To Die For

FC Barcelona has fired Ernesto Valverde and hired Quique Setien.  Barcelona is among the most successful soccer teams in the world.  It fired Ernesto and hired Quique when Ernesto had won the last two Spanish league titles and was leading this year.  Quique’s teams have won 187 out of 500 while Ernesto has won 97 of 145 at Barcelona. From what we have heard Quique was somewhere around Barcelona’s fifth choice for the job. This reminds us of the movie To Die For.  We understand why Joaquin Phoenix’s character would do stuff for Nicole Kidman’s character that leads to his death.  If we were a loser with limited skills then getting to play house with Nicole for a short period is as good as we could hope for.  If you had other choices then Nicole Kidman for a few months or a normal life would be a tough choice for us.  For Joaquin’s character it should have been an easy choice.

Quique had a similar choice but with significantly different outcomes.  He is 61.  He is a good coach but there is no reason for Barcelona to hire him.  He gets a short term opportunity to coach Lionel Messi, perhaps the best soccer player on the planet, and the rest of the Barcelona team for a few months.  It is possible, although unlikely, that he will get to keep the job for a few years.  More likely, the Barcelona stars are getting old and the next coach will revamp the team.  Quique will get to tell his grandchildren that he coached Lionel.  Unlike Joaquin’s character he won’t get killed.  Instead, when they fire him he will get a big check.  We hope Quique enjoys his stay at Barcelona.

American Football And English Soccer

A few weeks ago Paul Mirengoff at PowerLine asked the question, “What’s the Difference between American Football and English [Soccer]?  Paul concluded that language was the difference.  The English fans were much more vile:

[T]he Everton fanatics in the Gwladys Street End were cursing at their team within 15 minutes after the opening whistle. When Everton fell behind, it got truly nasty.

We’re not convinced.  We went to a 49er’s game and heard a female fan screaming vitriol at the top for at least the first half.  Of course, she was screaming at Tom Brady rather than the home team.  The obvious difference is that the English fans chant or sing while the most complicated thing the American fans do is Dee-Fence.  The only chant we remember from our visit to Arsenal was, “The ref’s a wanker,” but we remember that some of the chants were much longer.  And there are the songs.  We have been to a Liverpool game and it will not start until the fans have finished You’ll Never Walk Alone.  If you see a red shirt with YNWA it is a Liverpool fan.

Double Sidebar: First, we always thought it was written by Gerry and the Pacemakers until we checked on Wikipedia.  Second, we wonder what happens when Liverpool plays Borussia Dortmund?  Do they both sing it?  Wikipedia (scowl down) tells us that many soccer teams have adopted YNWA.  End Double Sidebar.

So chants and songs are one difference between football and English soccer.  Another difference is the possible accomplishments.  In American sports, and football in particular, everything is about the Super Bowl.  Did you make the playoffs and how did you do in them?  In soccer you can win the league but there are no playoffs.  It is rare that the league race goes down to the last week of the season.  Typically, the relegation race (who gets sent to a lower league) goes longer than the race to win the Premiership.

There are several other prizes besides the the league including the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup, and the Champions League or Europa League (you can only be in one of those two).  So it is possible to win four different championships.  The Carabao Cup is for Premiership teams only and the least prestigious of the four.  The top four Premiership teams compete in the Champions League against other European teams while the Europa League is a similar competition for a few less accomplished teams.  The Champions League final is the biggest game in club soccer so it is probably a bigger accomplishment than the Premiership title.

We want you to be interested in the FA Cup.  It is an English (actually England and Wales) competition for all comers.  The Premiership teams get a bye for the the first two rounds but otherwise it is unseeded.  So in the third round when there are 32 teams Paul’s Everton was unlucky to play the best team on the planet, fellow Premiership Liverpool.  Everton is out.

Sidebar Two: One other strange thing is that ties lead to replays at the visitor place.  So Wolverhamton hosted Manchester United on January 4 and tied zero-zero.  They will play again on January 14 in Manchester to settle things.  End Sidebar Two.

It is exciting because it is a playoff format- win or go home.  It is exciting because there are big upsets, often because a big team will name a weaker starting line-up versus lesser competition.  An upset or a lucky draw can help a weaker team go far in the FA Cup competition.  In 2013, Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup but was relegated from the Premiership.  Watch the FA Cup.  It is one of the big differences between American football and English soccer.



