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10 Defining Moments from the 2014 World Cup Round of 16

After eight exciting games in the round of 16 that featured two penalty shootouts and three extra-time contests, we are now officially into the quarterfinal stage of the 2014 World Cup.

Over Friday and Saturday, we have plenty of mouthwatering action to look forward to. Hosts Brazil welcome impressive dark horses Colombia and France take on Germany in two continental clashes on July 4. July 5 sees the Netherlands come up against surprise package Costa Rica, while Argentina play Belgium.

As we look forward to the next round in one of the most scintillating and unpredictable World Cups in recent memory, let’s look back in chronological order at 10 key moments from the round of 16 that defined how the ties were settled.

 

Mauricio Pinilla Hits the Bar

Mauricio Pinilla Hits the Bar

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has since attributed his team’s struggles in the World Cup to pressure, but we didn’t need his confirmation to know just how hesitant they have appeared this summer.

Their performance against Chile at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte on June 28, when Jorge Sampaoli’s men looked the home side with their dominance of possession, showed just how big of a challenge winning a sixth World Cup on home soil would be.

They would ultimately prevail in the penalty shootout, thanks to Neymar’s coolness under unimaginable pressure and Gonzalo Jara’s miss, but they only escaped the jaws of defeat in the final minute of extra time, when Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla hit the crossbar with Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar already beaten.

Pinilla has since gotten a tattoo of the miss on his back, according to Charlie Scott of the Daily Mail, with the inscription, “One centimeter from glory.” A cruel but defining end to an impressive tournament for Chile.

 

James Rodriguez Scores a Screamer

James Rodriguez Scores a Screamer

Clive Rose/Getty Images

Luis Suarez’s biting incident with Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in their final group-stage match and the former’s subsequent ban threatened to overshadow the entire buildup to the round-of-16 clash between Colombia and Uruguay on June 28.

Suarez’s replacement in attack, Diego Forlan, showed just how much Oscar Tabarez’s side would miss the Liverpool striker, but perhaps not even Suarez would have been able to save them against an irrepressible Colombia side in top form.

James Rodriguez had stepped up to become his country’s talisman in the absence of star striker Radamel Falcao by scoring in every group-stage game, and he didn’t disappoint in the round of 16.

A scintillating moment of magic on 28 minutes saw him unleash an exquisite left-footed volley that cannoned off the crossbar and into the back of the net to send Colombia into a lead they never looked like conceding. He followed up with another goal 22 minutes later.

 

Arjen Robben Hits the Deck

Arjen Robben Hits the Deck

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Perennial underachievers in the World Cup, the Netherlands stormed into the round of 16 with a series of excellent performances in the group stage. Then they met Mexico in Fortaleza, where they were given a tough challenge in a game that had all the drama associated with the knockout stages of the World Cup.

Mexico even looked on course to knock out the Oranje, as Giovani dos Santos’ volley on 48 minutes gave them a one-goal lead for 40 minutes before Wesley Sneijder managed to equalize for Louis van Gaal’s side.

And right at the death, Arjen Robben, who has been a revelation in Brazil this summer, attracted controversy by going to ground following a Rafael Marquez challenge, winning an injury-time penalty.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar showed composure in reserve to score the winning goal, but Robben, who has since admitted he dived in the first half, stole all the headlines with his theatrics.

 

Keylor Navas Saves Costa Rica

Keylor Navas Saves Costa Rica

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

The Arena Pernambuco in Recife probably didn’t expect to play host to Costa Rica and Greece when the group-stage fixtures were announced, but on June 29 the crowd witnessed a historic moment as Costa Rica reached the last eight for the first time ever.

They had Navas to thank, as his stellar saves from shots by Kostas Mitroglou, Theofanis Gekas, Kostas Katsouranis and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos kept the Central Americans in the tie after extra time. By the end of a heroic 120 minutes, Navas had saved seven of the eight shots he faced in the game.

And he wasn’t done yet: After his normal- and extra-time heroics, Navas stepped up to the plate and faced off the Greeks in what surely had to be one of the most accurate penalty shootouts in recent World Cup history.

Costa Rica scored from their first four attempts, which meant that a Gekas miss on Greece’s fourth penalty would take the shootout to match point. Navas pulled off the defining save before Michael Umana notched past Orestis Karnezis to send his side into rapture.

 

Emmanuel Emenike Is Offside

Emmanuel Emenike Is Offside

Ian Walton/Getty Images

In the end, France’s win seemed to be routine, as Nigeria finally relented to Paul Pogba’s header and Joseph Yobo’s own goal to let France through to the quarterfinals.

But the June 30 tie in Brasilia wasn’t without controversy: On 20 minutes, Nigeria’s Emmanuel Emenike latched onto Ahmed Musa’s cross and poked past Hugo Lloris to hand the Africans a shock lead.

Or so they thought.

A raised flag from the linesman cut short the Super Eagles’ celebrations. It was a tight but seemingly correct decision in hindsight, one that might have greatly affected the outcome.

 

Andre Schurrle Conjures Backheel Magic

Andre Schurrle Conjures Backheel Magic

Sergei Grits/Associated Press

It’s been a difficult World Cup campaign for Andre Schurrle—so impressive and reliable as a goalscorer at club level for Chelsea but overshadowed by the supreme Thomas Mueller and evergreen Miroslav Klose in Brazil, despite wearing No. 9 for Germany.

So he was due a moment to breathe life back into his personal tournament and did just that after coming on as a half-time substitute for Mario Gotze against Algeria on June 30.

With two attackers spearheading the German offense in Mueller and Schurrle, Joachim Low’s side finally broke the deadlock, and it was Schurrle who delivered with an outrageous backheeled goal in the second minute of extra time past Algeria keeper Rais M’Bolhi.

It proved to be the decisive moment in Porto Alegre. It took the Germans another 18 minutes to score through Mesut Ozil, which rendered Abdelmoumene Djabou’s goal in injury time mere consolation.

 

Angel Di Maria Finally Produces

Angel Di Maria Finally Produces

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

On July 1, Angel Di Maria spent 118 minutes twisting and turning, running and dribbling, shooting and missing, threatening but failing.

Some argued that his performance was worthy of a Man of the Match award due to his constant threat to Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland, while some insisted he was the most wasteful player in Sao Paulo that afternoon.

No matter: At 118 minutes, Di Maria finally produced the goods.

To be sure, it was Lionel Messi who capitalized on a mistake to run at the Swiss defence and lay off the ball to his El Clasico rival. But the Real Madrid man still needed composure in abundance to finish past the impressive Diego Benaglio, and Di Maria answered Argentina’s call when his country most needed him.

 

Blerim Dzemaili Misses Two Sitters

Blerim Dzemaili Misses Two Sitters

Sergei Grits/Associated Press

It could’ve been so different, though: Switzerland were literally inches away from taking the tie to a penalty shootout.

But instead of scoring an equalizer in injury time, Blerim Dzemaili managed to hit the post from a few yards and then prod the rebound wide, turning Switzerland’s golden chance into a “coulda-woulda-shoulda” moment to rival Pinilla’s for Chile.

Dzemaili’s miss wasn’t quite as picturesque as Pinilla’s to merit a commemorative tattoo, but it almost provided the cherry on the top of what was an intense final few minutes of extra time on the back of 110 minutes of testy football.

Argentina survived to fight another day.

 

Chris Wondolowski Misses from a Few Yards

Chris Wondolowski Misses from a Few Yards

Michael Steele/Getty Images

The United States’ Chris Wondolowski rounds off our pick of close shaves in the round of 16 and joins Pinilla and Dzemaili as those who will regret their crucial misses for some time to come.

Wondolowski’s chance came against the run of play against a technically superior Belgium side, but it was a simple piece of Route 1 football that almost undid the Belgians in injury time, as he was sent clear after Jermaine Jones headed on a Geoff Cameron long ball.

With the goal—and Thibaut Courtois—at his mercy, Wondolowski contrived to blaze over the bar, letting the game stand at 0-0 and taking it into extra time.

The Americans may offer the defence that the assistant referee had put up his flag to indicate offside, which would’ve ruled the goal out anyway, but we’ll never truly know what could’ve happened if Wondolowski had completed his task first.

 

Romelu Lukaku Comes off the Bench

Romelu Lukaku Comes off the Bench

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Funny how some things work out.

For Belgium’s three group-stage games, Romelu Lukaku failed provided the thrust and attacking threat he was asked to and instead was outshone by teenage striker Divock Origi, who took Lukaku’s place in Marc Wilmot’s starting XI on July 1 against the United States.

So who better to turn the game in Belgium’s favor than Lukaku himself? The Chelsea striker came off the bench to replace Origi for the extra-time period and finally announced his arrival in Brazil with a barnstorming performance that led to Kevin De Bruyne’s opening goal.

Lukaku scored Belgium’s second goal to render Julian Green’s 107th-minute effort futile, as he provided exactly the presence that Jurgen Klinsmann lacked after Jozy Altidore’s injury.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

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The Business of World Cup Branding and Sponsorship

After the 32 participating nations announced their World Cup squads and most domestic football leagues around the world wrapped up their seasons, the attention has turned firmly to the action that has now begun in stadia across Brazil this summer.

Cue the spectacular advertising campaigns put on by brands and companies the world over, in a bid to cash in on the World Cup. Traditional sportswear powerhouses like Nike and Adidas have gone head to head in the production of high-budget commercials and promotional projects featuring footballing superstars, while companies that by nature don’t have anything to do with football—take Pepsi and Samsung, for example—have built a roster of star players to feature in their campaigns.

From official “FIFA Partners” to “National Supporters,” from “FIFA World Cup Sponsors” to unrelated companies targeting the football-fan demographic, the World Cup this summer features a multitude of brands competing for their ideal target market—FIFA has even designed and implemented a three-tier sponsorship structure to amplify and increase the profitability of the marketing frenzy in their flagship tournament.

Even the footballing action is and will be dominated by sponsors: the flashing billboards adorning each stadium, the official live broadcast coverage partners, the athletic gear worn by the players—given the frenetic advertising environment, perhaps international football should receive some credit for not yet caving into the lucrative practice of featuring official sponsors of national team kits.

The nature of the World Cup, and the reverence with which its fans and participants treat its ultimate prize, mean that football will be the main star in Brazil this summer. But that hasn’t stopped—and won’t stop—the considerable momentum that the branding and sponsorship activities have built over the years in their evolution into a prominent sideshow to the tournament.

How It All Began

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the World Cup—even professional football altogether—was just about the sport. But the phenomenon of television changed things forever.

The impact of television on the World Cup’s worldwide commercial boom cannot be understated: According to TIME, the number of TV sets worldwide “increased more than twentyfold” from 1954 to 1986, “from a little more than 30 million to more than 650 million,” laying the foundations for a truly groundbreaking moment in football history.

While the first live World Cup games, broadcast in Europe for the 1954 tournament held in Switzerland, reached only a handful of audiences due to the low number of matches shown, the potential of television and TV advertising was already apparent. In 1974, new FIFA president Joao Havelange turned his organization into a modern international NGO upon taking office, as he put in place the infrastructure, people and income-drive of a corporation to conquer the world of football and reap the ensuing economic benefits.

