Soccer Fixing: How Very Different from the Home Life of Our Own Dear Teams?

Since I am the frontpager least capable of discussing sports intelligently, I’ll just throw this out there. Brian Phillips, at Grantland:

How @#%& is the Beautiful Game?
… Right now, Dan Tan’s programmers are busy reverse-engineering the safeguards of online betting houses. About $3 billion is wagered on sports every day, most of it on soccer, most of it in Asia. That’s a lot of noise on the big exchanges. We can exploit the fluctuations, rig the bets in a way that won’t trip the houses’ alarms. And there are so many moments in a soccer game that could swing either way. All you have to do is see an Ilves tackle in the box where maybe the Viikingit forward took a dive. It happens all the time. It would happen anyway. So while you’re running around the pitch in Finland, the syndicate will have computers placing high-volume max bets on whatever outcome the bosses decided on, using markets in Manila that take bets during games, timing the surges so the security bots don’t spot anything suspicious. The exchanges don’t care, not really. They get a cut of all the action anyway. The system is stacked so it’s gamblers further down the chain who bear all the risks.

What’s that — you’re worried about getting caught? It won’t happen. Think about the complexity of our operation. We are organized in Singapore, I flew from Budapest, the match is in Finland, we’re wagering in the Philippines using masked computer clusters from Bangkok to Jakarta. Our communications are refracted across so many cell networks and satellites that they’re almost impossible to unravel. The money will move electronically, incomprehensibly, through a hundred different nowheres. No legal system was set up to handle this kind of global intricacy. The number of intersecting jurisdictions alone is dizzying. Who’s going to spot the crime? Small-town police in Finland? A regulator in Beijing? Each of them will only see one tiny part of it. How would they ever know to talk to each other? Dan Tan has friends in high places; extradition requests can find themselves bogged down in paperwork. Witnesses can disappear. I promise; you’ll be safe. Who can prove you didn’t see a penalty? We’re fine.

And that’s how a sport ends up fucked. This week, Europol, the European Union’s criminal-intelligence division, announced that its investigation into match-fixing, codenamed “Operation Veto,” had uncovered 680 suspicious games from 2008 to 2011. It’s huge news, not because the results are particularly surprising — there’s plenty of other evidence, even recent evidence, that match-fixing is rampant in global soccer — but because the sheer extent of the allegations means that we can no longer delude ourselves about what’s happening. This is what’s happening: Soccer is fucked. Match-fixing is corroding the integrity of the game at every level…Operation Veto found suspect World Cup qualifiers, suspect European Championship qualifiers, suspect Champions League games. It found 150 suspect matches at the international level, on multiple continents. It found 380 suspect matches in Europe overall. It found a suspect match involving Liverpool that was played at Anfield, arguably the most celebrated club and stadium in England….

So, soccer aficionados: How much of this is true, or important, and how much is click-seeking bravado?

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79 replies
  1. 1
    Mudge says:

    That whole discussion reminds me of the way the banking system works. Raise no alarms. Compromise the watchdogs. “..it’s gamblers [homeowners] further down the chain who bear all the risks.”

  2. 2
    grass says:

    Quite hyperbolic. The vast majority of the matches were inconsequential or minor games, and the way they were fixed was a bit more subtle than guaranteeing a win one way or the other. I’m not sure what he means by Liverpool being the most “celebrated club in England.” Maybe in Merseyside.

    There’s a problem with corrupt match officials though, definitely.

  3. 3
    Tim F. says:

    Could have sworn that we had a soccer blogger. We could ask him?

  4. 4
    Eric U. says:

    I stopped watching the NBA because it looked too much like it was fixed. It’s a problem.

  5. 5
    PeakVT says:

    @Tim F.: I think Randinho’s blogging is on hiatus.

  6. 6
    Tone in DC says:

    The NBA has a definite problem, IMHO.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Donaghy

    Just sayin’.

  7. 7
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @grass:

    Historically, Liverpool is one of, if not the most celebrated club(s) in England. Recently, currently, Manchester United has dominated. But before the formation of the Premier League, Liverpool was dominant.