Role Models

We enjoy Mesut Özil as a soccer player.  He is one of the most talented and creative players in the world.  He is controversial because of his behavior on and off the pitch.  He hates to shoot on goal even more than he loves to make the amazing assist.  His relationship, or lack of it, is one of the reasons that Unai Emery is now the former coach of Arsenal.  It has been a dark time for us Arsenal fans.  And we get Manchester City shortly.  Update: we are down three at halftime.

Mesut plays(ed?) internationally for Germany but he has Turkish heritage too and is a Muslim.  He has been in the news recently for commenting on both China and his fellow Muslims as reported by the English newspaper The Mirror:

[Mesut] took to social media to add his voice to the wave of international outrage about the treatment of the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

The Uighur population in the region has been subjected to a campaign of religious and ethnic persecution by the Chinese authorities, with claims that more than a million have been held in detention camps.

[Mesut said] “But Muslims are silent. They won’t make a noise. They have abandoned them. Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?”

We salute Mesut for bringing up this problem in China but especially for asking questions (as they say in soccer commentary) of his fellow Muslims.  We generally don’t take cues from athletes and so on but to have one stand up to China and his fellow Muslims in one fell swoop is pretty amazing.

And what does his employer, Arsenal, think of his comments?  The Mirror tells us,

“Regarding the comments made by Mesut … on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement,” it read.

“The content published is [Mesut]’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”

Arsenal has not covered itself in glory but it hasn’t gone NBA either.  The Mirror also made the connection between this tweet by another Arsenal player and the Arsenal reaction to it:

On Thursday, the day of the general election in the UK, Hector Bellerin [a Spanish player for Arsenal] tweeted: “Young people across the world have a chance to change what the future can be. Today’s the chance for all the British people to influence what your future and those living here holds. #F**kBoris #GoVote.”

Arsenal did not issue a statement in response to Bellerin’s tweet.

Sidebar: We don’t know the answer but it is an interesting question.  What will be the tax impact of Brexit on folks still in the European Union, like Hector, but working in the UK.  End Sidebar.

Mesut twice spoke up when it would have been more popular to be quiet.  Arsenal did fairly close to the opposite.  Now if Mesut can get us some goals he could be a real role model for folks.



One Intersection And One Not

We just finished Kevin D. Williamson’s The Smallest Minority and as we were finishing that up we heard about Clemens Tonnies, the chairman of the Bundesliga soccer team Schalke who was attacked by the social media mobs that Kevin is writing about.  Let’s start with Kevin.

We really enjoyed The Smallest Minority.  Kevin creates some amazing comparisons.  It is hard (probably impossible) to find as literary a political book where Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare are crucial to understanding the text.  It is in turn nasty (Minos was a Cretan, Matthew Yglasias is a cretin), hilarious, insightful and crazy.  Sometimes it is all of those at once.  It is easy to guess who is the mad dog of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.  Be sure to real all the footnotes.  Twice.

Sidebar One: We rarely comment on why folks do things.  Rather we are more interested in what they do.  We are convinced that this book is the real Kevin.  We understand that it is easy to get fooled and that is why we rarely comment on why.  We often wonder why folks behave like they do on TV and radio.  Kevin is really enjoying the conflict about social media.  End Sidebar One.

The backstory is that Kevin was hired by The Atlantic and shortly thereafter fired because of a social media storm.  The book is Kevin’s generalization of the problems with social media.  Kevin is correct when he says we need discourse, a real discussion, to discuss our pressing problems.  Social media gives us anti-discourse.  We get slogans and attacks to stop discussion.  People do it because it works.

The book was a joy to read.  The literary bent, character assassination, and asides are great fun.  The Smallest Minority just didn’t resonate with us.  We didn’t buy the Shakespeare analysis but that wasn’t it.  Twitter, Facebook and other social media just isn’t that important to us. There is a lack of an intersection been MWG and Kevin’s book.  We don’t follow the recommendations to improve the MWG penetration following by tweeting and pictures.  We really appreciate our followers but we blog for our own benefit and so we don’t fill up Facebook (our only social media) with political stuff.  We are not sure social media is that important to the wider world.  Kevin didn’t do much to convince us on that account.