After the rapid expansion of the World Cup tournaments under Havelange’s watch—he added eight participant slots to the tournament, while also introducing other versions of the World Cup, including the U-17 and U-20 iterations, as well as the Confederations Cup—came the idea of corporate sponsorship to help bear the costs of hosting a global tournament in one country.

Thus came money-spinning deals with Adidas and other big-name corporations like Coca-Cola to finance the tournament, while television advertising, which had grown to become a huge cash cow with the boom of TV, led to increased premiums for marketers to get their spots and campaigns onto World Cup TV screens.

The Golden Era of World Cup Sponsorship

The sponsorship boom that began under Havelange has been taken to unprecedented new levels during the tenure of current FIFA president Sepp Blatter. According to a UPenn study, the stellar lineup of corporate FIFA sponsors (otherwise known as their “partners”) for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa included Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates Airlines, Hyundai-Kia Motors, Sony and Visa—who were “guaranteed exposure in the tournament stadium” and would receive “direct advertising and promotional opportunities and preferential access to TV advertising.”

The cost involved in partner-level sponsorship of the 2010 tournament was a commitment of a minimum of between 100 and 200 million euros through 2014, while “FIFA World Cup Sponsors” would collectively invest around 50 million euros through 2014.

As a result, FIFA’s revenues from the South Africa tournament reached a staggering $1.022 billion, and FIFA was to provide $420 million to all participating national teams and the football league teams providing players to those national teams. $30 million would go to the World Cup-winning team (Spain), while first-round teams automatically qualified for $8 million each. $1 million in preparation costs were provided to each participating football association.

So, yes, it’s a sporting achievement and an indication of a country’s footballing proficiency to qualify for a World Cup—but it’s also a great way for national football associations to make money. Football—and the World Cup—can no longer be considered as its own entity, separate from the clutches of money. After a period of explosive growth and the influence of a few key players, the World Cup and money have become intimately intertwined.

FIFA has ridden on this wave to further corporatise and globalise itself. Since introducing the World Cup in the United States in 1994, a move that proved to be a stunning success (USA 1994 still holds the total attendance record and average all-time attendance record), the World Cup has since traveled to Asia (2002), Africa (2010), and will go to Russia in 2018 and the Middle East in 2022. According to the Telegraph, Blatter has even entertained the idea of hosting the 2022 tournament across several countries in the Gulf region, which would multiply the brand and advertising exposure for FIFA’s partners across geographies.

To Sponsor or Not to Sponsor?

It’s not only the football that wins, however—after all, there has to be an inherent attraction to becoming a World Cup sponsor in the first place. Otherwise, brands wouldn’t be tripping over themselves to secure eye-watering contracts with national teams, players and the tournament itself.

So grand is the World Cup stage, that even smaller brands and smaller teams involve big sums of sponsorship money. Spain’s Joma sponsored Honduras in 2010 for $2 million a year, while China’s Hongxing Erke Group paid $7 million a year for the North Korean team.

But the battle is always at its most intense at the top of the footballing hierarchy, simply because a brand’s association with a team’s success will do wonders for its own brand performance, not least in terms of direct revenues. The UPenn study cites forecasts that the Adidas’ sales in the domestic Spanish market would grow by 8% if Spain won the World Cup in 2010 (they did), which would mean an overall 50% increase in Adidas’ sales from previous forecasts for 2010.

A continued association with success is also the driving force behind Nike’s contract with high-profile teams like Brazil, Portgual and the Netherlands, which guarantees a high level of visibility for the million-strong World Cup audiences around the globe. As the apparel hits stores worldwide ahead of, during and after the tournament, money will flow into the coffers of these high-profile brands, and even more so if their sponsored national teams perform well.

This explains the recent trend of new national team kit designs almost once a year: Brazil, England, Germany, Spain, Argentina and France are all examples of world-famous teams who have launched high-profile events and flashy marketing campaigns in conjunction with big-name sportswear companies and top international stars. And there are still those companies outside the sports arena that have allocated major funds and expensive campaigns to up their branding and advertising ante with the World Cup on the horizon.

Without doubt, the growth in sponsorship opportunities have provided many an ambitious brand to take advantage of World Cup to reach out to bigger audiences and rake in the ensuing benefits. But this path must be treaded properly.

The danger is that new kit launch events and over-the-top advertising campaigns have become hype machines that serve no purpose, and the risk is that the ever-expensive replica kits—one of the many inevitable products of the evolution of branding and sponsorship into World Cup sideshows—have become out of reach financially for that most important demographic when it comes to the most famous football tournament on earth.

For what is the World Cup without the common football fan?

 

This article first appeared on Outlook India, as “The Branding Business: How branding and sponsorship have evolved into a prominent sideshow to the World Cup.”

Power Ranking the 2014 FIFA World Cup Stadiums

With the World Cup just around the corner, excitement is well and truly brewing. Construction workers in Brazil are frantically putting the finishing touches to a stellar lineup of stadiums ready to host fans the world over for a month.

There have been many obstacles along the way, notably the well-publicized construction delays that have led to criticism directly from FIFA, but it looks as if the construction will be carried over the line in time for the tournament—just.

Here we rank the 12 World Cup stadiums this summer, based on a number of criteria: geographical location, game significance, structural features and importance to the community.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

All stadium information provided by the World Cup Portal, the official Brazilian Federal Government website on the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

12. Arena Pantanal (Cuiaba)

12. Arena Pantanal (Cuiaba)

Jose Medeiros/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Cuiaba’s Arena Pantanal is last on our list, and its geographical location is a major reason behind its low ranking: There is no team in the state that plays in Brazil’s top football division, making this 41,390-seater a likely candidate to become a white elephant after the World Cup.

After the tournament, the arena will “turn into a new leisure venue for locals,” according to the World Cup Portal, which goes to show just how unimportant this stadium location was in the first place.

 

Game Significance

That the ground will only host four group stage matches doesn’t help its ranking on our list either.

While Chile-Australia, Russia-South Korea, Nigeria-Bosnia-Herzegovina and Japan-Colombia are all interesting matchups in their own right, the fact that none of the big boys will be on show in the Arena Pantanal says it all about its significance.

 

Structural Features

Since it is a brand-new stadium for the World Cup, modern architectural features and fan-friendly accessibility factors do redeem the Arena Pantanal somewhat.

It has 90,000 square meters of promenade surrounding it, while 20 entrances, 79 turnstiles, 20 staircases and 12 elevators will provide fans a spacious environment to enter and exit the stadium.

There are also 32 food kiosks, three restaurants, 97 boxes and 66 lavatories, making it a fan-centric modern structure.

 

Importance to the Community

Legacy inside and outside of football is very much part of FIFA’s lexicon when it comes to hosting World Cups across the world.

In the Arena Pantanal’s case, since there is no local first-tier team that will be able to make use of such a grandiose new construction project, there is no choice but for the stadium to turn into a multi-purpose venue after the tournament.

Whether that is “important” to the local community or simply a convenient reason for Cuiaba to be a host city is entirely up to you.

 

11. Arena Da Amazonia (Manaus)

11. Arena Da Amazonia (Manaus)

Jose Zamith/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Arena da Amazonia is another stadium whose geographical location just doesn’t help itself.

Sure, you can argue that hosting a World Cup match so close to the Amazon makes for an exotic experience, but the traffic and the climate there—not to the mention the sheer distance from everywhere else—makes Manaus a royal pain of a venue.

There’s a local adage that goes: “There are two seasons in Manaus—summer and hell.” And there’s a whole article on CBS News (and other various news outlets) on just how challenging the Manaus location is.

 

Game Significance

The most high-profile match here is Group D’s clash between England and Italy—not that Roy Hodgson and his team will enjoy traveling such a long distance for an already tough match on paper.

Manaus was never going to host more than the standard four group-stage games: It would have presented too much of a logistical challenge otherwise.

 

Structural Features

What you can’t deny is the spectacle that the Arena da Amazonia is as an architectural feat. The 45,500-seater takes inspiration from an “indigenous straw basket, full of Brazilian fruit,” according to the World Cup Portal, which is its most distinct feature.

Seven colors in various tones of yellow, orange and red are represented in the stadium seats, while the stadium facade itself looks like a basket from the X-shaped metal modules. (We considered moving it up our rankings because of these unique features.)

 

Importance to the Community

Yet for all of its vibrant colors, the Manaus area really doesn’t have a pressing need for a state-of-the-art new football stadium, not least because of the transportation problems the city will likely encounter for its matches.

Here‘s a revealing statement from the Telegraph that shows just how “important” the stadium will be:

There has been some speculation that it might be used as a prison after the World Cup to relieve overcrowding elsewhere.

Legacy indeed.

 

10. Arena Da Baixada (Curitiba)

10. Arena Da Baixada (Curitiba)

Alexandre Carnieri/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Outside of sports, Curitiba has long been recognized for its central role in Brazilian economics; indeed, it was awarded the Global Sustainable City Award in 2010, which recognized the city’s sustainable urban development.

The Arena da Baixada finds itself in one of the most desirable cities in Brazil.

 

Game Significance

Despite its ideal location, the Arena da Baixada plays host to a disappointing four matches this summer, and none of the fixtures on show in Curitiba is a mouthwatering clash.

 

Structural Features

With a capacity of 43,000, the Arena da Baixada is a respectable arena that is also the home stadium of Atletico Paranaense, who also own and operate it.

Rising like a concrete box in the middle of the city, the Arena is a structurally impressive stadium: Its ground facade is almost see-through, meaning that people outside of the stadium are able to look inside towards the ground.

The 48 kiosks and four restaurants for food, as well as the 884 underground indoor parking spaces, make it a strong contender in the accessibility category.

 

Importance to the Community

Construction delays and failure to meet the agreed FIFA timeline is one of the reasons the Arena da Baixada ranks so low here. As of May 15, it was one of three World Cup stadiums yet to be completed, according to Yahoo!, while a test match in mid-May saw bulldozers parked outside with construction material piled up.

Curitiba was nearly excluded from the tournament outright because of “chronic delays that were caused mostly by financial shortcomings.” Certainly not encouraging.

 

9. Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)

9. Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)

Gabriel Heusi/Associated Press

Geographical Location

In terms of location, the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre is arguably one of the most fitting venues in Brazil to hold World Cup matches. The city features one of the most intense cross-town rivalries in Brazilian football—Internacional and Gremio.

It is also the southernmost stadium out of all 12, which means that colder temperatures are likely.

 

Game Significance

With five matches to host, the Estadio Beira-Rio slightly outperforms its predecessors on this list. France, the Netherlands and Argentina are among the high-profile teams to play their group stages matches in Porto Alegre, while it is also set to host a round-of-16 match.

 

Structural Features

Unlike the stadiums at Cuiaba and Manaus, the Estadio Beira-Rio is not a completely new structure; rather, the redeveloped design accentuates the already striking facade to present one of the most memorable out of the 12.

It also hosts a respectable 50,000 seats, and after redevelopment, the stands have been moved closer to the pitch for a better fan experience. The 22 bars and snack bars and the 44 shops will add to a few good days out in Porto Alegre.

