Commentary

Mad Dog and Fighting Pig find home in MLS -- in a good way, of course

By Paul Gardner

Hard on the heels (and that phrase may soon acquire literal meaning) of the arrival of Jermaine Jones in MLS, comes the news that the Columbus Crew have signed Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz. Two players who can -- and I’m picking my words carefully here -- be described as hard men.

Not that you would know that from reading the welcoming statements. Up in Boston the Revs’ owner, Jonathan Kraft, called Jones “A good guy, a solid guy.” And Revs’ coach Jay Heaps chimed in with the usual comments about leadership that crop up when coaches have difficulty talking straight about their players.

No mention at all of Jones’s appalling disciplinary record during his time in the Bundesliga. Jones himself -- who in Germany was nicknamed Kampfschwein (Fighting Pig) -- touched on his physical play with "I’m not a guy who likes to lose, so maybe I have to kick someone in the ass -- only in a good way." Leaving it unclear whether he was talking about opponents or teammates. Probably both. But in a good way.

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Jurgen Klinsmann is a great admirer of Jones -- no doubt because Jones responds exactly to Klinsmann’s desire to have his players get “nastier ... maybe we don’t want to hurt people, but that’s what you’ve got to do.” In a good way, I suppose.

Now here comes Pogatetz, a 31-year-old journeyman defender, who revels in the nickname Mad Dog. If all goes according to the Crew’s plans, we’re going to get three and a half years of the sort of delights that Mad Dog can bring to the game.

Crew coach Gregg Berhalter tells us: “Emmanuel is a great addition to the roster ... he’s very good in the air and a strong tackler who can possess and pass the ball well. He fits right into what we’re doing. And he’s a person who can affect the culture of our club with his experience, attitude and mentality.”

With that last bit, of course, we’re back to leadership. I have learned, over many years, to beware when coaches use that word. Something is being hidden. Something like this, maybe. Back to 2008, when the Mad Dog was playing for Middlesbrough in the English Premier League.

There was plenty of opportunity then to watch him in action and I recall being repeatedly astonished at the alarming crudeness of his play. In his first two seasons at Middlesbrough he was yellow-carded 20 times -- and that in a league that is notoriously reluctant to hand out cards. So I was not surprised when he overdid things and produced what the English like to call a “horror tackle” on a young ManU player, the Brazilian Rodrigo Possebon, making his debut for the club. Possebon was rushed to hospital, and was very, very fortunate to escape a broken leg. Take a look HERE.

This was not an aberration, not for a player who calls himself Mad Dog. And it had happened before, in 2005, when Pogatetz was with Russian club Spartak Moscow. His tackle broke his opponent’s leg in two places. Pogatetz got a 24-week ban (later reduced to eight weeks -- that shouldn’t surprise either, the Mad Dogs of soccer usually get off lightly. Anyone who doubts that should take a look at what happened in 1983 when Diego Maradona’s ankle was shattered by a tackle from Andoni Goikoetxea).

None of that dubious stuff about Pogatetz was included in the Crew’s lengthy press release, in which he was hailed as a “stalwart.” Plus that bit about him being a “strong tackler.” Berhalter no doubt meant that as a compliment ... but is Berhalter aware of Pogatetz’s record? If so, how can he make a remark like that? If he is not aware ... but, come on, how can he not be aware?

So Jones and Pogatetz bring their nastiness to MLS -- an MLS which, under the refereeing guidelines laid out by PRO boss Peter Walton, shows every sign of being a league where physical play is being treated with increasing leniency.

A league, in other words, where Jones and Pogatetz will have plenty of opportunities to display their so-called leadership qualities. If you wonder what that might mean ... it might mean this sort of thing, which happened in a game I attended in 2012. The final score was USA 1 Brazil 4. An exhibition game -- the game after which Klinsmann pleaded for more nastiness.

Well, he’d had an example of utter nastiness during that game. From his pet player, Jermaine Jones. With the USA being outplayed, with the new young Brazilian Neymar living up to his reputation as a talented star, Jones decided to show some leadership by launching himself into a vicious tackle on Neymar. Given that Neymar was out near the touchline at the halfway line, he presented no threat at all.

Jones’s tackle was sheer nastiness, a desire to “kick someone,” even if it meant injuring one of the sport’s most promising young players ... or, perhaps, precisely for that reason. It was more than nasty. It was disgusting.

So we have MLS clubs recruiting and welcoming roughhouse players. We have MLS referees under instruction from Walton to ignore minor fouls but to be draconian when dealing with diving. And we have NBC giving us, during their telecasts, rapid biff-bam-pow! montages of violent play. What is going on here?

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12 comments about "Mad Dog and Fighting Pig find home in MLS -- in a good way, of course".
  1. Fidel Colman, September 10, 2014 at 1:51 p.m.

    One can only "HOPE" that the game will not get nastier, but we'll see. Marcelo was one of the dirtiest players in La Liga before the World Cup, but he must have gotten a brain wash before the games because he played clean and as well as he could have considering Brazil's disappointing display of soccer. So yes, I hope a change of scene will do them both good. Oh, and in terms of NBC's retarded move telecasting violent play is no less stupid than everything else the tasteless public to see.