    “Liverpool’s first trophy was the Lancashire League, which it won in the club’s first season.[105] In 1901, the club won its first League title, while its first success in the FA Cup was in 1965. In terms of the number of trophies won, Liverpool’s most successful decade was the 1980s, when the club won six League titles, two FA Cups, four League Cups, five Charity Shields (one shared) and two European Cups. Liverpool has won the English League Championship eighteen times, the FA Cup seven times and the League Cup a record eight times. The club achieved a League and FA Cup “double” in 1986 and won the League and European Cup double both in 1977 and in 1984. Liverpool also won the League Cup in 1984 to complete a treble, a feat repeated (albeit with different trophies) in 2001, when the club won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup.[106]
    Liverpool has one of the best records in the history of top-level football. The club has accumulated more top-flight wins than any other English team.[107] Liverpool also has the second-highest average league finishing position for the period 1900–1999, with an average league placing of 8.7.[108] Liverpool has won the European Cup, Europe’s premier club competition, five times, an English record and only surpassed by Real Madrid and A.C. Milan. Liverpool’s fifth European Cup win, in 2005, meant that the club was awarded the trophy permanently and was also awarded a multiple-winner badge.[109][110] Liverpool has won the UEFA Cup, Europe’s secondary club competition, three times, a record the club shares with Juventus and Internazionale.[111]”

  8. 8
    TriassicSands says:

    …I am the frontpager least capable of discussing sports intelligently,

    I hope you don’t think that’s a bad thing…

    Someone on the radio recently said that 70% of sports betting (globally) is on soccer (or football, if you live outside the US).

  9. 9
    BGinCHI says:

    @J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford: Liverpool is also the favorite club of all smart, good-looking people, especially here in the US.

  10. 10
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    Soccer seems to have some particular weaknesses for this. Being extremely popular in Asia, where the organizations behind this operate, is one prerequisite but there are elements of the game that make it vulnerable.

    There are a lot of discretionary judgment calls with regards to fouls. It just seems accepted that there are going to be a lot of calls that are not only inexplicable but for which you can’t even tell what the right one is on replay. Of the larger North American sports baseball and even football don’t have this problem to the same extent, though hockey and basketball do. There are just a lot of ways the ref can affect the outcome without arousing suspicion.

    There’s only one ref and so all of those judgment calls are in the hands of one person. It would be a lot harder for any football official chosen in advance of the game to have as much of an impact on the outcome. They’d certainly have some but there’d be a lot more uncertainty that you could put the fix in without suborning an entire officiating crew with all of the potential secrecy problems inherent in that. The only baseball umpire that even might have that much influence is the one calling balls and strikes and MLB watches those calls very carefully just to assess competence.

    The popularity in Asia part is important. I have a hard time seeing that large Filipino betting markets will ever be developed on the outcome of the Stanley Cup playoffs so hockey is probably safe. Note that one of the big problems is not just that the markets aren’t well regulated but also that the authorities in Singapore are actively obstructing the investigation. So it’s unlikely that this will ever be as big a problem in a sport where the popularity is limited to North America and northern Europe.

    Of the major American sports the only one other than soccer that would seem to be at serious risk is basketball. Probably not coincidentally it’s the only one in which there has been even a whiff of point shaving with the Tim Donaghy affair.

  11. 11
    jheartney says:

    Nobody makes you gamble on sports. Hell, nobody makes you watch sports. OTOH you have no choice about dealing with the banking system, or needing health care, or needing a roof over your head, or having a job. So speculative shenanigans in finance or Pharma or real estate or the economy generally seem like more of a big deal.

    If it gets well known that the game is rigged, then maybe the punters will stop bringing their money. Problem solved.

  12. 12
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    Is it wrong of me to hope that someone smashes Wayne Rooney’s face into the goalpost?

  13. 13
    BGinCHI says:

    It’s a good thing FIFA isn’t corrupt.

    With that peerless, extremely virtuous organization in charge I’m sure this can’t be true.

  14. 14
    grass says:

    @BGinCHI:
    I thought all yanks supported Arsenal?

  15. 15
    Chris says:

    Liverpool is the equivalent of an Original 6 NHL team, or a rust belt NFL team. Big history, still big fans and a high level of expectation (and usually contending for cups if not the league).