 

Importance to the Community

With football such a prominent part of the Porto Alegre community, the Estadio Beira-Rio commands an even more premium location, on the banks of the Guaiba River and extremely accessible from the main hotels and the airport.

The only major piece of negative news is that as recently as this March, its mayor claimed that it might drop out of the World Cup because of insufficient funding (via the BBC). For such a football-mad city, that is quite unbelievable.

 

8. Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador)

8. Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador)

David Campbell/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Known as the capital of happiness in Brazil, Salvador is host to the annual Central do Carnaval, and it seems natural to bring the World Cup to a city with a party atmosphere.

Situated close to the seaside, the Arena Fonte Nova enjoys a spectacular view and stands out as a space-age construction amid buildings of modest height in a bustling city.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Fonte Nova will host six matches this summer, with four group matches (featuring such heavyweights as Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and France), a round-of-16 match and a quarterfinal.

 

Structural Features

With a capacity of 55,000, Salvador’s stadium is one of the most impressive constructions to feature this summer. Having been constructed for the Confederations Cup, the Arena Fonte Nova has a distinctive “horseshoe” area that will support 5,000 removable seats for the tournament only.

Perhaps worth noting is the fact that it was the first to secure a naming rights agreement among the 12 World Cup stadiums, with the Brazilian brewery Itaipava signing a sponsorship deal worth $100 million lasting until 2023.

Construction faults led to blind spots from several areas inside the stadium during its inaugural match, however, while heavy rain caused a section of the roof to collapse in May 2013, affecting this otherwise remarkable stadium’s ranking on our list due to safety issues.

 

Importance to the Community

Salvador’s central role in Brazilian entertainment will likely have been a big factor behind the decision to host World Cup matches in the city, while there are already longer-term plans for the stadium after this summer: It will be one of the venues used for the football competition in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

7. Arena Castelao (Fortaleza)

7. Arena Castelao (Fortaleza)

Fabio Lima/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Fortazela is one of three major cities in Brazil’s north-east alongside Recife and Salvador, both of which are also World Cup host cities this summer.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Castelao will play host to six matches this summer, including four group-stage matches, a round-of-16 match and a quarterfinal.

Besides featuring crowd favorites such as Uruguay, Germany and Ivory Coast, Fortaleza will also see the Brazilian national team play on home soil in a Group A game against Mexico, which is sure to be a spectacle.

 

Structural Features

The Arena Castelao seats an impressive 63,903 people and has been refurbished to make the World Cup this summer.

An interesting architectural feature is its glass skin, which reduces heat inside the stadium. Its huge roof is also coated with a material that “allows for the circulation of air in the stadium,” and “provides soundproofing and ideal shade for television broadcasting.”

 

Importance to the Community

Surprisingly, the Arena Castelao has hosted two large-scale and high-profile religious events. In 1980, Pope John Paul II brought 120,000 followers to the celebrations of the 10th National Eucharistic Congress at the stadium.

In 1995, 50,000 followers gathered for the farewell of Dom Aloisio Lorscheider, the archbishop of Fortaleza, confirming the stadium (then yet to be redeveloped) as an important center-piece in its citizens’ lives.

 

6. Itaipava Arena Pernambuco (Recife)

6. Itaipava Arena Pernambuco (Recife)

Ana Araujo/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Itaipava Arena Pernambuco is situated in the western suburbs of the Recife metropolitan area, one of the most important geographic locations in all of Brazil.

Recife itself is known as the Brazilian Venice, what with the rivers, small islands and more than 50 bridges found in its city center. Its famous 8km Boa Viagem Beach adds to its overall allure as an important cultural and leisure destination.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Pernambuco’s fixture list isn’t terribly impressive: Apart from four group-stage games that may throw up a few interesting twists in the World Cup, it will only host an additional round-of-16 match.

 

Structural Features

The seating capacity of the Arena is 46,000 and it’s a standard modern stadium designed to be accessible and convertible. There are plans for it to be used as a venue for concerts, conventions and other events after the World Cup.

The strong emphasis on sustainability impressed us. A solar power plant implemented in the stadium will generate 1MW of installed capacity and will be able to meet the average consumption of 6,000 people when the venue is not filled. Impressive.

 

Importance to the Community

One of the things that attracted us to Recife was its potential for a strong and positive legacy after the World Cup. According to the World Cup Portal, the Pernambuco represents the beginning of a new urban center named the “World Cup City,” a 242-hectare area that “aims to bring together housing, offices, educational institutions and leisure areas.”

The completed area will include a university campus, a hotel and convention center with other commercial, residential and entertainment complexes, and is predicted to generated 10,000 direct jobs until 2024. A noble effort if it ends up going through.

 

5. Arena Das Dunas (Natal)

5. Arena Das Dunas (Natal)

Jobson Galdino/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Natal is well-known for its tourist attractions, with its natural scenic landscapes, beaches, historical monuments and the famous Carnatal, giving the city a unique aura.

The Arena das Dunas finished construction in January 2014, replacing the old Machadao football stadium that was demolished in 2011 to make way for the new project.

 

Game Significance

For a stadium of such breathtaking beauty, it is a travesty that it will only host one truly high-profile match (Italy vs. Uruguay in Group D) among its slated lineup of four group-stage matches.

 

Structural Features

Probably one of the most striking and visually stunning stadiums in World Cup history, the 42,000-seat Arena das Dunas features a facade and roof made up of 20 petal-shaped modules, “designed to be higher on one of the stadium’s side, giving the impression that sand dunes—common in the region—are moving,” according to the World Cup Portal.

Sustainability, now a key element in all stadium construction, also plays an important role in Natal’s World Cup stadium: Its roof captures rainwater, up to 3,000 cubic meters of which may be reused in its lavatories and for pitch irrigation.

 

Importance to the Community

Just like Recife project, the Arena das Dunas is planned to be the center of an exciting new district, featuring a shopping center, commercial buildings, world-class hotels and even an artificial lake.

 

4. Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha (Brasilia)

4. Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha (Brasilia)

Tomas Faquini/Associated Press

Geographical Location

There aren’t many locations more high profile than a capital city, and that’s exactly what Brasilia is. A relatively recently planned and developed city, Brasilia provided a more central location for a capital city than Rio de Janeiro.

Given its political importance, Brasilia naturally pays less attention to football. Yet the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha is still a force to be reckoned with.

 

Game Significance

The Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha will live up to its capital-city billing and play host to seven matches this summer: four group-stage games, in addition to a round-of-16 match, a quarterfinal and the third-place match.

Out of the four group-stage matches, Colombia vs. Ivory Coast and Portugal vs. Ghana will provide two interesting spectacles.

 

Structural Features

Named after legendary Brazilian footballer Garrincha, the stadium is one of the most easily recognizable in Brazil and hosts a remarkable 71,000 people, making it the perfect venue for high-profile matches in the World Cup this summer.

Its distinctive UFO-like design, which looks like a narrow bowl supported by a multitude of columns around the side, adds to the myth that surrounds one of the most iconic venues in world football.

 

Importance to the Community

Unfortunately, this is where the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha loses out. Not only will football continue to play second fiddle to politics, but the stadium itself will court controversy due to the sheer amount of money invested in it.

According to this AP story, fraudulent billing has led to a huge increase in building cost: At $900 million, it is now the second-most expensive stadium in the world, despite there being no major professional team in Brasilia. Authorities will need to navigate the political minefield or risk having the first major demonstrations start right under their noses.

 

3. Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte)

3. Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte)

Marcus Desimoni/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Estadio Mineirao is the largest football stadium in the state of Minas Gerais, where Belo Horizonte is its most populous city.

Its bustling activity makes it one of the most important cities in the south-eastern region of Brazil, while its urban planning—inspired by that of Washington, D.C.—has won international accolades for urban revitalization and food security.

 

Game Significance

Now we’re getting right into the thick of the action. Besides hosting four group games, Belo Horizonte will also feature a round-of-16 match and a semifinal, making it one of the most high-profile venues in the World Cup.

 

Structural Features

The Estadio Mineirao first opened back in 1965, making it one of Brazil’s most iconic football stadiums in its long and illustrious history. Its post-refurbishment 62,160 seats make it one of the continent’s largest, while its distinctive circular, Coliseum-like structure make it one of the most recognizable venues in South America.

Once again, sustainability is the hip word of the moment: 90 percent of the rubble produced by the building site was reused, according to the World Cup Portal, while a rooftop solar power plant converts enough energy to cater to the demand of 1,200 medium-sized households. Not a bad feat at all.

 

Importance to the Community

By way of sheer longevity, the Estadio Mineirao has become an institution in the minds of the Brazilian football public.

The promenade area outside the stadium itself will be used as a social space to host events alongside leisure, cultural and sporting events staged inside the arena.

 

2. Arena De Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo)

2. Arena De Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo)

Mauricio Simonetti/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The home stadium of Brazilian powerhouse Corinthians will be called Arena de Sao Paulo during the World Cup.

The city of Sao Paulo itself is well-known: It is the largest city in Brazil and plays a huge role in the country’s commercial, financial and entertainment activity.

 

Game Significance

Probably the second-most important stadium in terms of game significance this summer, the Arena de Sao Paulo will host four group games, including the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, as well as other heavy-hitters such as Uruguay vs. England, the Netherlands vs. Chile and South Korea vs. Belgium.

It will also host a round-of-16 match, as well as a semifinal.

 

Structural Features

For a stadium of such high profile and importance, the Arena de Sao Paulo actually has a surprisingly low standard capacity. It was only to meet the FIFA requirements for an opening-match stadium that 21,200 removable seats were added to form the current 68,000-seat capacity.

Structurally, it is one of the most impressive World Cup stadiums on show this summer. The stadium complex will feature a pedestrian mall as well as other spectacles such as a performance fountain and large gardens.

Stadium acoustics were also a key consideration during the planning and building of the stadium—it will duplicate the current noise level supporters create during games—while, as in several other host stadiums, rainwater reusability is a key sustainability feature.

The Sao Paulo project was awarded the Best Commercial Project and the Best Overall Project awards in the 2011 Grande Premio de Arquitetura Corporativa.

 

Importance to the Community

Public accessibility and capacity management are two of the most impressive features of the Arena de Sao Paulo.

Express trains will connect to the stadium during the World Cup, linking it to the city center in just 20 minutes, according to FIFA.com, while the metro and train stations have the capacity to handle 100,000 passengers an hour.

 

1. Estadio Do Maracana (Rio de Janeiro)

1. Estadio Do Maracana (Rio De Janeiro)

Daniel Basil/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Is it any surprise that the most high-profile stadium in Brazil will host the most-profile match in the World Cup this summer in its most high-profile city?

Rio de Janeiro is arguably Brazil’s most famous city—and deservedly so, given its iconic status in both tourism and popular culture. It’s known for its natural settings and historical monuments, while its beaches and carnival atmosphere only add to the cultural significance of the city.

 

Game Significance

You can’t get any bigger than this. Forget that the titular Group B clash between Spain and Chile will take place at the Estadio do Maracana; forget that six other matches will take place; the Maracana will host the final, which might very well feature the home nation.