  2. J. Wildman, September 10, 2014 at 2:33 p.m.

    You are properly incensed about 'tough stuff'. But what about when it's deserved?
    If you had read further about the Neymar incident, you would have found out that Brazil, throughout the game, had been piling on with 'tough stuff' and should-have-been violations. The referees--Brazilians or on their side--had given falsely caused yellow cards to the Colombian side. To all of this, the Colombia players had been polite, never complaining about the injuries to their side, the falsely pulled yellow cards and all. Finally, they had had enough. This knee in the back was payback to the hugely deserved 'tough stuff' rec'd from Brazil and Neymar (him, too) that had been going on the whole game. Read the story here:
    . FYI the headline is: "For Bellicose Brazil, Payback Carries Heavy Price: Loss of Neymar" JULY 5, 2014

  3. J. Wildman, September 10, 2014 at 2:39 p.m.

    PS: I should have said "hugely deserved payback to the "tough stuff" rec'd from Brazil. . . ."

  4. . Lev, September 10, 2014 at 3:35 p.m.

    How is this new(s)?
    Physical play has always been reversely proportional to ability. MLS is just that.

  5. Alvaro Bettucchi, September 10, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.

    You get what you ask for!!! MLS is becoming a rough house. The beautiful game is taking a beating, when it comes to watching skill and technique. Also.... just watch the advertisements. It use to show soccer players doing their unbelievable skills, now it's become like the American football advertisements...it's all about machismo, and the tough talking salesmen. Where are we heading?

  6. cony konstin, September 10, 2014 at 8:10 p.m.

    It is easier to destroy than to create. This is a philosophy that many coaches follow because they believe that will get them the results over the long run.

  7. cony konstin, September 10, 2014 at 8:21 p.m.

    If the MLS wants to make the game beautiful then they will need to change some of the rules. I have three suggestions. One rule change would be if you make more than 5 teams fouls during the game every foul after that would be a penalty kick. This would force players to play the game with with class and finese. This is a rule in futsal. Futsal is a beautiful game. Another rule to help end trench soccer would be if you score anywhere outside the penalty area a goal would count as two points. When the 3 point play was introduce to basketball many people said that it would destroy basketball. Instead it made it more exciting. Now we have 3 point specialist. You add these two rules to the game and we will see more exciting soccer. Meanwhile the MLS will continue to be a hack league with washed up foreign players and eventually no Americans on the field. We need a soccer revolution in the US. Otherwise get ready to see more hacking and ugliness. The beautiful game can be saved but there must be radical changes to save the King of Sports.

  8. Kent James, September 10, 2014 at 9:27 p.m.

    While I don't doubt PG's concerns about Pogatetz, and for most of Jones' career with the US MNT, I was not a fan, but lately (at least for the US, and especially during the WC), Jones has been very clean, so maybe he's become more disciplined. During the WC he was probably our best player (certainly not an assessment I ever thought I'd make). On the other hand, I do wish PG would recognize that defending takes skill and intelligence; not as much technique as offense, but arguably more soccer intelligence (you have to read the game). And we should distinguish between strong, legal physical play (going for 50/50 balls hard) and dirty play (going for a ball you know you're going to lose hard, and either not caring or purposely targeting the opponent to 'send a message'). Tenacious, aggressive, yet clean defending forces the offense to be better to be successful, and is an important part of the beautiful game.

  9. R2 Dad, September 11, 2014 at 12:02 a.m.

    These points PG makes wouldn't matter if MLS referees officiated evenly and fairly while applying the laws of the game instead of being concerned with "action" and ratings. World class referees will facilitate top play in a world class league.

  10. Zoe Willet, September 11, 2014 at 12:35 a.m.

    Jones and this other guy are hardly the first "hard" players in MLS- just ask, for example, Steve Zakulani if you want to hear about broken legs! Then there are, for other examples, Aurelien Collin and Osvaldo Alonso. Oh, and Keane is not exactly an angel. I wish to make 2 more points: first of all, I sincerely believe that it is entirely in the hands of the manager/coaches to put an immediate halt to dirty play- they are the bosses, they just need to say "NO! Do not do it, period!" and it will be over. Secondly, I propose that there are dirty players and 'hard' players. A dirty player tries to, or doesn't care if he hurts someone. A hard player doesn't- he just gets in a little rough sometimes (a good example to me is Diego Chara).

  11. Rick Estupinan, September 11, 2014 at 3:14 a.m.

    It is II:30 pm , and playing with the Internet , I found this very interesting radio station in Seattle . a terrific broadcast . I feel I am part of the audience present there right now Right now there is Andre Yedlin been interview by the GASMEN , at the Dragon pub , in Fremont , talking about the Sounders , the MLS , and Football / Soccer in general . Great program !

  12. Alan Rubin, September 11, 2014 at 5:32 p.m.

    As a fan and active supporter of the NE Revolution, I view the signing of Jones as a potential ray of hope for the team.

    I leave in the Berkshires, western Mass, which is 2-1/2 hours one way from Gillette Stadium, near Boston. A few of us are helping the Rev’s develop their brand in our area.

    Until now, the NE Revs have appeared to be the stepchild in the Kraft organization relative to the NE Patriots. Maybe Jones’ signing signals an increased commitment to soccer and will eventually lead to their building a soccer specific stadium closer into Boston.

    I also work with the Boston Breakers, women’s professional league, and their product is usually more enjoyable to watch. Less fouls and more open.

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