Then came Clemens and Schalke that made more of a connection or intersection for us.  These events didn’t completely change our mind but they did make us reconsider.  Here is  a summary of what happened:

Many fans had been calling on the 63-year-old [Clemens] Tönnies to resign over the comments he made on Aug. 1, when he told a public meeting in Paderborn that tax increases to fight climate change were wrong and claimed it was better to finance 20 power plants a year in Africa.

“Then the Africans would stop cutting down trees, and they would stop making babies when it gets dark,” Tönnies said in comments first reported by the Neue Westfälische local newspaper.

Tönnies, Schalke chairman since 2001, apologized for his comments

Of course, Clemens has stepped on at least three third rails of social media.  First, he fought climate change recommendations.  Second, he talked about Africa and (gasp) Africans.  Third, he apologized to try and sate the mob.  They cannot be sated.

OK, he is not exactly right.  What Africa needs is capitalism and Germany could use a little more.  Here is part of a story on Tanzania:

The real cause of that reduction is pretty straightforward: economic freedom. Tanzania has gradually dismantled the socialist or “ujamaa” economic policies enacted by the dictator Julius Nyerere, since he stepped down in 1985. Nyerere was widely praised by leftist intellectuals in developed countries for his sincere belief in socialism, relatively low level of corruption, and not intentionally slaughtering his own people like so many other dictators.

Dang. We got rid of the tab before we made the link and now we can’t find it.  To get back to Clemens, we agree with him that tax increases to fight climate change don’t make sense in Germany or elsewhere.  We also agree with him that economic improvement in Africa would be a good thing and it will require carbon emissions.

Sidebar Two: We have argued that a revenue neutral carbon tax that eliminates the gas tax is a good idea.  It is not a tax increase.  Sidebar Two.

Africa could use more and better power.  Our first priority would be economic structure rather than actual structures but Clemens has a reasonable idea.   Reducing the cutting down of trees is probably a good idea a way for Clemens to try to connect with the climate change folks.  It is not unreasonable to argue for more trees.  He spoke of the number of African babies.  So what are the fertility rates in African countries?  Glad you asked:

The vast majority of the countries in the world with the highest fertility rates are in Africa, with Nigertopping the list at 7.153 children per woman, followed by Somalia at 6.123 children per woman. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Chad follow at 5.963, 5.922 and 5.797 children per woman, respectively.

So the top five countries in term of fertility are all African.  Germany, on the other hand, has a fertility rate of 1.586.  We are not convinced that overpopulation is a problem but the climate change folks often suggest it is.  Clemens is using their rhetoric against them.  They should respond rather than call him names but, as Kevin points out, a name calling ochlocracy is effective in silencing people these days.

The Clemens story has not made fighting the ochlocracy a front-burner item for us yet. We could be trending in that direction.


Math Is Math But

We were already convinced that the US Women’s National Team earned more than the men based on their performance.  John Hirschauer at NRO links to Carlos Cordeiro, the head of US Soccer who gives us the details.  The headline is

Over the past decade, U.S. Soccer has paid our Women’s National Team more than our Men’s National Team.  From 2010 through 2018, U.S. Soccer paid our women $34.1 million in salaries and game bonuses and we paid our men $26.4 million—not counting the significant additional value of various benefits that our women’s players receive but which our men do not.

The part we found most interesting is it turns out that the women have negotiated a very different contract than the men.  As we have pointed out before, an important reason for this is that club soccer can pay extraordinarily well for men but not for women.  US Soccer has chosen to support US women’s club soccer in two ways.  First,

U.S. Soccer also pays WNT contracted players a $67,500-$72,500 salary for playing in the National Women’s Soccer League.(In contrast, we do not pay salaries for men who play in Major League Soccer or any other men’s professional league)

Second, they pay benefits like health care etc. for women but not for men.  Why do the women negotiate this and the men don’t?  You know why, it is the different market for men and women in club soccer.  According to this (we can’t find a date) the lowest paid starting player in the Premiership is 3,600 British pounds per week.  Here are the average Premiership team salaries for 2018/19 in dollars.  They are annual salaries in millions of dollars and range from $1.26 at Cardiff (which was relegated) to Manchester United at $8.6.  The big money for men is getting to play for the big teams in the big leagues.  On the women’s side, the US federation, and probably other ones, support the club teams.

There is no reason for the government to be involved in this.


