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Soccer Mailbag: Is Messi Beautiful? Why Do People Hate Chelsea? What's Wrong With Liverpool?

I’m Brazilian, so, admittedly, a partisan when it comes to Messi. A friend of mine (who is not Brazilian) recently complained about Messi’s style, or his complete lack thereof. My friend basically argued that Messi is ruthlessly efficient and fast, but completely devoid of flair. All he does is score goals, but he does so in the least interesting and most teleological way possible. Of course I want to agree with him, but like I said, I’m biased against Messi. Thoughts? Is Messi ruthless, boring, and is his game un-beautiful?

- Eduardo N.

This depends on how one define’s beauty. Messi’s game has no excess flamboyance. He nutmegs a defender when it gets him into space. He chips a keeper when the angle gives him the greatest probability of scoring. He straddles perfection. His footballing brain functions on a different level. He’s surgical, whether that constitutes beauty is a matter of taste.

Why do people hate Chelsea so much?

- Chris M.

Chelsea are nouveau riche. They were bought by a Russian billionaire and spent an atrocious amount of money building a squad, before Man City and the two big Spanish clubs made it fashionable. They openly courted other clubs’ big-name players. Chelsea were ugly. Mourinho built them into a superpower. He did so by playing a cynical, artless, conservative brand of soccer that could be brutal to watch. He bedded the most beautiful women in the world and forced them to wear ill-fitting pants suits. Chelsea had players who are heels on the pitch (Drogba) and off it (Terry). Arrogant in triumph, few feel qualms about laughing at them in defeat.

With more American owners overseas, do you see a Euro league going to a playoff system for leagues ? Or just not happening ?

- @icecoldpucks

Not happening. Playoffs add a particular brand of excitement. That excitement is already fulfilled at top level through the cup competitions. Lower leagues have embraced playoffs for promotion, having teams 3-6 playoff for the final promotion place, though there should be little penetration beyond that with or without American ownership. No postseason is what makes the league seaso so urgent. Even in MLS, some consider the Supporters Shield (regular season) to be the true title ahead of MLS Cup (playoffs).

As a Liverpool supporter, I’ve found this season to be equal parts wonderful and disastrous. The Premier League performance has been sub-par and yesterday’s meltdown against QPR all but rendered the rest of the slate meaningless. On the other hand, a Carling Cup victory and FA Cup semifinal berth have given me plenty to like. My question to you is how many places in league you’d sacrifice in order to have Arsenal win the Carling Cup, FA Cup, and both. My personal feeling is that winning both is worth finishing as low as 10th, but am having a hard time deciding how much just one would be worth. What say you?

- Kyle K.

The FA Cup has prestige as the world’s oldest soccer competition, but the true worth of cups depends on the team winning it. For those clubs with no hope of winning the league, such as Fulham or Bolton, winning the Carling or FA Cup would be a huge deal. For Arsenal or Liverpool, winning one is heartening, but a consolation prize. It’s not worth missing the Champions League and, in that respect, Liverpool’s season, even with a cup double, will be failure. That said, once out of the Champions League finishing 5th or 10th is largely irrelevant. Liverpool may focus on the FA Cup at the expense of the league from here forward.

What nations are your favorites right now for Euro 2012? Who will be the surprise team?

- Jason J.

The two clear favorites are Spain and Germany, with the Dutch a close third. They are the only three European teams to reach major tournament finals since 2006. They had a combined 27-0-1 record in Euro 2012 qualifying. The choices beyond that become uninspiring. The best outside shot will be a team that avoids the top three until the semifinal. The best bet for that would be the winner of Group D. France are as talented as anyone if (and it’s a big if) Laurent Blanc has them screwed on straight, they can win Group D, dispatch Italy and give Germany a game in the semis.

Please explain Raul Meireles’ haircut and how it logically fits with his tattoos and game, or lack there of. This is quite a perplexing topic.

- @mgarc1027

He initially had a mohawk. He then let the top grow out while shaving down the sides. Off the pitch, it’s some sort of euro-hipster combover thing to hide his premature baldness and still look badass. On the pitch, it’s a shaved head with a bizarrely long tuft at the top, off kilter and highlighting his premature baldness. Just bizarre.

You may get this one more than once: What in the world is wrong with Liverpool (as in how in the hell do you blow a 2-0 lead in 13 minutes against one of the worst teams in the BPL)???

- Brian K.

Liverpool were a Champions League club. They lost Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, two of the best defensive midfielders in the sport. They sold Fernando Torres. Gerrard and Carragher got old.  Fenway Sports Group arrived to rebuild the team, and have not done a stellar job.

The club has no coherent direction, despite hiring a director of football. Soccer is not baseball, it’s a more complex version of basketball where far fewer easily quantifiable things happen. It’s much harder to obtain meaningful statistical data, let alone deploy it in an effective fashion. They bought average to good players with skills they thought might be undervalued. They create chances but don’t score them. They don’t have a result-changing player. The Reds lose when they don’t play well. They dominate play when they do play well but struggle scoring and putting teams away. Add that to an ineffectual performance from Kenny Dalglish and you get a team not qualifying for the Champions League.

For three years I’ve heard that Fulham will probably lose Dempsey to a bigger club, why hasn’t it happened?

