Thursday, September 20, 2007

Russian gangster brings strong arm tactics to the web; oh yea and Jose got sacked (w/ Euro power rankings)

I'm sure most everyone has heard about the sacking of the (former) Chelski boss, Jose Mourinho, and his two-headed replacement thats keeping the seat warm for Guus Hiddink (as Jose lines up for a potential job with his homelands national team) so I want to bring light to a story that might get lost in the media firestorm that has folllowed the shocking news.

Potential Arsenal suitor and convicted criminal, Alisher Usmanov, is resorting to astounding tactics on the day that Jose was sacked, thanks to his good friends at the Schillings law firm. David Warner can take it from here:
Yesterday, I suggested in this story that Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, is badmouthing Alisher Usmanov, the billionaire Russian steel magnate attempting to take over Premier League club Arsenal, because he wants to sell you a book he wrote about his experience in that former Soviet republic. It has become clear today, however, that whatever Murray is attempting to sell, Usmanov and his lawyers do not want anyone to buy it.

According to Tom Dunmore at, Craig Murray's web site was taken off line today after sustained pressure on Murray's web hosting provider from Schillings, the London law firm representing Usmanov. What's more, Schillings has also managed to put the kibosh on political site Bloggerheads three days after Tim Ireland wrote this piece on Schillings' cease & desist letters.

Web sites for English politicians Boris Johnson and Bob Piper were also taken down in part because they fell under Ireland's purview. In addition, Pitch Invasion and Arseblog have both received legal pressure from Schillings to remove any links and references to Murray and his accusations of Usmanov's criminal past.

The timing of this latest attack is quite interesting, as it all went down the same day that Chelsea sacked Jose Mourinho, all but guaranteeing that nobody in the mainstream media would be paying any attention to it. Unfortunately for Schillings, their success in taking down these web sites has resulted in this story being publicized all over the web.

Political blog Chicken Yoghurt has compiled a list of blogs that have publicized this story as a result of both Murray's site and Ireland's sites being taken down. Several dozen sites are now screaming censorship at Usmanov and Schillings for their actions, and it's hard to say they don't have a point.

It appears Schillings has fallen victim to something our pals at Techdirt like to call "The Streisand Effect." Back in 2003, Barbra Streisand sued a photographer in an attempt to remove an aerial photo of her California home from the Internet, despite the fact that the photo was part of a publicly funded coastline erosion study and wasn't even labeled as her home. As a result, photos of her house were published all over the web within days.

A similar situation happened last year to Diebold when internal memos discussing their easily hackable electronic voting machines were leaked to the web, and a group of students at Swarthmore College published the memos to the web. Diebold attempted to have the memos removed, claiming the students were committing copyright infringement. The company was successfully sued for issuing unlawful takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and forced to pay $125,000 in damages.

Interestingly enough, a blogger called Sepisticle published a takedown notice from Schillings and then removed it after Schillings claimed it was a "copyrighted letter."

Much most interesting, though, is that for all their claims that Murray is libeling their client, Schillings has not actually sued Murray for libel. They have told anyone who will listen that Murray's book, Murder at Samarkand, is defamatory against Usmanov, but it's been out for more than a year, and they have never taken any legal action against Murray. Instead, they seem more focused on getting any mention of Murray and his allegations against Usmanov removed from the web -- and as the Streisand Effect teaches us, that's pretty much impossible.

If Murray's goal was to make Usmanov look like a thug, then mission accomplished, and it may be why the remaining Arsenal board members are redoubling their efforts to prevent Usmanov from taking over the club. If Murray ever finds his way back to the Internet, this story could get even nastier. Let's just hope nobody finds any polonium-210 in their soup because of this.

Pretty amazing stuff but who can be surprised when a country has such strong libel laws that can even protect a convicted criminal.