 

Structural Features

Having first opened in 1950, the Maracana is probably the arena most steeped in Brazilian football tradition out of all the 12 World Cup stadiums, making it the perfect choice to host the showpiece event of the whole tournament.

A major reconstruction project was undertaken to prepare for the 2014 World Cup: A new one-tier seating bowl, featuring yellow, blue and white seats alongside the green pitch make up the Brazilian national colors, while a new fiberglass roof was installed.

 

Importance to the Community

To see the cultural importance of the Maracana to the Brazilian public, see the number of non-World Cup events that take place at the stadium.

Besides the record-breaking concerts put on by the likes of Paul McCartney and Madonna, the Maracana will also host both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2016 Summer Paralympics.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

How Brazil Hopes to Get Rich off the 2014 World Cup

With less than two weeks left before the World Cup kicks off this summer in Brazil, all the attention has understandably been on the football side of things, with all participants playing warm-up friendlies to ready their squad for the tournament.

For the Brazilian government and footballing authorities, who have attracted criticism for repeatedly missing construction deadlines for the World Cup stadiums, perhaps the recent attention to the friendlies makes for a welcome respite.

After all, most of the coverage in the past year or so (this is an example from The Washington Post) has focused on the state of the host nation. (I wrote an article on that only a few months ago.)

But the public protests in Brazil have not gone unnoticed. In fact, the demonstrations that started during last year’s Confederations Cup have provided a controversial backdrop to the upcoming World Cup: How will officials be held accountable for the massive overspending they have committed in their preparations for the tournament?

It is imperative that there is an answer to how Brazil and its citizens stand to benefit from hosting a glamour tournament like a World Cup—not just from glory and hype alone.

Let’s take a look at how the 2014 host nation hopes to make money off the latest installment of the World Cup—but as we see, not all the hopes and proclamations may ring true.

 

Jobs and the Local Economy

 

Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

 

Brazil’s tourism minister, Vinicius Lages, told AFP, via Yahoo: “The Cup is not an economic panacea but a catalyst for Brazilian development. It was a key factor behind Brazil finally overhauling its infrastructure.”

The World Cup, he predicted, would add about $13.6 billion to the Brazilian economy—already the world’s seventh largest—in 2014 alone.

It doesn’t stop there.

report by Ernst & Young Terco on the social and economic impacts of the 2014 World Cup concluded that the tournament “should generate 3.63 million jobs/year and R$63.48 billion income for the population in the period 2010-2014, besides an additional R$18.13 billion in tax collections.”

EY’s projected impact on the national production of goods and services stood at R$112.79 billion, while the sectors most benefiting from the event—defined as economic activities with major increased output—were civil construction, food and beverage, business services, utilities, information services, and tourism and hospitality.

All of which sounds glamorous and sexy, but there have been contrasting reports on the actual long-term gains as a result of hosting the World Cup—and they aren’t quite as pretty.

Moody’s report on the impact of the tournament on different industry sectors concluded that “the 32-day event will provide short-lived sales increases that are unlikely to materially affect earnings and disruptions associated with traffic, crowding and lost work days will take a toll on business.”

Then there is the very real possibility that the “World Cup effect”—defined by IBTimes.com as the phenomenon of countries being more harmed economically from hosting the event, as seen from South Africa 2010—may take hold in Brazil.

Four years on, the same uncertain material benefits from a World Cup are still yet to be transparent. As cited in the IBTimes.com article,University of Maryland professor Dennis Coates noted that even the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.—claimed as one of the most successful and transformational ever—ended in an income reduction of $712 million for the average host city relative to predictions.

 

The Tourism Industry

 

Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

 

Vinicius Lummertz, Brazil’s national secretary of public policies, toldThe Rio Times last November of his optimism that Brazil’s tourism industry would stand to gain enormously from the World Cup:

We hope tourism in Brazil rises to a new level after the World Cup. With infrastructure improvements that increase the competitiveness of Brazil as a tourist destination, and the high exposure of the country abroad, I expect to see a significant increase in foreign tourists—but mainly more Brazilians traveling through Brazil.

The Tourism Ministry predicted that tourists home and abroad would spend R$25 billion during the tournament, when 600,000 foreign and three million Brazilian travelers are estimated to visit the country.

The massive spending on infrastructure by the Brazilian government in recent years in preparation for the World Cup has likely been to maximize the revenue the country can make during the tournament—and with an eye on the future as well.

The EY study quoted above addressed such needs for investment in order for tourism income to be realized:

Once the actions that are required to enable the country to capitalize on the opportunities generated by the World Cup are completed, the event may result in an increase of up to 79% in the international tourist inflow to Brazil in 2014, with even possibly higher impacts in subsequent years. In the period 2010-2014, that figure should be as high as 2.98 million additional visitors.

The tourist inflow directly and indirectly induced by the World Cup is expected to account for additional income up to R$5.94 billion for Brazilian companies.

Yet before Brazil can throw a metaphorical carnival to celebrate their upcoming economic benefits, a few sobering updates on the tourism front may dampen the mood.

According to Claire Rive of The Rio Times, “The tourism sector in Brazil has had to adjust their inflated estimates concerning the expected influx of tourists…leading to big discounts on local and international flights and accommodation during the tournament.”

The reduction in projected tourist numbers has led to discounts on airfare prices and package tours, while demand for accommodation has “substantially decreased and prices have decreased.”

 

And, of Course, Corruption

 

Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

 

That a World Cup involves staggering amounts of money and an opportunity for businessmen and government officials to make a quick buck is no surprise—and Christopher Gaffney, professor at Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University, agrees strongly.

“There’s collusion of the Brazilian governmental elite with the business elite, and the game is rigged in their favor,” Gaffney said(via Yahoo). “This was an opportunity to make a lot of money and that’s what’s happened.”

But adding to the depressing reality that corruption will form a huge proportion of Brazil’s money made from the World Cup is the astonishingly public manner in which the embezzlement has been carried out.

See the case of the lead builder of Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha Stadium, already the world’s second-most expensive football stadium.

The Associated Press ran a story this May alleging that Andrade Gutierrez, a construction conglomerate, and Via Engenharia, an engineering firm, made up a construction consortium that billed the government $1.5 million for the transportation of prefabricated grandstands for the Brasilia stadium—a fee that was initially thought to cost just $4,700.

Auditors pointed out that “wasteful cutting practices or poor planning added $28 million in costs,” while “$16 million was lost when Brasilia’s government inexplicably failed to enforce a fine against Andrade Gutierrez for a five-month delay in completion of the main portion of the stadium.”

According to Al Jazeera, the same firm made political contributions totaling $37.1 million after confirmation of which cities would be hosting tournament matches, and after it was awarded stakes in contracts totaling “nearly one-fourth of the World Cup’s total price tag,” four years after it contributed a measly $73,180 in municipal elections, a 500-fold increase.

Moreover, auditors found $275 million in alleged price gouging with just three-fourths of the $900 million Mane Garrincha Stadium project.

The most damning part?

“Funding for Brasilia’s stadium relies solely on financing from the federal district’s coffers, meaning every cent comes from taxpayers.”

What comes around, goes around.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

10 Things Liverpool Learned from the 2013/14 Premier League Season

Perhaps it was just a touch too far for Liverpool in the end. Their fans harbored the hope and the romanticism, but Manchester City’s ruthless efficiency meant that as soon as Liverpool handed first place in the Premier League back into City’s hands, it was always going to be a tall order for the Reds.

On Liverpool’s part, it could’ve been a poetic end to the season on the final day. Steven Gerrard providing two set-piece assists to go clear in the Premier League assist charts, a goal from Daniel Agger on possibly his last-ever appearance for the Reds, and a goal for the understated Daniel Sturridge—all after Newcastle United took the lead through some dodgy Liverpool defending.

West Ham United—Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Joe Cole et al—just couldn’t play their supposed part against City on Sunday.

But while the conciliatory and congratulatory messages will be sent from the red half of Merseyside to the blue half of Manchester amid disappointment—“devastation,” Gerrard told Sky Sports (h/t Fox Sports)—at a lost chance to win a title, the overriding mood at Anfield after the final whistle on Sunday was a celebratory one.

For while City’s two goals in a clean sheet sealed their second title in three years, the Liverpool fans preferred to bask in the knowledge that their team had stormed their way back into the top four ahead of Brendan Rodgers’ schedule and preferred to acknowledge the brave but valiant efforts of their heroes.

And why not? It’s been an exciting campaign for Liverpool, and here are 10 things we learned from their 2013/14 Premier League season. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Attack Wins Games…

Attack Wins Games…Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Having scored 101 goals in 38 league games this season—just one short of Manchester City’s haul—Liverpool have been one of English football’s great entertainers over the past 10 months.

Without taking any penalties and having missed his first five games of the season, Luis Suarez equaled the 38-game-season Premier League goal-scoring tally of 31, while Daniel Sturridge added 21 goals and Steven Gerrard 13.

The blitzing of Tottenham Hotspur (both home and away), Everton and Arsenal—all considered rivals at the start of the season—will be remembered for years to come, as the Reds hit three or more goals in a remarkable 21 out of their 38 games. The thrilling 11-game winning streak that rocketed Brendan Rodgers’ men to the top of the table with a few games to go was especially memorable.

Rodgers has instilled flexibility, directness and dynamism into his team, who are now capable of changing tactical formations from game to game and during matches. They can score goals from a variety of approaches—counterattacks, direct free kicks and other set pieces. The interchanging of his electric forward line has added to their aesthetic appeal, which has won them fans up and down the country and around the world.

From 71 goals last season to 101 this term—a 30-goal swing over a 38-game span—it has been a remarkable improvement in attacking form from by and large the same group of players, and Rodgers deserves as much credit as his charges.

Liverpool fan or not, this has been a season to savor.

 

…But Defence Wins Championships

…But Defence Wins ChampionshipsMichael Regan/Getty Images

Yet a simple comparison of goal difference between City and Liverpool shows everything about how the season has panned out: City, who scored just one more goal in total, finished with a goal difference of plus-65, compared with Liverpool’s plus-51.

Somehow it seemed fitting that Martin Skrtel’s own goal was Newcastle’s opener on Sunday—he is the highest-scoring defender in the Premier League with seven goals this season, yet his four own goals this season set a Premier League record.

Defence has proved to be Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel, and the main reason behind their failure to win the title.

Inevitable off days notwithstanding, there were fixtures and results that hinted at their defence being susceptible and potentially damaging to their cause. Hard-fought wins over Stoke City (5-3), Fulham (3-2), Swansea City (4-3) and Norwich City (3-2) always featured three goals or more scored, but required resolute defending to hold onto their slender lead.

So as much as it was anticlimactic from Liverpool’s point of view, the draw at Crystal Palace in the penultimate match of the season was actually arguably a long time coming, considering their weaknesses in defence and tendency to commit costly mistakes.

Liverpool finished the season just two points behind Manchester City. If they had been able to turn one loss into one win or two draws into two wins, they would’ve ended on top. Their attack is near-complete; it’s now the defence that needs major work.