    Brian Phillips from Grantland is a truly great writer, I’ve loved his stuff from the Olympics onward (I live in London).

    The level of corruption in soccer looks to be truly staggering, and in cricket as well btw (you have no idea the numbers of Pakistani and Indian cricket obsessives in the world. Combine that with Asian (of all varieties/regions) gambling/racketeering syndicates, and there is a lot of shit to stir.

    Before we get too cocky, though – we had this in baseball, we lost boxing and earlier, rowing, as big sports due to corruption, we have all sorts of unidentified drugs issues as well as labor issues in all of our professional sports in the US, loads of unresolved issues around illegal gambling in the US (remember Henry Hill fixed some college basketball?), loads of unaddressed issues in collegiate sports in the US, and I would never assume too much given the role of money in American society.

    The interesting thing about this story is the world-wide networking of various crooks, beyond what one would assume cultural/trust bonds would allow, and the diffusion of the criminal acts into a system beyond easy tracking.

  16. 16
    C.J. says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):

    Basketball also has a history of betting scandals due to that very weakness. College basketball, especially.

  17. 17
    The Bearded Blogger says:

    @grass: A lot of bad refereeing could be fixed, quite simply, by incorporating video and sensor technology into the game. The fact that FIFA refuses to do this means, to me, that they stakes in game fixing

  18. 18
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Chris:

    Brian Phillips from Grantland is a truly great writer

    I liked this bit particularly:

    FIFA rhetoric is to action what a remaindered paperback copy of Pippi in the South Seas is to the Horsehead Nebula. FIFA is eyeballs-deep in its own corruption problems, being run, as it is, by a cabal of 150-year-olds, most of them literally made out of dust

    Thank goodness we don’t have any horribly ossified institutions like that here in the good old US [cough] US Senate [cough] of A, at least none of any consequence.

  19. 19
    BGinCHI says:

    @grass: Jesus Christ no.

    No no no.

  20. 20
    The Bearded Blogger says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): Yeah, there’s a lot of judgement calls in soccer, but more than are necessary. If FIFA would only include stopwatches, video and sensors into refereeing, it would be significantly more accurate and less “fixable”

  21. 21
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @grass:

    Fever Pitch is a main reason why many Americans choose Arsenal as their English club of choice.

    I chose Arsenal partly because of Fever Pitch and partly because it was the first highly rated English team that came up when choosing sides in the FIFA series. My friends would take Liverpool or Manchester United and I would take Arsenal. A young Thierry Henry was also a strong draw.

  22. 22
    BGinCHI says:

    @J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford: But Wenger??

    That should have been a deal breaker.

    I do root for them over Chelski and Man City, but that’s the lowest of bars.

  23. 23
    DLew On Roids says:

    @grass:

    While the last part of the comment surely IDs grass as an arriviste Man U fan, the first part is dead on. Matches are much easier to fix when they’re inconsequential because everyone involved doesn’t get paid enough to make it their sole career. A player in a top European league makes comparable money to American stars, so he has little reason to risk everything to pocket a relatively small amount of money. But a player or referee in a minor league or an official of a national team with little chance of making a continental championship tournament has almost nothing to lose anyway.

    It’s the same reason that almost all American point-shaving scandals have been in college sports–the professionals have everything to lose, and the “amateurs” are being exploited.

    And YNWA FTMFW.

  24. 24
    JCJ says:

    @BGinCHI:

    And Everton is the favorite club of, well, not many of us. I am surprised we have not heard yet from Amir regarding the comment from @grass. I figured I would see both of you here as soon as I saw that slight! I saw Liverpool play a match against the Thai national team in Bangkok a few years ago. That was enough to make me a fan. And now I will never walk alone!

  25. 25
    grass says:

    @The Bearded Blogger:
    Would be useful for penalty decisions and offside calls, but I can understand not wanting to upset the flow of the game. Video decisions in Rugby take 30-60 seconds, can’t do that for every foul.

  26. 26
    Garm says:

    @grass:
    Go Swansea!

  27. 27
    MikeJ says:

    @BGinCHI:

    Liverpool is also the favorite club of all smart, good-looking people, especially here in the US.

    Part of the Red Sox family of teams.