Euro Power Rankings: (modified slightly)
1) AC Milan
2) Real Madrid
3) Arsenal
4) AS Roma
5) Liverpool
6) Bayern Munich
7) Sevilla
8) FC Barcelona
9) Manchester United
10) FC Porto

Quick Hits:


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Champions League is here! Best XI and weekend wrap up

First off -- a breakdown of Saturday and Sunday's premier league action -- and shame on the Toons for losing to cellar-dwellar's Derby - Michael Owen might have injured himself in the embarrassing result.

Here's the Best XI:
GK: Pepe Reina (Liverpool)

Stephen Kelly (Birmingham)
Kolo Toure (Arsenal)
Nemanja Vidic (Man United)

Sebastian Larsson (Birmingham)
Michael Johnson (Man City)
Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
Lee Bowyer (West Ham)

Dean Ashton (West Ham)
Kenwyne Jones (Sunderland)
Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal)

Manager: Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

My star of the weekend was Cesc Fabregas, who was absolutley brilliant and is quickly making people forget about Thierry Henry. Here's what the Best XI article has to say about Cesc Fabregas:
Cesc Fabregas has struck an early claim for Player of the Year with his consistently superb performances for Arsenal this season. Five goals in eight games so far from midfield answers those doubts about his scoring abilities, and his thirty-yard screamer in the north London derby was as good as any of those. He also set up two for Adebayor and strolled away with another MOTM award.
Chelski is a broken egg says Jose.

A breakdown of today's beginning stage of the Champion's league:

The UEFA Champions League roars into action on Tuesday as the highly anticipated group stages begin.

Six of Tuesday's games are live on Sky Sports 2 and Sky Sports Xtra, whilst you can also now catch the action live on on your PC with our brilliant broadband service.

Liverpool, Chelsea and Celtic all get their Champions League campaigns underway on Tuesday with the three sides all dreaming of reaching this season's final in Moscow.

Holders Milan also begin the defence of their trophy with a home clash against Benfica.

Group A is Liverpool's domain and last season's finalists kick-off their assault on a sixth European crown with a tricky trip to Porto.

In the other game in the group under-performing Marseille play host to Besiktas at Stade Velodrome.

Group B sees Chelsea entertain Rosenborg at Stamford Bridge looking to finally go further than the semi-finals.

In the other game in the group Valencia travel to Germany to take on Schalke.

Nine-times winners Real Madrid go in search of a record tenth success in Group C and they get underway with a home clash with Werder Bremen, live on Sky Sports Xtra, while Olympiakos play host to Lazio in the game.

Group D sees champions Milan looking to become the first team to retain the Champions League in its current format and they get the defence of their trophy underway against Benfica.

In the other group game Celtic face a daunting trip to Ukraine to take on Shakhatr Donetsk, live on Sky Sports 2Click below for detailed previews on each game.

Group A:

Marseille v Besiktas: Marseille have never faced a Turkish team in the CL before.

Porto v Liverpool : Porto have never lost a CL home game against English sides.

Group B:

Chelsea v Rosenborg: Chelsea have kept eight clean sheets in the last 11 home CL matches.

Schalke v Valencia: Valencia have lost only once in the last seven CL away games.

Group C:

Real Madrid v Werder Bremen: Real have lost just one match at the Bernabeu in the last 21 in the competition (v Arsenal), drawing four and winning 16.

Olympiakos v Lazio: The Greek team have won just once in the last 13 CL games, against Real Madrid.

Group D:

Milan v Benfica: In the last 20 CL home games at the San Siro, Milan have won 16, drawn two and lost two.

Shakhtar v Celtic: In 13 CL away games, Celtic have lost 12 and shared the points once, against Barcelona.

I got my eyes on the Porto v. Liverpool match-up -- should be a tough challenge for Rafa's boys, while tomorrow features the intriguing match-up of Arsenal v. Sevilla.

Here are some Champions league predictions.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Quick hits and a Weekend preview...