 

A Mental Collapse Toward the End…

A Mental Collapse Toward the End…Clive Rose/Getty Images

In this season’s title race, we saw it all from Steven Gerrard: the “crazy eyes” after his opener in the 4-0 rout over Everton, a shirt-flinging celebration after a last-gasp penalty winner over Fulham, a kiss for the camera after his second penalty at Manchester United and even emotional tears after the thrilling win over Manchester City.

And if those celebrations weren’t enough to confirm just how desperate Gerrard was to win his first-ever Premier League title, surely the team talk that he gave on the pitch after the City match did.

So it was a cruel twist of fate—and to some an inevitable turn of events—that Gerrard was the one who committed the fatal error to let Demba Ba through, allowing Chelsea an opening goal deep into first-half stoppage time and hand the impetus back to City.

From then on, we rarely saw the Reds’ nerves settle.

Instead of playing it patiently and build attacks through Suarez, Liverpool opted to cross aimlessly into the box against Chelsea’s bus-parked box while notching their highest tally of crosses in a single game over the course of the season. A draw would’ve done just fine.

Instead of holding a three-goal lead and maximizing the points return at Palace, Rodgers opted to take off Raheem Sterling, one of his best defensive players this season, and decided to leave his experienced defenders on the bench in a bid to rack up the goals. A simple three points, which they were on the way to achieving, would’ve done just fine.

An 11-match winning run was what started making the Kop dream—but conversely it was the belief and dreams that led them to a calamitous collapse in the crucial moment of the season. The five dropped points made the difference in the end.

 

…But a Clear Sign of Increasing Maturity

…But a Clear Sign of Increasing MaturityAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Eleven wins on the bounce is no mean feat, and in the context of the entire season—and considering the lack of squad depth and strength at Rodgers’ disposal—the Reds, by and large, carried and managed themselves well.

There were the nervy wins brought about by the hesitant defence and the prolific attack, and there were moments that showed Liverpool’s increasing maturity.

Holding onto a one-goal lead when the tide had turned and the momentum had shifted to their opponents was a sure sign of mental progress on the part of Rodgers’ men. In April when they held their nerve against relegation-fighting Norwich City after Philippe Coutinho’s second-half winner over Manchester City, Liverpool fans started to believe.

No two players can exhibit finer physical and mental development this season than the excellent Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, who got their chances to impress and took them in their own hands beyond any reasonable belief.

As we consider the close-season anticlimax, a good context to keep in mind is that one of the league’s youngest squads repeatedly held their nerve to secure a second-placed finish.

It will be of some comfort that reported targets Adam Lallana and Steven Caulker are currently the club captains of their respective clubs (Southampton and Cardiff City). Leadership is being targeted.

 

“They Have Been the Most Wonderful Underdogs”…

“They Have Been the Most Wonderful Underdogs”…

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Players and fans alike have lauded the fervent atmosphere of Anfield this season, especially during the final few weeks of the season when the Kop roared on in full voice every match and Liverpool fans lined the streets of the city to inspire the players.

The atmosphere has frequently been compared with that of Champions League nights at Anfield, and now the Reds finally have that to savor next season.

This title race even evoked memories of the miraculous Champions League final turnaround in Istanbul almost nine years ago—and Martin Tyler’s remark that the Reds had been the “most wonderful underdogs” over the course of the tournament that season surely applied to their Premier League title challenge this time around.

A young squad playing scintillating attacking football with the charismatic Rodgers and the elder statesman that is Gerrard helming the side—Liverpool’s title challenge was inconceivable but widely welcomed and supported.

For most of the season, they played with no fear and without shackles. Chelsea and Manchester City were the big spenders with big-name players and managers, while Arsenal’s fall from top of the league to fourth place, Everton’s top-four challenge, Tottenham Hotspur’s wild inconsistencies under Tim Sherwood and Manchester United’s spectacular demise captured all the headlines.

As they have proved over the years, especially in Europe under Rafael Benitez, Liverpool are at their most dangerous when the underdog tag is applied.

 

…But What Happens When the Pressure Is On?

…But What Happens When the Pressure Is On?

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The question now is whether or not the Reds can live with a “favorites” tag.

To expect a thin squad and a poor bench to sustain a top performance level over the course of a season and outcompete world-class teams proved too much this season. While their lack of European football has been claimed by many to provide them with a sense of regularity, the fact that Liverpool didn’t even qualify for Europe last season says it all about their status as underdogs.

When the pressure was well and truly on and they were expected to see out the season in first place, they buckled.

Whether it was because of Gerrard’s unfortunate slip, Rodgers’ decision to go for the jugular against Chelsea when a draw would’ve done or the naivety that they could make up for the gigantic goal difference by continuing to pile forward with a three-goal lead against Crystal Palace, Liverpool seemed to make the wrong decisions at the wrong time.

And after providing a surprise element and a breath of fresh air this season, Liverpool will be considered favorites for the top four again next year, and another title challenge—especially in anticipation of their transfer activity this summer—has already been mooted.

It’s not just about managing expectations anymore; it’s about managing themselves so they can unlock their potential, but also get results over the line when they most need them.

 

Success Built on Experience and Quality…

Success Built on Experience and Quality…

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Where would Liverpool be this May without Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard?

Together, the No. 7 and No. 8 contributed 44 goals and 25 assists, over 68 per cent of Liverpool’s whopping total of 101 goals over the campaign—and that’s including Suarez’s five-game suspension at the start of the season and Gerrard’s midseason injury layoff.

When Liverpool fans look back in years to come, their likely conclusion will be that keeping Suarez away from the clutches of Arsenal in the summer of 2013 might just have proved their most pivotal decision in recent years.

And Rodgers moving Gerrard into a withdrawn playmaking role has unlocked the best out of the captain, possibly even extending his playing career.

Suarez has added even more to his arsenal (ha): Not only has he evolved into a fearsome finisher, but he has also become prolific at direct free kicks and also ranks second in the Premier League assist charts.

Likewise Gerrard, who has taken to his new position smoothly and has been able to unlock defences through his unerring through balls and long passes. His dead-ball deliveries have been a big component of Liverpool’s league-leading set-piece goal tally.

 

…But Exciting Glimpses Toward the Future

…But Exciting Glimpses Toward the Future

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

But despite Suarez and Gerrard taking first and second place in the Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards, their supporting cast have been equally important and threatened to steal the show.

There is no need to elaborate on the maturation of Jordan Henderson, nor the meteoric rise of Raheem Sterling—likewise with the resurgence of Jon Flanagan, the consistency of Daniel Sturridge and the mercurial talent of Philippe Coutinho.

What has been made abundantly clear is that Rodgers, himself a young coach, has prized talent development and made youth a centerpiece of his Liverpool side. In taking such a young team to within a whisker of the Premier League title takes vision and guts and deserves credit.

That Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge have risen from pure potential to potentially starting alongside their club captain in Roy Hodgson’s England lineup in the World Cup this summer is a testament to their own hard work and Rodgers’ tutelage.

Add a few more quality players with at least a few top years ahead of them this summer, and Anfield could witness not just a new generation of blossoming talent, but a golden era in itself.

The possibilities are tantalizing.

 

Liverpool Face Their Most Pivotal Summer Transfer Window…

Liverpool Face Their Most Pivotal Summer Transfer Window…

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

To realize their potential, however, Liverpool must continue their encouraging momentum and take full advantage of a first genuinely exciting summer transfer window ahead of them.

For the first time in a few years, the Reds have the Champions League and a title challenge to offer—with the money that comes on the back of such developments—and can use them to attract the players that will keep them there.

Too many transfer windows have come and gone without real progress. Even last summer, after almost six months of tantalizing attacking football following the excellent additions of Sturridge and Coutinho, the Anfield club wasted a good opportunity.

Eight players were signed, but only Simon Mignolet has managed to make himself a mainstay in Rodgers’ team. Pepe Reina left on loan to Napoli, leaving the Belgian as the only realistic choice as No. 1.

The excuse that has often been offered is that squad strengthening was the priority last summer, but a quick look at the Liverpool bench shows that even that objective was not realized.

They must not repeat the same mistakes again, not in the least because their rivals will no doubt be spending big to boost their own squads this summer.

 

…But the Belief Is Back

…But the Belief Is Back

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

At the core of it all, though, this season has been about the triumphant return of belief, of lofty ideals and of giddy daydreaming for Liverpool Football Club—whether it be in the stands, on the Kop, on the Anfield pitch or in newspaper headlines around England and the world.

As we close out the season and look ahead to the World Cup—less so the inevitable circus that is the summer transfer window—we prefer not to focus on the possibility that this was perhaps Liverpool’s best shot at the title for many years to come.

We prefer not to focus on the calamitous slip that lost them their sure footing en route to winning a first-ever Premier League title.

Why focus on the negatives, when Liverpool have just finished ahead of schedule, not only in the Champions League places, but just two points short of the title outright?

While they have done so while breaking the three-digit mark in terms of goals scored, just one short from one of the most expensive squads in world sport? And with one of the youngest top-ranked teams in all of European football?

The anxiety and apprehension at how next season will pan out should come right as the Premier League resumes again in August—not now.

The anxiety and apprehension will only come about because Liverpool have made it possible to dream again anyway.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Anfield Redevelopment Underlines Liverpool’s Financial Rejuvenation Under FSG

Ahead of a crucial Premier League title decider against Chelsea this Sunday, Liverpool this week announced their expansion plans for Anfield, while managing director Ian Ayre today credited, via the Telegraph, the role of current owners John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group in their financial rejuvenation.

Both the Anfield redevelopment announcement and the revelations behind the dire financial situation at Liverpool have not only boosted the feel-good factor around the club, who are five points clear in the Premier League and poised to win their first league title in 24 years, but also highlighted just how important FSG have been in their resurrection.

The Reds now seem a stark contrast to what they were just a few years ago, when Tom Hicks and George Gillett were in constant internal battles with then-manager Rafael Benitez and released plans for a new stadium in Stanley Park that got nowhere, a symbol of their failed reign that disillusioned supporters.

John W. Henry led FSG’s takeover in 2010, which saved the club from administration and that has subsequently transformed Liverpool’s fortunes on and off the pitch.

As Ayre claims that “the club is in a fantastically sustainable position now,” let’s look at just how Liverpool have been rejuvenated financially under the reign of Henry and FSG—and whether this can be sustained going forward.

 

 

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesCorporatization of Liverpool as a Global Business

It’s easy to say we were 10 years into a stadium move and it’s about time we are back in the Champions League, but if you think about where we were financially, just because you’re Liverpool it does not mean you have a right to get back up there. There are plenty of teams who could have slipped and slipped, despite new owners, so it’s an unbelievable achievement to get back where we are today. That is testament to the people who invested in it and worked on getting us back there.

Ian Ayre’s proud proclamations of the FSG-led transformation, dipped in bitter memories of the Hicks and Gillett reign, will reverberate around Anfield as a resounding endorsement of the way John W. Henry has run his sports empire.

Joshua Green of Bloomberg.com has encapsulated Henry’s reign at Major League Baseball club Boston Red Sox in a wonderfully revealing article on their baseball dynasty, and similar principles from Henry’s financial and business background have been applied to Liverpool.

