Side Kicks: Contract killers for hire … 1-800-TAPPD-UP

Those of you who read last week’s column can probably guess that I’m not a happy camper today.

Have you ever noticed that the style of play for a given national team sort of takes on the personality of its populace?

For example, the Brazilians play with a fun-loving flair and panache. The Germans are very organized, efficient and industrious. The Spanish are so good at short and controlled passes that their tiqui-taca style of play almost looks effortlessly flashy. And Dutch creativity and expressionism oozes when they play their beautiful Total Football system.

So what does it tell you when Hungary’s style of play for their two crucial home games against Sweden and Portugal was timid, disorganized, weak and devoid of any heart/fighting spirit? Draw your own conclusions.

Overall, it was a wild week of World Cup qualifiers. Can you believe that teams like the Czech Republic, Nigeria and Argentina, to name a few, are in serious danger of missing out on next summer’s festivities?

I’m honestly too drained from this week’s events to elaborate much further.

Let’s do this thing …

FIFA has made a couple of decisions in the past week and a half in areas that quite could change game pretty significantly. But it seems to me that FIFA has set out on the attack rather arbitrarily. Diving has always been a yellow card and the decision of the referee, or lack-thereof, in this case has been accepted as part of the game. And in terms of the transfer issue, you brought up the point of Real Madrid’s pursuit of Ronaldo, which I seem to recall Bladder having no problems with. Now it seems they have done a 180 and given the small clubs, or any club for that matter, huge monetary incentives to bring up transfer injustices. Don’t get me wrong, I think both diving and transfers are in need of reform, but do you think FIFA’s way of creating examples out of players and clubs will be effective, or have they shot themselves in the foot?

Lo of Los Angeles

Robert: When the Chelsea and Eduardo sagas sprung up last week or so, I wrote that FIFA and UEFA were opening up a huge can of worms. In the case of the Blues’ transfer ban, already a number of clubs have followed suit, smelling blood in the water.

Was there any other way this could have possibly played out?

Now you’ve got Le Havre and Fiorentina going after United, Rennes getting FIFA to probe Manchester City, Roma facing its own ban over the Mexes signing, FC Sion’s case with the Egyptain goalkeeper El-Hadary, and any number of other call-outs on the immediate horizon. How Sepp and the rest of his buddies in Zurich didn’t see this coming I have no idea.

Their main focus in these matters has always been with the young players coming out of Africa or South America, but now it’s moved up to continental shores. They’re feeling the need to make a ‘tapping up’ example out of someone, and unfortunately for Chelsea, their number got picked.

Look, I’m all for parity, but natural parity, not the type plotted out by the big bosses at FIFA and UEFA headquarters. There’s almost a socialist movement going on in terms of trying to level the playing field, but the only true way to make that happen is to introduce some form of binding European salary cap.

I’m not seeing this through rose-colored glasses for the big clubs, either. I’m pretty sure where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Few entities get to the top of their respective fields without stepping on a few throats along the way. The nature of the beast? Must be.

It’s a player’s world nowadays … that’s just the way it is. No manager wants a sulking on the field, cancer in the locker room player to unbalance his team’s cohesion. Players know this — and it happens here in U.S. sports as well — I don’t see Eli Manning wearing a bolt on his helmet.

It is a problem though, I just don’t believe that it’s been handled properly. And if I had a wonderful solution already, I’d send it to Blatter tomorrow. I’m just afraid that for the time being it’s going to be a big distraction for all the top clubs across Europe when they should be concentrating on playing football.

John: You know, I really don’t think it’s as big of an issue as some people are making it out to be. My only real gripe is this: rewarding small clubs for blowing the whistle should also backfire if the allegations are proven to be false.

In other words, the “bigger” club should be in some kind of position to counter-sue the smaller club. Or at the very least, make the smaller clubs pay some kind of false accusation fine so they’ll think twice about reporting borderline incidents just to tie up some of the bigger club’s resources.

But in general, all of the recent FIFA moves seem to be (to me, anyway) fine-tuning the existing rules to avoid some confusion and reduce the amount of gray areas, which brings me to …

The ban given to Chelsea, and Zaragoza and Roma before them, has exposed the chronic lack of knowledge of the transfer rules among fans and press. We know that you are not supposed to negotiate with a player under contract at another club without their permission, but we see lots of suspicious behavior and rare punishments. It seems that every protracted transfer involves media flirtation between the two parties, discreet meetings with the player’s agent, and sometimes you read that players agree personal terms before a their club gives them freedom to negotiate. Could you clear up this gray area, and explain what the distinction between the average aggressive transfer policy and illegal behavior.

LABlaugrana of Catalunya, Barcelona

John: Hang on, I’m not sure I get what you’re trying to say. The fans and media have no idea regarding transfer rules, but you’re asking members of the media to explain? Burnsy, I don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult. But let’s take your points one by one:

  • Media flirtation between the two parties: Clubs can’t be held accountable for members of the media who like to speculate where players are going to wind up. Not to mention, news outlets lose credibility if they print something ludicrous and untue. Even if some random club planted a story in the media to try to drum up interest … well, so what? What, is Cristiano Ronaldo going to sign with Burnley next season because the Lancashire Evening Telegraph runs a false article claiming he’s interested?
  • Discreet meetings with the player’s agent: It depends on what the agent and club discuss, and when. But how in the world would FIFA or nation’s football administration be able to monitor something like that? This kind of answers your question about gray areas, and I can’t imagine any kind of system which could keep track of what agents and club officials discuss when they meet.
  • Sometimes you read that players agree personal terms before a their club gives them freedom to negotiate: I’d be really curious to see where you read something like that BEFORE players were allowed to negotiate terms, because if a player and agent did that with another club without first ensuring they were allowed to do so, they could be sued by their current club for breach of contract.