  28. 28
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @BGinCHI:

    What’s wrong with Arsene Wenger? This may be the first season since I’ve followed Arsenal that they miss out on Champions League. (edit – yep, Arsenal hasn’t finished below 4th since 1997)

    I think it would be hilarious to watch Wenger manage in MLS.

  29. 29
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    I’m a Newcastle fan myself.

  30. 30
    handsmile says:

    For the love of Andres Iniesta!

    There’s a knock-out round Champions League match now going on between Real Madrid and Manchester United and NOW there’s a front-page post on football! After how many months of lamentable absence!? Y’r killin’ me here, Anne Laurie!

    Maybe after the match I’ll wander back. Until then, for the three, maybe four, readers here who might be interested, there are dozens of articles on this latest match-fixing scandal at the Guardian’s soccer website:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/match-fixing

    @grass:

    Only the really smart, really handsome, really successful ones. (Or at least until this season: Wenger must go!)

  31. 31
    grass says:

    @Garm:
    Wooooo. League Cup in two weeks! Kinda blows my mind Swansea has American fans now.

  32. 32
    piratedan says:

    Derby County Rams!

    that being said, the Premier League is an excellent source of entertaining soccer (football) but it varies from league to league. I don’t doubt the excellence of the Spanish and Italian teams but as soon as they get rid of those snipers in the stands that fell those young maestroes in such an untimely fashion, I stay with English and Scottish football.

  33. 33
    LGRooney says:

    @BGinCHI: Of course, the fan club is not exclusive to the pretty. I wear the red, although it has turned pinkish with the salty tears of the past 20 years.

  34. 34
    Cassidy says:

    Soccer…something for the kids to do when baseball isn’t in season.

    Let’s talk about a real sport like the IOC dropping wrestling. ;)

  35. 35
    LGRooney says:

    @J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford: IOW, nothing wrong with him. First time missing Champions League since 97. That’s an extremely impressive run. Not to mention that his books aren’t balanced but in surplus because he manages to train up players and sell them off for much more than he bought.

  36. 36
    LGRooney says:

    @Cassidy: You mean the kids need a rest when soccer is not in season?

  37. 37
    Cassidy says:

    @LGRooney: Hehehehe…I used to love playing. I can’t watch it, it bores me to tears, but I always loved playing soccer.

  38. 38
    BGinCHI says:

    @JCJ: See, as I said, all the smart and good-looking people. It’s international.

  39. 39
    Amir Khalid says:

    @grass:
    The big football clubs in Europe have long histories going back over a century or more. They also have massive global fan bases, dwarfing anything even the biggest pro sports teams in the US can boast. (Among other reasons, American teams play sports followed mostly, or only, in America.)

    Speaking as a Liverpool FC fan, they might not look like a big club on their form in recent years; but they have a decades-long history among the elite, they still have the global fan base, and they won a Champion’s League as recently as 2005.

    Note that the betting syndicates are based in Asia, which as is well known has more fans of European football than Europe itself. And yes, the betting have certainly fucked football in Asia over pretty good, especially in Malaysia.

    What does Brian Phillips expect Europol to do, prosecute match fixers themselves? He knows damn well they aren’t prosecutors. Once they complete an investigation they must turn the files over to their member countries’ prosecution services for further action.

  40. 40
    Calouste says:

    @The Bearded Blogger:

    FIFA is as corrupt as anything. Why else would Qatar host the 2022 World Cup?

    A few months before the 2010 World Cup the chairman of the (English) FA said that the whole thing was sold and that Spain would win it in exchange for Russia getting to host the 2018 tournament (Russia would help with bribing the refs). The whole media rolled over him and said we shouldn’t listen to a crazy old coot, and of course he didn’t have any hard evidence, but he wasn’t disproven by subsequent events.

  41. 41
    grass says:

    @J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford: @Amir Khalid:
    All these Americans telling me how important Liverpool used to be. :P

  42. 42
    eponymous says:

    @JCJ:

    Count me as one of the few Everton supporters that regularly read Balloon Juice.

  43. 43
    Seanly says:

    Hmmm, how can I get in this racket? I need a little extra income.

    If this is true, that seems like a staggering amount of games with questionable outcomes (though I have no idea how many matches are typically played in a year).

