Saturday, September 25, 2010



by Wayne Robins

This was a super Saturday for the English (Barclay's) Premier League on U.S. television, with three consecutive live games featuring the haves against the not have so much. From 7:30 Saturday morning eastern time, three giants fell, three struggling teams gained hope.
First up was Manchester City vs. Chelsea. Man City is not a mediocre team: It's just that Chelsea is off to a fantastic start, was undefeated and in first place in the Premier League. It was a matchup between two billionaire-owned clubs, the ultra-rich who have changed English football the way that money has both enhanced and distorted American team sports.
Sheikh Mansour, the Abu Dhabi businessman who is Man City owner, is said to be worth upwards of $5 billion, though estimates go much higher. With the stroke of a pen last January, the Sheikh erased Man City's 305 million pound debt (that's nearly $500 million U.S.) and turned it into equity, and then added perhaps the highest payroll in professional sports in the world.
Not quite to be outdone, Chelsea owner since 2003 has been Roman Abramovich, a Russian businessman estimated by Forbes to be the 50th richest person in the world, with a worth of a mere $11.2 billion.
Both men have followed the strategy George Steinbrenner used to restore the New York Yankees to prominence: Buy the best players. Chelsea's Ya Ya Touré of the Ivory Coast is, according to,is said to be the highest paid player in the history of the Premier League, earning tens of millions of dollars in salary and incentive and licensing deals. Ian Darke, the World Cup announcing MVP, who was making his debut for ESPN's U.S. Premier League coverage, noted Ya Ya earns 300,00 a week, but I wasn't sure whether that was pounds, or, if in dollars, would be about $450,000. His size and explosiveness was at times a fierce force on the field. But at the end, it was the goal by Man City's Carlos Tevez that was the only score. With minutes to go and Man City clinging to that one-nil score, Chelsea seemed to become unglued and overaggressive. Said Darke: "Man City is nearly would be a very famous win." When it was over, Man City's fans sang a full-throated version of its theme song, "Blue Moon" (not the Marcels' version, I'm afraid) and Tevez lifted his jersey to reveal happy birthday wishes to his mother scribbled on his undershirt.
I didn't catch any of the games in their entirety, but the TV stayed on during errands and some deadline efforts at the computer. So when I went downstairs, I wasn't surprised to see the score after 60 minutes that score in the Arsenal-West Bromwich Albion match, played in front of 60,025 fans at Arsenal's home Emirates Stadium, was 2-nil. I blinked three times at score, and was able to verify with my eyes that it was a shocking 2-nil in favor of heavy underdog West Bromwich.
Then Jerome Thomas scored, and it was 3-nil West Bromwich Albion in the 73rd minute. Arsenal mounted a ferocious counterattack, and it quickly paid off: two minutes later, Arsenal's Samir Nasri scored. The heat was on. At the end of regulation, the referees allowed five minutes of extra time—an eternity with Arsenal attacking, and it paid off immediately: Just a few seconds into the overtime, Nasri scored again. Arsenal could salvage a point yet, and momentum was swinging their way. But WBA never lost its poise, or its aggressiveness, and goalkeeper Scott Carson was stalwart. How big was this win for West Bromwich? It was the first time it had beaten Arsenal on Arsenal turf in 27 years.
I think the consensus going into the arch rivalry between London teams West Ham and Tottenham match was that West Ham was not all as bad as its winless, last place showing has been. West Ham striker Frederic Piquionne's goal in the 29th minute accounted for all the scoring; though teammate Victor Obinna didn't score, he led the maroon-and-white with courageous play in what the Fox Soccer Channel announcer called an "heroic performance."

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