The inevitable truth in the sports world these days is that it is becoming more and more of a global business, and Liverpool have, in many aspects, finally caught on.

When looking at models for sustainable growth in world football, perhaps Arsenal is always the go-to club given the building of their new Emirates Stadium and the well-known financial management of Arsene Wenger, but it’s no surprise that Ian Herbert’s column for the Independent draws comparisons with “the kind of machine that the Glazer family have developed at Old Trafford.”

That Manchester United have set up offices around the globe to push their marketing and sponsorship efforts is indicative of their aggressive expansion as a corporation; Herbert writes that their “far-sighted establishment of regional and global corporate sponsorship deals began well over a decade ago.”

This has only recently surfaced at Anfield—though, of course, it is a case of better late than never—with all kinds of backroom appointments boasting titles we would otherwise associate with financial organizations and the business world in general.

Liverpool, who have for years been in the top 10 of Deloitte’s Money League rankings despite missing out on the Champions League, have finally gotten in the sponsorship act and have begun raking in the millions as a result of the commercial push. Their announcement this week of a partnership with US restaurant chain Subway, per the Liverpool Echo, is only the latest chapter in their fast-growing business empire.

 

 

Liverpool FC/Getty ImagesAnfield Redevelopment: Finally Done Right?

When looking to expand the financial income of football clubs, the issue of stadiums will always come into the equation.

After all, gate receipts was the reason behind Arsenal’s decision to move from Highbury to a new stadium, and Manchester United, having expanded Old Trafford over the years, have been raking in a minimum of £3 million every home match since its capacity has come close to 76,000, per ESPNFC.

So it’s no surprise that much has been made over Liverpool’s next step in terms of their stadium: The question was always whether to develop the iconic Anfield, which would have a capacity ceiling due to construction constraints, or to move into their neighboring Stanley Park, which would require massive payments that might hamper their other financial activity, much as Arsene Wenger has experienced.

This Mirror Football article, in light of the new stadium redevelopment announcements, revisited the failed and widely mocked plans for a 60,000-capacity stadium in Stanley Park, which were first suggested in 2002 and then revisited in the Hicks and Gillett reign. They promised a “spade in the ground” within 60 days of their 2007 acquisition of Liverpool, but proved unable to finance the construction project.

By contrast, the £150 million redevelopment currently mooted will cost less than a third of the Stanley Park plans, and will likely eventually take the total seating capacity to 58,000 after expanding two main stands, according to Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph.

Surrounding all the recent fanfare has been the club’s shady policy of “buying up houses around the stadium and leaving them empty, driving the local area into dreadful decline” since the 1990s, which David Conn has uncovered in his revealing Guardian column.

The club apparently “used an agency to approach some residents, while some houses were bought by third parties then sold on quickly to the club. That left residents with the belief…that Liverpool were buying up houses by stealth, to keep prices low,” a tactic that has not gone down well with local residents.

But as Ayre and the club have published their plans publicly and also apparently been in dialogue with the local councils and residents with their Anfield redevelopment plans, the chance is there for FSG and the current hierarchy to redeem errors made in years past and commit to a bright future for the local area and the local community.

The public consultation of fans’ opinions on the Anfield redevelopment, through a public online survey on their official website, is a good start. The right opportunity has finally arrived for FSG to leave a positive legacy in the city of Liverpool, far beyond just bringing the football club back in the green.

 

 

Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesLooking Ahead to a Promising Future

This week’s announcement of the Subway partnership is the latest sponsorship arrangement Liverpool Football Club have landed in 2014 alone: The likes of Vauxhall and Dunkin’ Donuts all joined the Liverpool corporate partner list this calendar year.

Following the money-spinning and multi-year deals with Standard Chartered Bank and Garuda Indonesia, an airline, Liverpool may even solicit financing for the expansion of the Main Stand via a “lucrative naming rights deal with a major sponsor,” according to James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo. Following Macron’s naming-rights announcement with Championship club Bolton Wanderers, announced this week as well via BBC Sport, naming rights may well and truly have entered the English football mainstream—Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium are but two famous examples.

For Liverpool, it’s been a story of financial rejuvenation, underlined by Ayre’s comments regarding the long and difficult journey of infrastructure-building at the club since FSG’s takeover:

When I came here seven or eight years ago, there were all these stories of the club shop being closed the day after the [2005] Champions League final [win over AC Milan in Istanbul], and only having a couple of sponsors. Over a long period of time, we have been trying to lay the foundations and build the infrastructure that services a great club like Liverpool.

As the club look to cash in on their successes in the Premier League this season—they confirmed, with their win over Norwich City last Sunday, a lucrative return to the Champions League next season—and continue to bear the fruits of their commercial exploits, their highest-ever annual turnover of £206.1 million this past year will surely be eclipsed considerably in a year’s time.

Add to that the image of the club as a young and energetic force, spearheaded by a visionary young manager in Brendan Rodgers and featuring a host of young stars in the team, as well as the rejuvenated Anfield stadium and surrounding area—confirmed to go through this time—and you have, for the first time in many a season, a healthy outlook for Liverpool Football Club for years to come.

To think that the Reds were “seconds from disaster” before John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group swooped in for their rescue act.

What a roller coaster it’s been—and long may it continue.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Why the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil Can Still Be the Best Ever

As we enter the final few months of the buildup to the 2014 World Cup, we’ve heard much about the current state of host nation Brazil and how behind it still is in terms of building the necessary infrastructure to successfully host and support a worldwide tournament and festival.

Just last week, FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke told BBC Sport that Brazil may not be “totally ready” for the start of the tournament due to building delays, with two stadiums in Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo still not finished.

And with the current political climate in Europe, amid criticism of Russia’s recent actions following the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Qatar’s human rights record ahead of its own World Cup in 2022, Valcke has even gone as far as to emphasize FIFA’s political neutrality, per Al Jazeera:

FIFA is not the United Nations…We are not there to discuss with political authorities what they should do…We can discuss with them, and again be the platform for them to meet, to exchange and to make sure they are using football as a tool for change…But we cannot tell a country what should be [sic] their foreign policy. That’s not our role.

All of which has thrown a considerable spanner into the Brazilian works, as the country makes frantic last-minute preparations for the global event amid an unsteady domestic political climate.

For Brazil to put on a successful World Cup, 64 years after it was last hosted on home soil, no doubt there are still major hurdles to overcome—not to mention many people to convince.

Yet lost amid all the negative news is the undeniable prospect of a fervent and vibrant tournament, of a famed Brazilian party, of a mouthwatering tournament featuring footballing talent in abundance on the pitch—and the underlying possibility that the 2014 World Cup can still be the best ever.

 

Leo Correa

 

A National Legacy

Let’s begin by looking at the positive impact that FIFA can bring with its local programs in conjunction with the tournament itself.

Its recent announcement of a $1 million television production internship program for Brazilian students, allowing them the chance to gain “invaluable work experience at the world’s biggest single-sport event,” is a glimpse at the “legacy” impacts that FIFA has now made a big part of its tournament-hosting packages.

By involving local students and providing technical and professional training in a sure-to-be exciting opportunity for local youth, FIFA has laid the groundwork for a potential boom in interest in the international sports business and the financial workings of a global tournament—quite in contrast to the uneasy local sentiment on show during the Confederations Cup last summer.

Looking at the legacy factor from a macro, country-level perspective, the Brazilian government forecasts, via Fox News Latino, that the World Cup itself will generate around 62.1 billion reais ($27.7 billion) in revenue, three times its income from the Confederations Cup.

The significant economic impact from the boom in tourism has been projected to include a total number of 3.6 million visitors to the country and an increase of 47,900 jobs in the tourist and recreation sectors, which would be a considerable injection of activity and revenue into Brazil’s GDP.

Alongside the inevitable focus on consumption on Brazilian soil, the Brazilian government has also launched advertising drives to highlight its other attractions, including “the Iguassu Falls, eco-holidays in the Amazon, the historic city of Salvador and Brasilia,” according to the BBC, as well as to draw attention to its capacity and capability to host global events and conferences.

Said Marcelo Pedros, the director of international markets for Embratur, the Brazilian Tourist Board:

Everyone knows that Brazil can play football and throw a party, but we want to show just how well we can organize international events. When Germany held the World Cup in 2006 it was the other way round. Everyone knew they would be well organized, but could they hold a party? They did, and it was very successful. We are going to prove the same success with Brazil’s organization skills.

And, of course, there is the small matter of the tournament kicking off on Brazil’s own Lovers’ Day, which, according to the Metro, is already capturing the imagination of many an innovative and entrepreneur.

 

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

 

An Unpredictable Contest

We’ve managed to come this far without even mentioning the football due to be on show in Brazil, which is a strong testament to the off-pitch factors that could see Brazil become the biggest and most successful global party yet.

But while the World Cup has arguably evolved from a pure celebration of football into a money-making exercise, at its heart football is still the beautiful game, and we could well be looking at one of the most exciting iterations of the tournament of all time, given the unpredictability of the contest this summer.

As football fans look ahead to the 2014 World Cup, many questions will no doubt pop into their minds. Who will rise to the top this year? Will Neymar confirm his status as the next big thing in football by bringing his country the World Cup at home? Or will Lionel Messi finally deliver a World Cup to secure his place in the pantheon of all-time greats?

Will Spain continue their recent dominance with a fourth successive win in a World Cup or a European Championship tournament? Or will Germany’s youth revolution end its own wait for a world title?

What about the dark horses—will Belgium’s new golden generation fulfill their potential as they look to take the World Cup by storm? Or will Uruguay better their last-four performance in 2010? Is it time for an African team to go all the way? Or will England finally get over their quarterfinal hoodoo and fire their way into the final?

The presence of so many international stars on Brazilian soil—the mythical Zlatan Ibrahimovic excepted, due to Sweden’s playoff loss to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portgual—will bring unprecedented levels of global coverage (and, of course, incessant marketing and advertising efforts), which will in turn drive up interest in the tournament around the world.

Even the statistic, tactic and formation buffs will be treated to an event of gigantic proportions, as the proliferation of data analysis in football will no doubt boost intelligent debate and substantiated discussion around the contest unfolding on the pitch. The different ideologies and philosophies adopted by different national teams may finally see distinct national “identities” form around the ball.

And we haven’t even gotten to the prospect of a nerve-wracking penalty shootout or a new Zinedine Zidane-esque flashpoint.

 

Handout/Getty Images

 

A Glimpse into the Future

All the talk so far has been of the present, but while the World Cup doesn’t involve the next host nation putting on a “teaser trailer” show to close out the current tournament—unlike the Olympics—one eye, as ever, should be kept on the future.

And this World Cup finds itself in a fascinating intersection between the old and the new.

On the pitch, what could be better for Brazil than to have traditional rivals Uruguay resurface as a strong contender? Or a new-look Argentina side to prove its dominance and legacy with Messi at the helm?

The prospect of a new Brazil team headed by Neymar winning on home soil is one that can’t be ignored—and no doubt one that would kick off an unprecedented party—while the recent dominance of Spain may start to make way for teams of the future.