- Paul Pabst

Dempsey is in the same trap as Donovan with MLS. He’s worth more to the club than he is on the open market. He’s 29, has hit his peak and will have no transfer value on the back end of the deal, which reduces the value for the acquiring club. It’s only worth it for Fulham to sell him for a big fee. They reportedly wanted around $16 million for him last summer. He’s a nice player, and good enough to play at a club like Arsenal, but those caliber clubs did not see him as enough of an upgrade to invest substantially in him.

This summer changes the situation. He has one year left and can leave for free at the end of his contract. If he declines to sign his extension, he could force his way out. Fulham would have to consider strongly selling him and buying a bargain replacement. That could lower his price to a level where a Tottenham/Liverpool or second-tier Champions League club on the continent might become interested.

I’ve always enjoyed following the EPL, but started to really follow Everton after the first arrival of Landon Donovan. It seems as if money is always an issue for the club, but they always manage to field a decent side. Is there anything to suggest a possible influx of money/talent to the Toffees in the near future that might propel them to the upper-tier of the EPL table or should I dig in for the long haul and expect season after season of mediocrity?

- Wade Neely

Everton is stuck. They aren’t profitable. They are crippled by debt. They desperately need a new stadium. Ownership has minimized expenditure while trying, up till now in vain, to find an investor. They have sold players the past three seasons. The only reason they are as competitive as they are is Moyes being incredibly savvy and efficient in the market, and doing things on the cheap such as bringing in Donovan on loan. If Moyes leaves the club could be a relegation risk. Enjoy the mediocrity because it may not last.

Avid Chelsea fan here, and would be interested in your take. If you were Roman for the day, what four players would you ship out this summer, and what four would you bring in?

- Tony H.

I would get rid of the big three (Terry, Lampard and Drogba). They are too influential behind the scenes, they drag the team toward playing their style and, with them firmly in decline, can no longer play that style well enough to win consistently. I would also try to sell Essien who, clearly, is not up to the standard he was a few seasons ago before his injuries. I’m not sure either will happen. Bringing players in is trickier, especially if they fail to qualify for the Champions League. Mourinho, if he returns, would probably pay lip service to signing an elaborate Abramovich type player while quietly bringing in some of his former Inter Milan players to stabilize things for 2012-13.

What’s your take on how the Champions League will play out? Will we get to see Real and Barca face off in the finals?

- Robert C.

Yes, almost certainly. Barcelona faces no real challenge en route to the final. The best opponent remaining is Chelsea. Bayern Munich could present an obstacle to Real Madrid, but they are defensively frail and, with fissures behind the scenes, inconsistent. It would be more than a moderate shock were one of these teams to miss the final.

Do you think the UEFA financial fair play rules will have the intended teeth? Chelsea lost a $100 million last fiscal year, but only show marginal signs of slowing. Supposedly UEFA is banning “close” deals like Etihad (owned by same family) sponsoring Man City’s stadium. Can you see UEFA keeping either of these teams out of European Competition?

- Dave S.

That’s the question everyone is asking. Rules need an enforcement mechanism to exist (see: MLB with PEDs pre-2004). Using financial fair play rules to boot a club from the Champions League would (a) have to stand up in court and (b) be acceptable to the other big clubs to avert a revolt that could end up in a European Super League. That’s at least possible, though UEFA would have to drive a wedge between big clubs such as Arsenal and Bayern Munich and super-duper clubs who want to spend what they please. My guess is the eventual solution will be fines rather than outright booting a club from Europe.

Why is Andy Carroll the worst player ever?

- Jeff U.

Carroll is not the worst player ever. Worst signing ever? That may be a point for debate. Here is what I wrote after they signed him.

The most plausible scenario is that Newcastle quoted a ridiculous price to ward off Liverpool’s interest and Liverpool surprisingly agreed and opened the checkbook. Carroll has potential. He’s great in the air and he’s developing a sense for goal, but, given his scant resume and turbulent off the field history, anything more than a $20 million investment is foolish.  Liverpool paid three times over for him.  Even under the rosiest scenario where he matures into a palatable human being and a consistent, 20-goal-per-season striker, he still won’t live up his $55 million fee.  So much for Moneyball.

Carroll was a non-entity as recently as 2009. Playing in the EPL and Championship to that point, he had scored four goals in 41 appearances. There were reports that he was offered to West Ham that summer, when Newcastle was relegated, for $1.5 million and West Ham did not want him. He proceeded to have a solid year in the Championship, scoring 19 goals as Newcastle bounced back to the EPL. He then got off to a hot start, scoring 11 goals in 19 appearances, before being sold to Liverpool for $55 million. He has scored six goals in 35 appearances this season. Three came against lower league opponents in the cup competitions.

Basically, for Carroll to be effective, the team needs to be built around him. He’s big and he’s physical and that’s about it. He’s not going to link up play. He’s not going to anticipate Suarez’ movement and jump on the chances he creates. He needs someone to run down the side of the field and kick balls at him, repeatedly. That’s not going to happen at Liverpool. He should be sold, though it’s not clear Liverpool would get enough to make that tenable.

I am a relative newcomer to watching the EPL and others…Do you have specific soccer books you would recommend reading for history or strategy overviews?

- Brian S.

If you want a general history, check out David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round. For a tactical and historical overview, read Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid.

[Photos via Getty]

 

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