MLS looks like it will kick off next season without its two biggest stars, David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, with the former set for a return to Milan and the latter returning to Veracruz. Despite their lucrative rewards in MLS, both moves are driven by the two stars’ desires to participate in a swansong World Cup finals: you can say what you like about both Beckham and Blanco, but questioning their competitive desire to represent their countries would be absurd.
It’s likely both will return to MLS after South Africa. Beckham has said he intends to do so, and Blanco has an opt-out clause in his one-year deal with Veracruz to leave at any time, with the Fire continuing to negotiate with his agent. Blanco’s desire to play in Mexico during the offseason for longer than he did in 2008 and stay in shape for the World Cup (he fell terribly out of shape last offseason) has been known in Chicago for some time.
The question is how well MLS will handle this. After the public relations fiasco of Beckham’s protracted return to Europe last year, the loan deal this season seems to have been concluded with much more consideration on both sides. But with neither likely to play in MLS until July, will MLS still center their marketing around the two superstars? For three years we have had an almost constant diet of Blanco and Beckham commercials and television schedules arranged around the two. How will the league move-on?
- The shortlists for the men’s and women’s FIFA Player of the Year awards are out.
- Tottenham take on Arsenal tomorrow morning, and the Guardian looks at six of the best North London derbies. Not wishing to be outdone, The Times has five of the best North London derbies, but for some reason (and in not a particularly helpful fashion to Spurs) only since 2000. And a Spurs winger remembers a 4-4 draw with Arsenal – no, not the one last season, but one all of 51 years ago in his debut for the club.
- An odd story in China, as Beijing Guoan look to seal their first Chinese Super League title but face the prospect of fan rioting over ticket restrictions. Only 13,000 of the 60,000 seats in the stadium are being made available despite the club apparently having 15,000 season ticketholders, leading to 10,000 angry fans outside the stadium earlier this week. 6,000 police have been called in to keep order this weekend.
- The Wall Street Journal has been discovering soccer lately, which is nice, but this article on Manchester as a “city divided”, unique in its football rivalry worldwide, is a little sloppy. Apparently the author thinks Manchester City “lacks a glorious past”, which will be news to anyone who knows anything about football in Manchester before the arrival of Matt Busby: in the 1930s, with crowds often above 80,000, City won the league championship and the FA Cup while Man Utd were still yo-yoing between the first and second divisions. I suppose that’s ancient history, though the rivalry was more than the “no-contest” the author asserts until the 1960s, and a failure to even mention that United’s chief rivalry has been with Liverpool since is a little more unforgivable.
- In the comments yesterday, Alistair pointed out we had missed the news of Swedish legend Henrik Larsson retiring. You can see his emotional retirement speech here.
The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.