We are experimenting with changing our video watching system.  After a couple of decades (yes, we are conservative in a myriad of ways) on DirecTV we are trying out a variety of apps tied into Amazon Fire TV.  We figure the worst outcome is that DirecTV will be cheaper when we come back a year from now.  One of the reasons that we made the switch is that Shetland season five (the TV series not the place, about 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland) is exclusively on Britbox.

Sidebar One: Britbox is cheap and has interesting stuff but to get some of the historical stuff like the earlier seasons of Shetland you need another app, Acorn, which is fairly cheap too but it was disappointing that we needed to pay twice.  End Sidebar One.

Shetland, the TV series, is one of the great shows on TV.  Wikipedia tells us we are not alone in our opinion:

Douglas Henshall won the 2016 BAFTA Scotlandaward for best actor for his role as Jimmy Perez, and the series received the award for Best TV Drama.

It is based on the books by Ann Cleaves who also is responsible for Vera that you can see on Britbox too.  We enjoyed the Shetland books but not so much the Vera books or the Vera show.  Shetland the first time we can remember we liked the video better than the books. There are substantial changes from the books so if you can’t abide by that then skip the show.

It is a great show because it does so many things and some of them are unexpected.  The most unexpected is giving us a hero in Jimmy Perez.

Sidebar Two: How does a person with a surname like that show up on Shetland?  Jimmy’s ancestor was part of the Spanish Armada (1588) that was shipwrecked on Shetland (or was it Fair Isle?) centuries ago.  End Sidebar Two.

Jimmy is John Wayne in a John Ford Western.  He is a brave, courageous loner that shares the stardom with the scenery.  About five times a show we think that we really, really need to go to Shetland.  Today, most shows are about how damaged the protagonist is.  Jimmy is not flawless but he is a good guy.

It is also a procedural.  They look at the decisions that folks, and especially the police, make and how difficult those decisions are. Everybody, white or black, male or female, gets put under the microscope.  It is thought provoking rather than PC.

It has interesting characters and excellent writing.  You will want to watch it several times when Jimmy compares Duncan to the attempts of the Scottish national team to qualify for the World Cup.  It is amazing and unexpected.

It would be better to watch all five seasons in sequence but you could watch season five first and still figure stuff out.  Either way Shetland is worth watching.  Enjoy!

Women’s Soccer Success

We are used to being insulted by Bill Clinton but today’s insult by Allysia Finley was disappointing because she is a member of the WSJ Editorial Board.  She is writing about soccer and Why U.S. Women Rule The World.  The sub headline says America’s democratic ideals deserve the credit for America’s soccer superiority.  The sub is wrong but Allysia is right by imprecise when she says:

Girls in the U.S. are encouraged to play multiple sports. That prevents burnout and helps them develop a range of athletic skills. [Emphasis added]

She leaves it oddly passive on who is doing the encouraging.  She does note that promising athletes are captured by federations or teams in other countries.  In the U.S. it is their families and the organizations they create.  She gets the emphasis all wrong when she says:

Hundreds of thousands of girls play for high-school teams (and some in travel leagues), and colleges recruit the top thousand or so.

We would like to see her data on the item in bold.  We are willing to bet that every woman on the US national team played on a travel team and that at least 900 of the college 1,000 played on a traveling team.  Note that anyone growing up outside the US is not included in our estimates.  Again, this is their families.

Then comes the insult.  We used to hear it from Bill Clinton but Allysia has softened it some by emphasizing college athletics and she could make sense of it.  We will help her out.  First she says:

One reason is the 1972 civil-rights law Title IX, which effectively requires colleges to provide an equal number of athletic scholarships to men and women. The law has forced schools to reduce men’s athletic programs like wrestling, but it has encouraged more girls to participate in sports.

Here is how she could make sense of it.  Families and non-govermental organizations take care of the soccer player (and several other sports) until age 18.  The government has acted to help them after age 18 by giving women more scholarships and denying them to men.  This helps the the US Soccer team because there isn’t a market mechanism for women in soccer.  There is a market mechanism for men in many, but not all, sports.

Where do US women rule besides soccer?  Swimming and gymnastics come to mind.  Here is a list of the top 15 men and women swimmers by gold medals.  Eight of the 15 women are from the U.S.  The men do even better.  Where do we see the most families and traveling teams?  You know.