    Robert: It’s a simple concept, but as Johnny mentioned, difficult to track. If a player is under contract, no other team is legally allowed to discuss a transfer with that player. Of course, when a player is say finished with his contract at the end of a season, there’s already a long line of suitors hoping to get the first meeting.

    So is this technically illegal? No, of course not … you snooze, you lose. Clubs generally express an interest through various outlets that they’re interested in that particular player well ahead of his last day on the job.

    It becomes a lot more seedy when a player is still contractually obligated to his club for years to come, yet somehow word gets out, either through the media rumor mill, or the club itself (in clever ways). At that point there’s some illegal activity going on if it goes beyond just talk. Private meetings, phone calls or any other form of contact at that point are strictly prohibited, but we don’t live in a squeaky-clean world now, do we?

    Look, I’m the first to admit that I am no genius when it comes to the business of football. I spend my time getting to know small teams in Turkey or Ecuador, not what Kia Joorabchian had for lunch or what’s in his briefcase.

    But it’s fairly obvious that some clubs out there are, if not breaking the rules, pushing the boundaries to the farthest reaches. They’re seeing how far they can go and now one of them has gotten its wrist severely slapped.

    Let’s wait and see how Chelsea’s appeal goes before we predict what’s going to happen next.

    I must say that was one of the most pathetic performances I’ve ever seen from the USA in Trinidad. What was that? I don’t know how good we look for next summer, but it better get better than that mess!

    Paul S. of Chicago

    Robert: You’re right on the money, Paul. That was just abysmal to watch. I’ve rarely gotten ‘bored’ when watching the U.S. play, but when that happens, it’s usually in the Caribbean. It looked like they were suffering from a post-Carnival hangover.

    A win is a win, and that’s great — Lord knows we needed one with the qualifying standings as tight as they are. But for a team that just had to come back to beat El Salvador at home, they sure didn’t look like they got the message.

    Okay, so we’ll call it an off-night. It happens. Better now than in South Africa next summer. I can take solace in the victory as I remember the days when even getting a draw on the road alone in CONCACAF was cause for celebration, but it’s certainly not the kind of football that will inspire the team’s fans to rally around them in preparation for the World Cup.

    Two more tough games to go — Honduras on the road and Costa Rica at home. If the team doesn’t bring a lot more fire onto the field than they did in Port of Spain, the Catrachos will demolish the U.S. in front of their home crowd. This cannot happen. Bob Bradley must get more out of his team than he has in the last two must-win qualifiers.

    So I guess there’s your silver lining to this all, and the one that matters most. The last two matches were must-wins and the U.S. got six points. So while the car was dirty, dented and rusty, it still made the trip all the way to Vegas.

    John: I texted Burnsy last night that the performance wasn’t exactly memorable, but I don’t really care at the moment. All that matters is the three points are in the bag, the U.S. is atop the CONCACAF standings and guaranteed 2010 qualification is within reach when the next game kicks off.

    As a matter of fact, getting results when you’re not playing your best is (dare I say it?) one of the signs of a strong team.

    Is England really playing that well under Capello or is luck just seeming to be on their side more often than not? They’ve already qualified for the World Cup, but are there any other things they need to do before South Africa to improve and maybe be able to bring home the trophy for the first time since 1966?

    Benny Ostler of Portland, Me.

    John: It’s not a giant coincidence that England started winning when Capello came on board. He’s a tactical genius who enjoyed enormous success at the club level, and I think next summer’s World Cup is going to show England’s true talent level compared to the rest of the world since Capello somehow already knows how to get the maximum level of effort and skill from each of his players.

    England vs. Croatia

    Just think, though. If England somehow managed to win it all in 2010, you’d start hearing gripes shortly afterwards that the team would have won had they been managed by an Englishman. I’m not even kidding.

    Robert: Capello is obviously getting the most out of his team, especially when it really matters. They’ve shown some weaknesses in friendly matches (against Spain and Holland), but the Italian seems to have truly learned valuable lessons from those rough patches and transferred them to the Lions’ qualifying games.

    The England players all seem to have great respect for Capello and it’s obvious they’re buying into his system and style. It’s amazing to see what a difference a trainer can make from the psychological perspective. Same players that McClaren had, vastly different results and attitude.

    However, before you engrave the World Cup trophy with England’s name on it, there are still some pitfalls that need to be addressed. Who can England rely on in the goalkeeping role? Is Glen Johnson the answer at right back?

    What about Lampard and Gerrard playing together in the same midfield? For now it looks like Capello has found a solution there, but it will only take one poor performance between now and next summer for those questions to arise once again.

    More importantly, who will partner Wayne Rooney up top? In the form that Jermain Defoe is in with Spurs, I can’t see why he’s not starting, but you can’t argue with Capello’s results, especially after such a thoroughly convincing win over Croatia.

    Robert Burns is the senior editor of and John Juhasz is a fantasy writer for