    Nothing is incorruptible, but I don’t see many of the major US sports being subject to this level of corruption on a wide scale.

  44. 44
    LGRooney says:

    @grass: That’s the truth. I have now resigned myself to the idea that my team are an upper-mid table side.

    Doing better than my old boss who was a Scunthorpe United supporter. They’ve moved up in the past 2 years, though.

  45. 45
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @The Bearded Blogger:

    A sensor can’t, say, determine an intentional hand-ball from an unintentional hand-ball, the difference being that the former can leave a side a man short. There’s video of Geoff Hurst’s overtime goal in the ’66 final, but it’s still questionable as to whether it crossed the line- that ball could have been one huge sensor, and it would still be tough to determine whether the “whole of the ball” passed over the goal line.

    There’s no purity in sport. The closest it gets is races in which the participants are limited to lanes, and even then the tiniest fraction of an inch can disqualify a participant.

  46. 46
    Amir Khalid says:

    @grass:
    I am not American.

  47. 47
    Calouste says:

    @Cassidy:

    That was a pretty bad decision. Specially if it is going to be replaced by yet another first-world sport like sports climbing. There’s already f’ing golf in the next Olympics.

  48. 48
    burnspbesq says:

    @BGinCHI:

    Liverpool is also the favorite club of all smart, good-looking people

    They used to be Arsenal fans, before it was discovered that Piers Morgan is an Arsenal fan.

  49. 49
    MikeJ says:

    @Seanly:

    I don’t see many of the major US sports being subject to this level of corruption on a wide scale.

    For the most part nobody gives a shit about American sports outside of the US. That’s the only reason why the story is about football instead of football.

  50. 50
    Dave says:

    It’s not a serious issue in the EPL simply because the money in the league makes throwing a match less enticing and the risk-reward ratio is thrown out of whack. But it Italy, where lower level teams live on a razor’s edge, major sides need to finish high to keep the money coming in and pay isn’t that great unless you’re on a top 4-5 team…well, that’s how players and coaches get bans for match-fixing.

    It’s a problem because it throws the reputation of the sport into question. Even if it occurs in obscure national friendlies or in the Finnish third division.

  51. 51
    Chris says:

    Liverpool is still in the Champions League, which means they ARE important. That’s why John Henry of the Red Sox bought them, off those assholes from Texas. Don’t be ignorant.

    As I noted before, lots of American sports have faced corruption. But corruption has gone global now, and there’s more money, more opportunity, in global sports with global betting patterns.

  52. 52
    Dave says:

    @Chris: Liverpool is in the Europa League, not the CL. And the way they are playing this year, they’ll be lucky to even make it back to that in 13-14.

  53. 53
    Calouste says:

    @Seanly:

    They’re talking about 380 fixed games in Europe in a 4 year period. Depending on what you all count, but apparently it includes semi-professional football, you’d be talking about close to 100,000 games per season in Europe. A league has 306 games per year (18 teams) or 380 (20 teams), larger countries have 5-8 leagues semi pro or better, smaller countries about 2, and there are 50 or so countries in Europe. Add to that cup matches, play offs, internationals, European Cup football and friendlies. So roughly one in 1,000 has been found to be fixed.

  54. 54
    J (reader) says:

    All you need to know is that the linked author, Brian Phillips, is a pompous, pedantic, and insufferable asshat. Never, ever, under any circumstances, follow a link to one of his ridiculous pieces. You will only be thoroughly bored and disappointed.

  55. 55

    COME ON YOU SPURS!

  56. 56
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @Calouste:

    So roughly one in 1,000 has been found to be fixed.

    Proven or suspected?

  57. 57
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @MikeJ:

    For the most part nobody gives a shit about American sports outside of the US.

    That must be why there are no foreigners on any of the pro baseball or basketball teams.

  58. 58
    Calouste says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    Suspected. How many of those have actually been fixed and how many fixed games have slipped through the net are of course completely different matters.

  59. 59
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @Calouste:

    That’s what I thought.

    Woohoo! Red Devils get the draw- and the away goal- in Madrid! Suck it, Scousers!