We will get to witness the platform that Belgium may well set for itself in international football, while England is set to usher in a new generation of young talent following what will be a transitional tournament. And as ever, there are plenty of new names we might not have even heard of yet who will catapult themselves into the spotlight over just a few weeks in Brazil.

In the stadiums and on the streets, the local mood may well be poignant, as Brazil recalls hosting its last World Cup 64 years ago and considers the development and turmoil it’s gone through in that time.

From a traditional footballing heyday in 1950 to a global commercial extravaganza, those who have followed the tournament in years gone by may yet witness another chapter in the ongoing evolution of the World Cup as an event.

The fascination of welcoming visitors from around the world and partaking in a joint experience of an international tournament at home may inspire a new generation of Brazilian youngsters to not only embrace the power and potential of the simple game of football but also to serve the greater good of their nation through business and global collaboration.

And finally, Germany 2006 was a return to familiar European territory between two groundbreaking tournaments in Asia (Korea/Japan 2002) and Africa (South Africa 2010), while Brazil 2014 will be the last tournament to be hosted in a region with World Cup experience: The next two World Cups, if all goes according to plan, will be held in new frontiers—Russia (2018) and the Middle East (Qatar 2022).

For FIFA as much as for Brazil—depending on how this year’s event goes—the World Cup will be a key milestone and provide a glimpse into an exciting or murky future.

For if Brazil successfully overcomes its last-minute hurdles and political differences and ends up hosting an excellent tournament, we can all look forward to successfully charting new territory in the years to come.

South Africa did it. Why not Brazil?

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

The Business of Football Kits: Sponsorships, Technology, Branding and Beyond

As we enter the final few months leading up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the national teams taking part in the tournament have been unveiling their new kits to ride on the wave of growing interest in international football.

Brazil, England, Germany, Spain, Argentina and France have all released new kit designs for the summer, with various big-name sportswear companies and top international stars at the helm of high-profile launch events and flashy marketing campaigns. (The Mirror has a collection of some newly released kits here.)

As with most commercial activity in football, however, not all the recent kit launches have been met with universal acclaim: Ben Curtis’ article on the Mirror is a cynical rant at the hype machines that these events have become, while Lizzie Parry’s on the Daily Mail highlights just how expensive replica kits, launched over increasingly short time periods, have become.

In February, we explored the importance of stadiums in the overall commercial strategies of football clubs. As top-level football increasingly becomes big business and a huge revenue generator, let’s take a look at another money-spinning side to the sport: football kits.

 

Vincent Yu

 

Sponsorships

One of the first things that comes to mind when football kits are mentioned these days is the staggering amount of money they can generate for football clubs, both from the merchandising side and from the corporate sponsorship side.

While club merchandise is generally dependent on the popularity and on-pitch success of the clubs themselves—and the annual Deloitte Money League results generally attest to that—the larger context is the money that sportswear companies actually pay to be the official kit providers of football clubs.

In recent years, just in the Premier League, we’ve seen many instances of eye-watering commercial deals involving kit suppliers. Liverpool’s 2012 deal with Warrior Sports, the latter’s first foray into football, would, according to Andy Hunter of the Guardian, net the club at least £25 million a year.

Just this January, Arsenal announced they would be changing their kit maker from Nike to Puma, in a five-year deal reportedly worth more than £30 million a year, per the BBC. And, as ever when it comes to business deals, Manchester United shocked the world this March with their world-record 10-year deal with Nike, which, according to Simon Mullock of the Mirror, will see the Old Trafford club earn more than £60 million a year.

Besides contracts with sportswear makers, the other big player in the football kit boom is the corporate sponsorship deals that have taken center stage in recent years. This 2013 J.J. Colao article in Forbes listed Manchester United, Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid as the biggest shirt sponsorship deals in the world.

Another interesting marketing tactic has been employed by Tottenham Hotspur this season, as they featured different sponsors on their shirts in different competitions, with Hewlett Packard their Premier League front and AIA their cup shirt partner. According to Kevin Palmer of ESPNFC, however, even Tottenham will revert to the traditional “principal partner” model at other big clubs, having agreed a lucrative £20 million-a-year deal with AIA for the next five years.

 

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Technology

But with all the money that goes into the kits, and their burgeoning price tags, do those who get to wear them actually benefit?

Specifically, do the footballers themselves get anything out of the constant kit changes, or are they just excuses to step in front of a camera for yet another photo shoot?

Just ask the Italian national team stars. According to the BBC, the high-tech football shirts they will be wearing at the World Cup this summer will be able to deliver massages during the game. The shirts contain a special tape that provides “micro-massages” for their wearers and “maximise muscle power” by allowing the body to recover from exertion more quickly.

Away from the luxury options provided to footballers these days, far more important is the shirts’ ability to keep their wearers warm in extreme cold temperatures. This article from PRNewswire.com lists a few examples of temperature-regulating technologies that are present in football shirts on the market.

Different sportswear manufacturers—the same who enter into the lucrative long-term contracts with football clubs and will rely on such technology to win such bids—integrate different functions into their shirts, but the underlying principles are the same: adding layers onto shirts that keep players comfortable, dry, warm or cool depending on the surrounding weather conditions.

With the digital space increasingly at the center of the football fan experience, besides featuring on shirts themselves, technology has also crept into the marketing side of football shirts and kit launches, so much so that organizing such events can be considered an industry in itself.

See, for example, this analysis on Liverpool’s new kit launch in 2012 on Dan McLaren’s TheUKSportsNetwork.com. Liverpool’s multichannel marketing and promotion strategy, across different social media platforms, was all about putting out a united front for the kit launch, which also had to match the club’s corporate branding.

But, as they’ve tended to do so in social media in general, Manchester City will take home the technology and marketing hybrid approach for football kits as well.

They’ve since switched to Nike as their main shirt sponsor, but City’s launch of their Umbro kits for the 2012/13 season, as covered here by SoccerBible.com, took fan engagement to a new level when they invited fans to decide how the new kit would be officially launched.

 

Ray Stubblebine

 

Branding

Using a new innovative campaign to bridge the marketing and technology worlds with branding in football was yet another Manchester City-affiliated project, New York City FC.

Since their official announcement in 2013, New York City FC have caught the attention with their cutting-edge digital-marketing campaigns despite the MLS outfit not yet officially competing in the U.S.’s highest-tier domestic football league.

NYCFC put their fans truly at the center of their business and branding strategy by inviting them to submit ideas for an official club crest, which was met with widespread acclaim and culminated in a win-win scenario where the club also got their hands on an excellent winner, shown here on the MLS official website.

An example of how the football kit itself has become more than just one of the components of a football club’s identity; it’s evolved into an integral part of the football club’s business strategy on the whole.

So eager have clubs and affiliated sponsors wanted to tap into their fanbase for merchandising dollars that they have begun creating hype cycles out of kit launches to boost profits and increase circulation among their followers—at the risk of straying into grey areas and stirring controversies.

In tandem with the ongoing, controversial narrative that football is becoming more and more middle- and upper-class and moving away from the traditional working-class fanbase that gave the sport its following and popularity, clubs and corporations have rushed into a branding frenzy and become eager to associate themselves as “premium” titles.

A major recent example was that of Adidas, who, according to Anna White of the Telegraph, may refuse to supply Sports Direct, one of the biggest sports retailers in the UK, with a variety of World Cup football kits due to concerns over its stores and customer service.

Said Adidas, “Like all manufacturers, we regularly review, season by season, where our products are distributed. We determine distribution channels for all products based on criteria such as in-store environment and customer service levels.”

In other words, sportswear manufacturers are eager for their football kits to be treated as premium consumer goods—indeed, the mooted £140 price tag for the new England kits by Nike almost automatically price themselves into that category—and they’re not afraid to incur the wrath of fans and middlemen retailers to achieve their commercial goals.

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Prior to the World Cup row, Adidas also landed themselves in hot water with Sports Direct over their treatment of Chelsea’s official club kit. In light of the public spat, Matt Scott of InsideWorldFootball.com put together an excellent and in-depth analysis of the changing role of the football kit itself.

Linking the state and rationale of Chelsea’s commercial and branding activities with the area’s wealthy and exclusive reputation, Scott consolidates a list of the London club’s highest-profile official sponsors, who all pride themselves on their elite stature within their respective industries.

The ever-changing face of the football kit, then, is not just an evolution of modern shirt design and an extension of clothing technology into sport, but is a reflection of a shift in the status of merchandise and football itself in the eyes of football clubs, manufacturers and sponsors.

And with seemingly unstoppable momentum behind money-spinning sponsorship deals, it seems that football kits will continue to be at the center of football’s paradigm shift. One only hopes that it doesn’t one day become only limited-edition items due to their exclusivity.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

How Much Is Liverpool Forward Luis Suarez Worth Based on Form in 2014?

Nine matches to go in the 2013/14 Premier League campaign, and Liverpool are still on course for a top-four finish, which would see them return to the Champions League next season—and still in with a shout for the league title outright.

None of this would be possible without the contributions of Luis Suarez, who, despite all the proclamations of the Reds being a dynamic and interchanging team these days, remains one of their most important players.

After 25 goals and 10 assists—making him the leader of both charts in the Premier League—in 24 matches and a contract signed in December, Suarez has once again proven himself as indispensable and invaluable to the Anfield club.

Perhaps even more so than in previous campaign.

Back in December, we embarked on a challenging but interesting attempt to calculate Suarez’s worth in the transfer market then.

In light of Liverpool’s recently released financial results for the 2012-2013 financial year, let’s revisit this subject and try to work out how much Luis Suarez is now worth based on his current form—without any kind of insider access to the boardroom.

 

Transfer Fee and Wage Estimates

To get us started off, let’s return to our estimates in December regarding Luis Suarez’s transfer fee.

Assuming a basic financial amortization of his initial £22.7 million transfer fee (per BBC Sport) over the course of five-and-a-half years, which was the initial length of his contract signed in 2011, we arrive at an approximate annual cost of £4.13 million.

For the purposes of simpler calculation, let’s consider Suarez has been at Liverpool for 3.2 years, which means the as yet “unpaid” total amortization cost would be updated to £4.13 multiplied by 2.3, or £9.5 million.

Onto his wages, which we will only discuss in the present and future tenses, after his December extension.

Our wage calculations following his new contract in December 2013 are based on this BBC Sport article that claims Suarez is earning £160,000 a week until the end of the current season, and then £200,000 a week for the next four years. Simple arithmetic gets us to a total of £43.06 million over the rest of his new contract.

Our baseline estimated value of Luis Suarez, from just his transfer fee and wages, is thus £9.5 million plus £43.06 million, which gives us £52.56 million.

 

Possible Champions League Qualification

As it stands, Liverpool are placed second in the Premier League, and they look in ominous form as they approach the final couple of months of the season.

Our key underlying assumption is that the Reds will indeed finish in the top four, qualifying for Champions League football next term, which should also be the assumption behind Luis Suarez staying at Anfield in the first place.

