuador, not the one in Spain). It looks like the $2 million to acquire Colmán and his four goals in 41 games was money well spent. That sound you just heard was all the FC Dallas fans kicking something.
GP: Chicharito is past it, with a small “p” — see what I did there? (If you don’t, ask a Mexican.) I understand signing the popular striker from a commercial point of view, however. Honestly, it is still difficult for me to take the MLS seriously. It is like a month-old puppy in the “Large Dogs” section of the dog park. Collectively, the league bounds around energetically with no real idea what its purpose is, just yet, and occasionally trips up on invisible objects and face-plants in the one patch of mud in an otherwise dry field. What I am saying, KL, is that the MLS needs to do its own thing for quite some time, mature a little or a lot. What happens in the MLS is fun in the same way watching puppies play-fight is fun. Meanwhile, the big dogs are playing for real.
KL: GP, you don’t remember how bad North American soccer was 25 years ago. MLS’ ethos has always been to develop young players while bringing in older veterans to mentor them, a strategy that has yielded mixed results — Lothar Matthäus and Rafa Márquez notably half-assed their way through the league — but brought up the standard of play all over North America and the Caribbean. Any last words before we start our podcast back up?
GP: Last words? I’m not terminally ill, KL. Yes, the MLS has a very specific function in the soccer world, for sure. I’ll sign off with, We’re gonna win the league. We’re gonna win the league. And now you’re gonna believe us …