Some quick hits to start out:

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney will both be back in SAF's squad but SAF isn't sure yet if Rooney will be unleashed.

Chelski tells Real Madrid to back off of Michael Ballack.

Micah Richards named the Barclay's Premier League player of the month. Well done lad, your star is certainly on the rise. Sven was also named Manager of the Month -- a double for the Citizen's.

Shiva to start in place of the injured Drogba.

David Moyes really enjoyed his Scottish strikers crack against the Frenchies.

Tim Howard is most likely out of this weekend's match versus ManYoo.

Mark Lawrenson offers up his predicitions on this weekends fixtures:


Birmingham v Bolton

Both of these teams look nervous, lack a little bit of confidence and are perhaps fearing a long, tough season.

Birmingham boss Steve Bruce said that his team did not turn up for their previous fixture at Middlesbrough, which Blues lost 2-0, and will want a much improved showing.

Bolton need striker Kevin Davies fit again as soon as possible - I think that to a degree their season depends on the success of his partnership with Nicolas Anelka.

Prediction: 1-1

Chelsea v Blackburn

Blackburn are a very decent side and they will certainly compete against any team they take on.

Playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is not easy and to an extent this means that the pressure is off them.

However, although Chelsea had a hiccup at Aston Villa in their last game I still think that they are the team to beat.

Prediction: 2-0

Everton v Man Utd

Everton have had a very good start to the season, while Manchester United came back from 2-0 down to register a crucial 4-2 win at Goodison Park last April on their way to winning the Premier League title.

I think that this will be a tight game that will go the way of United because they have more match winners in their team, especially with the expected return of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Prediction: 1-2

Portsmouth v Liverpool

Liverpool have had an excellent start to the season and with the regular inclusion of Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres in the team they seem to have a lot more attacking edge and pace in their attack.

Portsmouth, I should imagine, will be pleased when this game is out of the way. It is only their sixth Premier League game of the season and they will have now met all of the 'big-four' teams.

Having said that, Fratton Park is a very difficult ground to visit and I think Pompey might take something from the game.

Prediction: 1-1

Sunderland v Reading

Sunderland's home games are of huge importance to them this season.

Roy Keane probably knows that his team are in for a long and difficult campaign and I imagine he would settle for finishing top of the 'mini-league' of numerous team's battling against relegation at the bottom end of the table.

I think that they will have a much-needed victory on Saturday over a Reading team that are starting to slip down the league.

Prediction: 2-0

Tottenham v Arsenal

I do not think that all that many Tottenham fans are getting on coach Martin Jol's back but the club have certainly put themselves in a tricky position following the business with Sevilla coach Juande Ramos.

Another couple of bad results and we know what could well happen - and that would be a complete travesty for Jol.

I hope for Jol's sake that Tottenham do not lose this high-pressure game against their local rivals.

Arsenal have made a good start to the season but I'm still not convinced about them away from home.

Prediction: 1-1

West Ham v Middlesbrough

There have been changes in personnel at Middlesbrough over the summer but I still think they are in for a tough season.

Home form will be crucial for them because their away record is not great.

I do not think West Ham will struggle this season, although I was talking to Alan Curbishley the other day and he pointed out that he is already without several key players.

The likes of Kieron Dyer, Julien Faubert and Freddie Ljungberg may all be first-team regulars if fit, though Scott Parker should return this weekend.

Prediction: 2-0

Wigan v Fulham

Wigan boss Chris Hutchings has been at the club for several years, initially working under Paul Jewell, and his team have made a good start to the season.

There seems to be a real durability about the Latics and I reckon Hutchings will see this sort of fixture as very much a bread and butter home win.

I do not think this match would be my pick of the week to watch.

Prediction: 1-0


Man City v Aston Villa

Manchester City have lost their last two fixtures and I think they will end up defeated in this one as well.

The newness of Sven-Goran Eriksson's arrival has worn off and with so many players away on international duty he will not have had much opportunity to work on shape and systems.