  60. 60
    handsmile says:

    A 1-1 draw between Man United and Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. A more favorable result for ManU, particularly away from home. Madrid dominated in the second half, but ManU’s often unreliable keeper de Gea had a very impressive match. And van Persie (ex-Arsenal) should have scored the winning goal in the 70th minute.

    There aren’t many matches where I’m rooting for Lord Fergie’s Army, but always must support any team other than the one managed by the Eye-P*ker. Question for English readers: will it be Roman Abramovich or Sheik Mansour who will be signing Mourinho’s paychecks next season?

  61. 61
    Sierra Nevada says:

    Perspective from a lifelong player: Soccer games between relatively evenly matched sides would be easy to fix, moreso than baseball certainly, and basketball probably. Very easy for a single ref to fix, easy if you had one backline and one frontline or mid in your pocket. If you had all three it would be in the bag, and very hard to detect.

    I estimate that if you had a ref in your pocket you could fix the outcome something like 70-80% of the time. If you had the ref and the two players, the fix would be a dead lock certainty.

  62. 62
    Sierra Nevada says:

    “@Seanly: “Nothing is incorruptible, but I don’t see many of the major US sports being subject to this level of corruption on a wide scale.”

    I dunno man. The way things are in baseball now, all it would take to completely determine the final outcome of the baseball season would be for the league to secretly let one team know that you will let them slide on PED Tests for one year, while continuing to test the crap outta everyone else. That would be all it would take, and you could, in February, virtually guarantee the outcome of the world series in the fall.

  63. 63
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @Sierra Nevada:

    The way things are in baseball now, all it would take to completely determine the final outcome of the baseball season would be for the league to secretly let one team know that you will let them slide on PED Tests for one year, while continuing to test the crap outta everyone else.

    Eh, no. It’s really hard to estimate the actual effects of PED usage in baseball but everything I’ve seen suggests that it’s a lot smaller than what would be necessary to guarantee even a top team of winning their division during the regular season. It would do nothing to make the playoffs much less of a crapshoot than they already are.

  64. 64
    Sierra Nevada says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):

    Dude, baseball works by very thin margins of talent. The very best MLB teams have players who are overall only slightly better than average. PED’s allow huge gains on average performance, and those gains get even bigger in September and October, when normal humans are gassed, and roiders are just getting warmed up. If you let one team use while suppressing use for everybody else, the outcome would be almost entirely predictable.

  65. 65
    Haydnseek says:

    @grass: This Spurs supporter certainly doesn’t.

  66. 66
    danimal says:

    My dilemna: I never really developed a passion for any European soccer teams. Then my daughter started playing competitive soccer and joined a local team run by a bigtime AC Milan fan. Milan jerseys, warmups, accessories, the whole shebang. OK, now I’ve got an actual team to follow …until I discover that the owner of AC Milan is one of the most insufferable fascist pricks to ever walk the face of the earth.

    As a card-carrying progressive Obot, can I in good conscience root for AC Milan?

  67. 67
    handsmile says:

    @LGRooney:

    Re Arsenal/Arsene Wenger

    Arsenal is a wonderful club for its shareholders; as you note, it’s one of the few professional clubs outside of the Bundesliga whose finances appear to be in the black. It’s rather a bit less wonderful for both its local fans, increasingly unable to afford its exorbitant (and rising) ticket prices, and its international fans, as the club has ceased to be truly competitive at the highest levels of game. Moreover, no other professional club in any of the other top-flight European leagues has retained its manager for so long without a single trophy (almost eight years).

    http://www.sincearsenallastwonatrophy.co.uk/

    Arsene Wenger was once a visionary manager and he deserves enormous praise and respect both for what he accomplished and how he accomplished it from the late ’90s to 2005. Since that time, however, the team has become increasingly mediocre and inconsistent and Wenger’s acquisitions overall have proved erratic at best. Wenger’s once celebrated legacy becomes more tarnished with each passing season and unsuccessful competition.

    However, should Arsenal and Arsene Wenger win even the FA Cup this year (Borussia Dortmund will likely embarrass them next week in the Champions League), I will honor your request that I eat a flock of crows.

  68. 68
    Haydnseek says:

    @MikeJ: Mike, you’re absolutely right. Let’s see, there’s baseball, and basketball, and…oh, wait….

