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Jul 012014
Premier League: there were two question marks going into the 2013-14 season in England that were primarily concerned with here: Would David Moyes succeed at Man Utd and Is Manuel Pellegrini ready for the limelight in England as Manchester City coach? It was obvious that the hand-picked successor to Sir Alex Ferguson was never the right fit for a club like United. No disrespect to Moyes who did an admirable job on a shoestring budget at Everton but he was never ready for prime-time. The fact that they hired his exact opposite in Louis van Gaal as his replacement should explain everything. Van Gaal may be a lot of things, arrogant and misguided, autocratic and inflexible as a man-manager, but the club won't be as cautious and spiritless as  they were under Moyes. As for Pellegrini the question is asinine. Of course he's ready for the limelight of the Premier League. He's been ready for years. Sure, he hadn't won a league title over his long managerial career (in Europe, most pundits forget he won a few in South America) but he managed in Spain where if you don't manage one of the big two you have zero to no chance at the title. But, didn't he manage Real Madrid? Sure, but club President Florentino Perez never warmed to Pellegrini and sabotaged his project because he really wanted Jose Mourinho. There was an adjustment period but his smooth and easy hand is perfect for a club filled with galactic paychecks and galactic egos.

La Liga: It was an emotional year in Spain and especially in Catalunya. Tito Vilanova was fighting for his life with cancer of the parotid gland. He started his third stint of chemotherapy but soon after the year began there were rumblings in the Catalan papers from journalists who were close to Tito and his family that his condition had worsened. So as to respect their privacy, I know it's a rarity in this day and age, they would hold off on the news to give them space. Tito Vilanova lost his life on April 25, 2014. He is survived by his wife Montse and his two children Adria and Carlota. It was a sad day certainly for his family but for those of us who admired and respected that project that Pep Guardiola started in rebuilding Barcelona in 2008 we tend to forget that Tito was as much the architect of it as Guardiola. It gets one to think what might have happened if a healthy Tito had continued on and rebuilt the club in his own image. Which brings me to his replacement Tata Martino. Was he the right fit as Tito's successor? If you're a traditionalist you might say no, he never really fit with the philosophy of play that Barcelona have, and players who had won with Pep were uncertain at Tata's more direct style. Now I don't give much credit to ex-President Sandro Rosell but he was on the right track with the Martino hire. He saw that there was a shift beginning in football tactics and formations, away from the Dutch/Ajax/Barcelona 4-3-3 to a Marcelo Bielsa inspired 3-5-2. Guardiola tried it toward the end of his time in charge, and Martino was a follower of Bielsa but the players chafed at it. They blamed it on his training regimens and his ineptness at in-game tactical modifications but that's not right. It was too soon to make such a radical change in their set-up.

Serie A: SSC Napoli began their assault on the scudetto for 2014-2015 with the hire of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's. It was an insightful hire though some critics mentioned that his Spanish project hadn't succeeded in Italy three years before at Inter Milan. Selling Cavani was initially a scary proposition, but he bought well with Higuain, Albiol and Callejon coming in from Real Madrid, but the most important factor is that flat out the man can coach and he is very good at building squads that compete for titles. He has more autonomy in Naples and you're starting to see his hard work pay off.

Europe: The question at the beginning of the year was whether Pep Guardiola could implant his identity on a club like Bayern Munich that were already European Champs? He's an excellent tactician and his training methods are a step ahead of the pack. Some would question his man-management, bringing in his problems with Zlatan and Samuel Eto'o, but for the most part his players speak highly of him. He installed a more possession based system, similar to what he had used at FC Barcelona, with slow-buildup and players who were comfortable on the ball. He bought wisely, bringing in Tiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez with him from Spain, but the criticisms both in and outside the club began almost immediately. Why change a devastating counter-attack that Jupp Heynckes installed? Well, that's a question for the club's directors. You hire a coach for his ability to motivate and win, allowing him to use whatever methods he deems fit. If they wanted to move forward with what worked, the conservative approach, well they should have hired a more pragmatic coach like Rafa Benitez. So yes, Guardiola did put his imprint on the storied club. Was it worth it though?

World Football: Lastly, the 2014 World Cup is here and one of the most important questions of the last 60 years or so will be answered. Can Brazil win the World Cup, which is an obvious yes because they've won it five times before, but more importantly can they win it at home? That part is a little more difficult. For 60 years the Brazilians have been waiting for the Cup to return home to exorcise the nightmare of the 1950 Brazil World Cup where they lost to Uruguay in the final match from an Alcides Ghiggia goal with 11 minutes left in the match that to this day is still called the Maracanazo. The ghost of that goal at the Maracana still haunts the public and by extension the selecao. Can they do it? Luis Felipe Scolari is a pragmatist and isn't ruffled by much so they obviously can, but anyone who has watched them play over the last two weeks knows that they are running scared from their history.


The Ball is Flat

The Ball is Flat is a website and podcast devoted to the Beautiful Game. Football, Futbol, Fusball or whatever you call it, it is the game that divides and unites us. The Ball is Flat's mission is to cover European football with an eye open, the heart in motion, and the brain colored with the right amount of cheerful cynicism. Read more:

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