Having said that, I will be at the game as I'm covering it for BBC Radio 5live so I should be careful what I say!

Aston Villa will be buoyed by their win over Chelsea last time out.

Sometimes it takes a decent victory like that early in a season to remind people at a club that they really do have a decent team.

Prediction: 0-2


Derby v Newcastle

Newcastle are undefeated so far with two draws and two wins in the Premier League this season.

Michael Owen also seems to be very much back in form following his goal-scoring exploits for England.

I reckon that Owen will fancy himself to score against a defence for whom the word porous is a definite understatement.

Rams boss Billy Davies must work out how his team are going to win their share of home games.

There have also been lots of stories about his future as manager.

I don't know where they have come from but surely the board at the club should let him get on with the job.

He has a very difficult task at Derby, not helped by the fact that the team winning promotion through the play-offs has less time than the others clubs to recruit over the summer.

Prediction: 1-2

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Melchiot must think Albanian's are poor sports...

Two minutes after a controversial red-card Ruud Van Nistelrooy scored in the 91st minute to give the Dutch a one nil victory. An Albanian hooligan promptly takes out his frustration on Wigan defender Mario Melchiot:
Google Mario Melchiot and you'll see the highlight. Netherlands was beating Albania 1-nil as they say, and someone in the stands decided this would be a good time to throw a firework right at one of the Dutch players.

Mr. Melchiot ended up the target, and it, whatever it was, exploded about two and a half feet above his head.

To the credit of the head official, he stopped the game right away. But that doesn't prevent the possible hearing loss Melchiot may very well suffer.
I've done the googling for you:

To be fair to the Albanians it was a maddeningly brilliant goal by Ruud:

More Euro 2008 Update:

Scot James McFadden scores a goal to stun the Frogs, already being declared one of Scotlands best goals ever, rightfully so:

Michael Owen joins Jimmy Greaves, Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker as the only players to score 40 times for the Three Lions:

Well done Michael.

Borat must be proud.

Throwing off-topic and mega-post caution to the wind... For the benefit of The Back Four's foreign audience here is the greatest advert ever, from Hollywood director Michael Mann:

Music from The Last of the Mohicans:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Abramovich has nothing better to do with his fortune...

Chelski owner Roman Abramovich is denying that he has offered Russian footballers a bonus for beating England -- color me skeptical since he spends money like its burning and is known to fund his homeland's national team:

The two nations meet in a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier on Wednesday.

And reports claimed the Russian players would receive £40,000 if they were to defeat Steve McClaren's men.

But a Chelsea statement said: "Roman Abramovich has never offered, proposed or promised any bonuses to the Russian team to beat England."

The billionaire Chelsea owner has close links with football back in his homeland and is reported to bankroll the salary of coach Guus Hiddink.

But the Chelsea statement added: "The financial backing Mr Abramovich gives to Russian football, via his National Academy of Football foundation, is for the development of the game as a whole and is not focused on specific matches.

"Mr Abramovich supports grass-roots football initiatives through such efforts as building football pitches, helping to organise youth sports academies and providing training for coaches."

Chelsea are likely to have four of their players lining up against the Russians, with Ashley Cole, John Terry, Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips probable starters.

Quick hits:
Everton skipper Tim Cahill is getting ready to return to the pitch.

Everton boss David Moye is already preparing to lose players to the African Cup.

Fernando Torres is enjoying his time with Liverpool thus far.

Arsenal doesn't need dirty Russian money.

The Argentine Bulldog can't wait to pair with Wayne Rooney.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday quick hits...

Apologies for the delayed posting -- American football has diverted my attention during the PL off-week -- a las, here are some quick hits:

US loses to Brazil 4-2 but Ives says there are positives to take away from the match but Gooch needs to be replaced according to just about everyone (good analysis in the link therein).

Arsenal chairman says the club isn't up for sale, especially to Russian gangsters.