Champions League qualification is known to have a wide range of commercial benefits, and this is an area where we will take the roughest of estimates of player bonuses based on club performance in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

Our best benchmark in terms of Premier League end-of-season payouts, assuming a fourth-place finish by Liverpool this May, is Arsenal’s from the 2012/13 season. According to the official Premier League website, Arsenal’s league payout for finishing fourth last season was £57.1 million.

A further assumption that Liverpool, having secured Champions League qualification, will make it into the group stages of next year’s competition, will take us to calculate possible payouts from participating in the group stages.

According to SportsBusinessDaily.com, all participants who made it into the Champions League proper were entitled to a minimum of €8.6 million, which translates to about £7.2 million.

As we noted in our December calculations, a minimum total of £64.3 million will probably arrive in Liverpool’s coffers just for making the Champions League group stages.

 

Liverpool’s Business and Commercial Performance

Our December estimates only took into account the potential sum that would come with making the Champions League group stages, and used it as a base to calculate a 5 percent performance bonus for Luis Suarez, one of Liverpool’s most important players.

This time around, however, we’re going to be a bit more ambitious, especially since the Liverpool Echo have also released the 2013 accounts Liverpool submitted to Companies House.

The increase in revenue from all sources is impressive, but for the purposes of calculations in the “current” context, we will exclude media and matchday revenues, since the 2012-13 financial year featured Europa League football, which Liverpool haven’t even been involved with this season.

The growth in commercial revenue, however, was staggering, and with the announcement of new sponsorship deals in the past few months, will only continue. Commercial revenue for the year ended May 31, 2013, was £97.7 million, more than a 50 percent increase over the previous 10 months, which landed £63.9 million. Spread the 10-month average over a period of 12 months, and the increase can be adjusted to roughly 27 percent, still a significant growth factor.

Our final assumption is if Liverpool continue in their current attacking style of football, coupled with the increased exposure of Champions League football, they will generate more interest off the field, which will lead to benefits both in terms of commercial sponsorships, as well as merchandise and image rights-related sales and advertising revenue.

Applying the same 27 percent year-on-year growth factor onto our performance bonus of 5 percent, to ensure that all staff are adequately compensated for their role in helping grow the Liverpool brand, we get a 6.35 percent bonus from the previously calculated Champions League-related payouts.

This gives Suarez 6.35 percent of £64.3 million, which amounts to £4.08 million.

 

Conclusion: £56.64 Million

Adding this performance bonus to our transfer and wages baseline, we get a total valuation of £56.64 million, which, compared with our December estimate of £56.1 million, is perhaps disappointingly close.

However, considering that it’s only been three months since our previous calculation and that our estimate has already gone up by half a million pounds, this kind of growth rate could yet translate itself into bigger margins given another year or two.

It wasn’t so long ago—last summer, in fact—that Arsenal submitted a high-profile (and now widely mocked) £40-million-plus-£1 bid for Luis Suarez, which was derided at the time by Liverpool owner John W. Henry.

Back then, £40 million plus £1 was seen as a derisory amount for a player like Suarez. Three quarters of a season onward, perhaps £56.64 million will be considered shockingly low for such an important player to the Reds cause.

But of course, this is just a purely financial valuation of Luis Suarez, based on assumptions that might not ring true in the Liverpool boardroom.

Last time John W. Henry checked, football contracts “don’t seem to hold, and [Liverpool] took the position that [they’re] just not selling” (per the Guardian).

We have a sneaking suspicion that they will be holding this position for quite some time.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Film Focus: Breaking Down Liverpool’s Impressive 3-0 Win over Manchester United

Two Steven Gerrard penalties and a Luis Suarez finish handed Liverpool an impressive 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. And it could’ve been much more.

Besides Steven Gerrard’s performance, which, despite missing his third penalty of the night, was more than enough to see him awarded the Man of the Match, there were a number of interesting talking points from the match.

First was, of course, the sheer number of penalty kicks that referee Mark Clatternburg could have called over the 90 minutes. Marouane Fellaini’s first-half trip on Luis Suarez was let go, while Michael Carrick’s second-half swipe of Daniel Sturridge’s feet after Gerrard’s missed penalty was also not called.

Then there were the decisions that Liverpool perhaps got away with, namely the lack of contact over the visitors’ third penalty, which saw Nemanja Vidic sent off for a fourth time in this fixture for a tackle that didn’t actually connect—and a Glen Johnson handball inside the Liverpool box.

And then, there was David Moyes’ curious decision-making. It wasn’t limited to just deploying record signing and specialist No. 10 Juan Mata on the wings again. It was the lack of instant reaction from the United manager that saw his first substitutions take place on 76 minutes, a full half-hour after the hosts went 2-0 down.

Away from these three general observations, we felt there were four instances that symbolized the match and its eventual outcome. Let’s take a more detailed look at four scenarios that occurred throughout the match.

 

Robin van Persie, deep-lying playmaker?

That Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have spectacularly failed to strike up a useful and threatening strike partnership this season has not gone unnoticed—but their lack of interplay on Sunday will have been very disappointing for Manchester United fans.

More alarming, however, was the manner in which van Persie and Rooney tried to link up with each other (or at least make it seem like they were).

So isolated was van Persie up front that he often drifted out to the left wing in pursuit of the ball, depriving United of any forward presence up front and in theory allowing the supporting midfielders—and Rooney—to charge forward.

But after so many jokes at the Red Devils’ expense in recent months about their crossing-only attacking play, Sunday was yet another exhibition of why their incessant crossing is so unfruitful.

 

BBC Match of the DayAs we see in this first-half shot, van Persie has come so deep that he’s literally on the halfway line (yellow circle on the left). Rooney’s charge forward (yellow circle on the right) brings him level with the last man in the Liverpool defence—Daniel Agger—and there are a full three United players between van Persie and Rooney that the former can look to go through.

Instead, his next move is to play a cross-field ball that ends up cleared away all too easily by the Liverpool rearguard. Not a very inspiring attacking approach.

The sad thing was, this was only one of the many times this sequence occurred.

 

Manchester United’s undisciplined defending

By our count, Liverpool could’ve easily had five penalties called on Sunday—a remarkable stat given that their first, after Rafael da Silva’s handball against Luis Suarez, was the first penalty conceded at Old Trafford in the Premier League since December 2011.

While Rafael’s handball was all down to individual carelessness (and he could arguably have been issued a second yellow card), the second penalty was very much down to a collective lack of discipline in the United defence.

In the immediate buildup to the penalty, Jordan Henderson deserves much of the credit for spotting an excellent Joe Allen run into the box and then producing an exquisite flick over the top to find his fellow midfielder. Allen’s use of the body allows him to take control of the ball, which puts the United defence under pressure.

But let’s take a look at the positional errors that the hosts have committed in this single piece of defensive play.

 

BBC Match of the DayThis freeze frame, taken right as Henderson is about to release the ball to Allen, comes on the back of a long ball over the top towards Raheem Sterling on the right side of the penalty box, where he is only tracked by Nemanja Vidic.

United left-back Patrice Evra (blue circle on the left) arrives late on the scene and is dragged back by the ball, while Marouane Fellaini (blue circle on the right) also follows the ball into a zone very much out of his own. Evra and Fellaini have almost switched positions here—bear in mind that Evra should have been tracking Sterling and Fellaini, as the defensive midfielder, should have picked up Henderson or Allen.

These positional errors leave centre-backs Phil Jones and Vidic exposed and under pressure from Allen’s run, as Vidic (yellow circle on the right) is also dragged toward the ball and thus behind Allen’s run (white arrow).

Jones’ disadvantageous starting point (yellow circle on the left) means that he could’ve left Vidic come into Allen’s path (red box) and tackled on his right foot, but the former’s rash movement bundles Allen over and concedes the penalty.

2-0 to the visitors.

 

The movement and magic of Suarez and Sturridge

It’s a testament to how badly United fared that Liverpool didn’t even really get out of their first gear over the 90 minutes and still came away with a comprehensive win.

Arguably the most impressive (and productive) piece of forward play from the Reds’ league-leading strike force came when Luis Suarez took advantage of a Daniel Sturridge mishit and finished with aplomb past David de Gea to take the score to 3-0.

 

BBC Match of the DayAs we see in this freeze frame, the dotted red line represents the path Sturridge would undoubtedly have wanted his shot to have taken. If that shot would’ve gone through, David de Gea, who had just forced the corner from which this play started after a brilliant stop from Luis Suarez at point-blank range, could’ve been equal to it, or perhaps parried it out for another corner.

Instead it hits Phil Jones and lands at Suarez’s feet, who controls and finishes it with his left foot past de Gea.

That this play started from a corner was instrumental in the buildup to the goal. Martin Skrtel had stayed forward after the corner and made his presence felt in the penalty area: Jones (yellow circle) has his attentions occupied by Skrtel.

Patrice Evra (blue circle) is once again in no-man’s land as he is woefully out of position once more, while none of United’s players tracked the brilliant run that Suarez timed to perfection. As a result, Jones is caught in two minds, and by the time the ball arrives at Suarez’s feet, Jones and all of his defensive colleagues are nowhere near Liverpool’s No. 7, who couldn’t miss from there.

While the goal ultimately came about in a fortuitous manner, with the ball ricocheting off Jones’ legs to find Suarez, the manner of the runs and the positioning in the buildup suggest that this goal could very easily have been conjured deliberately.

If Sturridge had spotted Suarez’s run and decided to play him in with a deft pass, Suarez would still have been in with an easy finish. More importantly, while Sturridge inadvertently turned creator here, it’s not difficult at all to envision a role reversal here, with Suarez pulling the strings and feeding Sturridge through with an exquisite pass.

The fact that both of Liverpool’s strikers could have played either part in this goal shows exactly why the Reds are increasingly far and away the most prolific scorers in the Premier League.

 

Liverpool still have a midfield problem

With all this said, however, we will also pick one scenario that focuses on the deficiencies that Liverpool still have, even if it wasn’t at all exploited during the game. It’s just as food for thought and a note of caution for Reds fans.

 

BBC Match of the DayThe scene shown here is a Manchester United attack—their only shot on target during the entire 90 minutes—toward the end of the first half, from which Wayne Rooney forced a good reactive save from Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Toward the bottom of the screen, Rafael is on the charge with the ball on the right flank. Right before this scene, Rafael’s good combination play with Adnan Januzaj leaves Jon Flanagan for dead, and the Liverpool defender is now forced to chase back after missing his initial tackle (blue circle and arrow).

As Daniel Agger is drawn out of position to mark the supporting Januzaj and Martin Skrtel is trying to maintain a presence in the penalty box, it’s now left to Steven Gerrard to track back and cover for Flanagan’s positional mishap (yellow circle and arrow).

However, Gerrard’s run toward United’s right means that his customary central defensive midfield zone has been left vacant, leaving a huge gap in the middle (red box) for Wayne Rooney (white circle) to storm into.

Rafael does subsequently find Rooney on the edge of the area, and the United forward unleashes a shot that Mignolet parries.

Fortunately for Liverpool, they held out to end the half 1-0 up and scored immediately after the second half.

From there on out, it was just a matter of wrapping up the three points. But as convincing as Liverpool looked on Sunday, they still have some work to do on the training ground.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.