  69. 69
    handsmile says:

    @danimal:

    I’m sorry, but no, you can’t. Your daughter may be too young (let us hope) to be aware of the mind-boggling criminality and moral corruption of Silvio Berlusconi, but you have no such excuse. :)

    If you must pledge allegiance to a professional club in Serie A, let me suggest either AC’s hometown rival, Inter Milan; Chievo Verona, whose nickname is the Flying Donkeys; or Juventus, the “old lady of Italian football” and currently the best team in the country.

    Later on, when she’s older, your daughter will thank you for setting this inspirational example.

  70. 70

    OT and tastless. The onion mashes current news so well.
    UPDATE: Taylor Swift Back Together With Ex-Flame Christopher Dorner: http://onion.com/X4AlnH

    They had to change it to boyfriend after the poutrage.

  71. 71
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    When a bunch of Premier League teams are sponsored by (or have ad billboards for) Asian casinos or betting sites, then you have to wonder about where the economic centre of gravity now lies for the game — perhaps even beyond the wealth of the oligarchs who now own so many teams.

    The issue with spot-fixing in cricket which blew up a few years back was mainly that the betting syndicates could provide a lot more money for relatively trivial things like bowling no-balls than players were receiving to compete in the match. That’s why I’d be more worried about fixing in, say, the Slovakian league or Serie B than the Premier League, where even the journeymen are on good money.

  72. 72
    SRW1 says:

    @handsmile:

    The team that might embarrass Arsenal next Wednesday would be Bayern Munich. Dortmund played Shakhtar Donetsk today and came away with a draw.

  73. 73
    Mr Stagger Lee says:

    I am a fan of Futbol in South America, particularly the Boca Juniors of Argentina, if you want to see how corruption screwed up soccer in Latin America, I recommend the ESPN documentary The Two Escobars, and how the drug
    lords totally fucked Colombian Soccer for decades if not forever.

  74. 74
    handsmile says:

    @SRW1:

    Ah, a reply. You’re absolutely right; my neglectful mistake. But Bayern will embarrass Arsenal at home next week.

  75. 75
    p says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I could not disagree more, when you say soccer allows for greater leeway from officials than American football. The NFL has a cliche about, it’s possible to call holding on the offensive line every play. I’d add to it, it’s possible to call illegal use of the hands/holding/pass interference on a DB for most every pass play. The role of an official in the NFL allows them to keep a team moving by calling automatic first down penalties and to give big chunks of yardage. Late hits? Helmet-to-helmet? Horse-collar? So much of it is “50/50.” Giving a team a first down in the red zone by a bad call will result in points more than a typical soccer official can hope to consistently achieve with dubious calls.

  76. 76
    p says:

    @handsmile: blech. Arsenal’s domestic competition includes two oil-money clubs with infinite resources and Manchester United. Wenger’s “decline” is completely down to this relative slide in financial might, IMO.

  77. 77
    Vanya says:

    My understanding is that a lot of the fixes had nothing to do directly with the outcome of the match – which is harder to control. The syndicates apparently focus on prop bets. People will make stupid bets on things like an over/under on how many corner kicks a team will take during the game – and it is pretty easy for a defender to knock a few balls out of bounds and help someone reach a magic number. Certainly handing corner kicks to the opponent could easily affect the outcome of the match, although the gamblers might not care.

    I don’t think anyone is fixing the outcome of NFL games directly, but with the rise of prop betting on NFL games it would be surprising if people aren’t trying to fix a few things on the margins.

  78. 78
    Ecks says:

    @handsmile: no, united played BETTER In the second half. In the first they were a bit of a wreck, and were badly out chanced. In the second half they sat back, let Madrid have the ball, absorbed the pressure mostly quite well, and nearly scored on some good counter attacks. It was a good result against a very talented team, with an important away goal.

    But, no, not clear which oligarch will be paying Mou next year. Le sigh.

  79. 79
    Ecks says:

    @p: best analysis of Arsene I saw is that he originally had moneyball type success by exploiting euro (particularly French) talent that the rest of the league had cultural blinders to. Now that the rest of the league has caught up (and if you listen to even Fergie on trades the word you hear from his lips endlessly is “value”), he has no new edge.

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