Glazers dispute more rumors about ManYoo's business operations.

Michael Ballack doesn't understand why he wasn't included on Chelski's Euro roster and Franz Beckenbauer doesn't understand why he made the move in the first place.

Tim Howard is doubtful vs. ManYoo after dislocating his finger against Brazil.

David Bentley defends his decision to back out of a previous U-21 England fixture, which has kept him out of McLaren's line-up.

Euro 2008:
Lampard and Hargreaves won't play but Stevie G will.

Iceland surprisingly draws with Spain after Spain went down to 10 men after a boneheaded kick by Xabi Alonso on an Icelandic defender.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Updated Euro power rankings...

From -- South American and Mexican clubs were omitted:
1. AC Milan (prev. 1)
Fiorentina slowed Milan down last weekend, but the Rossoneri are still red-hot, undefeated in Serie A so far and adding the European Super Cup to their haul in a magical 2007. Most impressive was how Milan became a different team against No. 2 Sevilla in the second half -- efficient and clinical. And how about that plum Champions League draw? (Though Celtic probably has a revenge scheme on its mind.)

2. Sevilla (prev. 3)
Some of this spot may be slightly ceremonial, but I can't see how anyone with a heart can knock Sevilla at this point. The fact that the two-time UEFA Cup champs (and first-time Champions League participants) can find any kind of focus, even after the shocking death of 22-year-old midfielder Antonio Puerta, is nothing short of remarkable. The Sevillistas have dedicated their entire season to Puerta, and there's nothing like a team riding an emotional wave.

3. Real Madrid (prev. 6)
You have to figure Villarreal defenders' necks were getting sore from constantly turning around to watch the ball go in the net last weekend. Bernd Schuster wants his Real to be more attack-minded, and that's certainly what the new Galácticos did in their 5-0 beatdown of the Yellow Submarine -- a decent side. Meanwhile, check out the quartet of flying Dutchman: Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Royston Drenthe, Real's own Clockwork Oranje.

4. Bayern Munich (prev. 5)
Hamburg's Mohamed Zidan cooled off Bayern's perfect start with a late equalizer last weekend, but I still can hardly believe we're attaching the label "UEFA Cup favorites" to arguably the most successful club of all-time. With the power the Bavarians have at their disposal, I can't see anyone -- other than themselves -- getting in their way for Europe's No. 2 trophy.

5. FC Barcelona (prev. 2)
Barça drops for its deepening injury crisis (Samuel Eto'o joins Carles Puyol, Edmílson and Eidur Gudjohnsen on the sidelines) and its lame scoreless draw with Racing Santander in its opener. But let's call out the youth movement at the Camp Nou. We all know Lionel Messi (age 20) is prolific. Now gifted Mexican Giovani dos Santos (18) looks like he's finally on his way, and stud Bojan Krkic

6. Liverpool (prev. not ranked)
OK, let's not get all crazy about the 'Pool's 6-0 laugher over Derby County. We're talking Derby County here. But the best sign is that Fernando Torres is displaying awesome speed, ball control, strength and giant cojones -- all things that will keep opposing defenses terrified all season long. could be next -- the 17-year-old is shining for finalist Spain in the Under-17 World Cup.

7. AS Roma (prev. not ranked)
Inter is banged up and leaning too heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Meanwhile, Roma has shot to the top of Serie A with back-to-back shutouts, and gets drawn into a Champions League group where it can get some immediate revenge on No. 10 Manchester United. Anyone vote Ludovic Giuly for biggest steal of the transfer window?

8. Manchester United (prev. not ranked)
They're not necessarily pretty wins, but until everyone's healthy and integrated into the squad, Sir Alex Ferguson will take them. And for those counting at home, that's two clutch winners in two weeks: Nani bagging a screamer in the 68th minute against Tottenham and Louis Saha nailing it in the 72nd to ruin Roy Keane's return to Old Trafford last weekend.

9. Chelski

10. Inter

Honorable mention: Werder Bremen, FC Porto, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia, Rangers, Celtic

Thursday, September 6, 2007

SAF: Becks can't succeed...

Can David Beckham change the attitude of an entire country? Fergie doesn't think so and makes some valid points:
Manchester United boss Ferguson says his former superstar can’t hope to succeed where legends like Pele and Johan Cruyff have already failed.

“David Beckham himself can’t change the whole country,” was Ferguson’s blunt verdict on the injured England star’s £128m move to Los Angeles Galaxy.

Galaxy’s massive investment is geared at not only upping their ­fortunes but also giving US soccer a facelift.

Ferguson, who sold Beckham to Real Madrid four years ago, said: “In the late 1970s I went to America with Aberdeen and there were guys like Teofilo Cubillas and Peter Shilton there.

“Before that, there was Pele, Cruyff, Beckenbauer. It is difficult with David going there. I don’t know what kind of impact he can make.

“The size of the country makes it difficult. In Europe, and especially in Britain, you can travel easily.

“If you are in Boston and need to go to Los Angeles, it’s a six-hour flight.

“Supporters don’t travel so you are missing that rivalry between fans.

“So you have a problem. To make it substantial you could have to go regional but there’s not enough teams to have four strong leagues.”

Ferguson also feels the MLS is undermined by an exodus of young, homegrown talent.

He added: “What you have in the States is a lot of kids playing football but with nowhere to go.

“The best American players go to Europe very early, like Brad Friedel at Blackburn and Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey at Fulham.

“So that situation doesn’t help the American game.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Arsenal to be owned by Russian gangster?

Another excellent piece from David Warner at AOL:
While the English press seems focused on Cristiano Ronaldo's partying habits -- and really, who wouldn't want to know more about a poolside orgy with hookers from Leeds -- a former ambassador is focusing on a very different matter: Alisher Usmanov, the Russian steel magnate who's attempting to purchase Arsenal.

Craig Murray, who served as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004, says that Usmanov's lawyers have written a letter to British newspapers that might be misleading. The letter reads:
"Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record."
Murray, however, plainly disputes this.
Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke "Gorbachev", a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.
After detailing some of Usmanov's alleged atrocities, he suggests that if Arsenal supporters allow Usmanov's purchase to happen, they're making a deal with the devil.
Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters - as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any - can be heard saying they don't care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.

I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.

Foreign ownership in the Premier League has been a controversial issue during this decade. UEFA president Michel Platini brought it back to the forefront by blasting the Premier League for allowing so many foreign owners to buy English clubs. The controversy swelled after former Thailand Prime Minister and current Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra became a wanted man in his own country. Should the Usmanov takeover of Arsenal happen, voices speaking out against foreign owners will only get louder.

(H/T: Pitch Invasion)

US/Brazil Roster Released...

From Yanks Abroad -- once again, no Altidore or Adu:
Howard, Tim Everton (England)
Seitz, Chris Salt Lake (MLS)

Bocanegra, Carlos Fulham (England)
Cherundolo, Steve Hannover 96 (Germany)
DeMerit, Jay Watford (England)
Onyewu, Oguchi Standard Liege (Belgium)
Pearce, Heath Hansa Rostock (Germany)
Simek, Frank Sheffield Wednesday (England)
Spector, Jonathan West Ham United (England)

Beasley, DaMarcus Rangers (Scotland)
Bradley, Michael Heerenveen (Holland)
Convey, Bobby Reading (England)
Dempsey, Clint Fulham (England)
Feilhaber, Benny Derby County (England)
Mastroeni, Pablo Colorado Rapids (MLS)

Arnaud, Davy Kansas City Wizards (MLS)
Donovan, Landon Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)
Johnson, Eddie Kansas City Wizards (MLS)
Wolff, Josh 1860 Munich (Germany)