European power, U.S. enclave Tyresö FF continues playing out its sad soccer parable

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The financial collapse of former Swedish champions Tyresö FF has been one of women’s soccer’s most depressing stories, but as the team that has Marta, Christen Press, and Verónica Boquete on its books inches closer to next month’s UEFA Champions League final, new angles on the team’s demise continue to surface. Today comes word that the team, currently tied 0-0 with Birmingham City after one leg of the Champions League semifinals, may not be able to distribute full player bonuses should they claim Europe’s crown. Currently in administration, the Swedish tax authorities will get first crack at any prize UEFA hands back to the club, should the club exist at all.

The story is a common one in modern soccer, outlining the ironic downside to unrestrained ambition. Particularly over the past year, Tyresö has spend itself into the ground, climbing Europe’s women’s soccer ladder while doing to.

It’s a process that’s not only brought five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta to southeast Sweden but also lured a slew of U.S. international stars. At one point this winter, the then-Damallsvenskan leaders and defending champions had five prominent Americans on its roster, adding defender Whitney Engen, right back Ali Kreiger, and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to a team that already had attacker Christen Press and defender/midfielder Meghan Klingenberg.

They also had Women’s Professional Soccer Most Valuable Player Verónica Boquete. And Swedish stars like Caroline Seger and Lisa Dahlkvist, Tyresö build a team that was primed to transcend the Swedish league and its limited history to become a true European power.

source: Getty Images
Emerging U.S. national team start Christen Press will join the Chicago Red Stars this summer. In the interim, she’s part of a Tyresö team that’s spend its way to European relevant, the brink of financial destruction. (Photo: Getty images)

It’s ambition that’s put the team within one win of the Champions League final, though those positive results stand in stark contrast to everything else that’s happened at the club. Almost immediately after the team’s winter influx, the club stumbled domestically, losing its undefeated record and eventually finishing seven points behind league champion Rosengard. This season, the team has lost its first two league games, a plight that pales in comparison to its financial troubles. With Swedish tax authorities managing the club, there’s a chance the team’s doors could eventually close, potentially preventing them from taking part in the Champions League final.

At least, that’s what Sweden’s Radiosporten is reporting, a fate that would prevent the team from cashing in a lucrative payday. If the team wins next month’s final, UEFA’s prize will be just under $3.2 million (€2.3 million). If it loses, the club will still be in line for near-$2.5 million, provided it can first get past Birmingham City in Sunday’s second leg (and not be closed down by administrators in the process).

With the club struggling both on and off the field, there’s no guarantee that will happen. Even if it does, the rewards will be greatly diminished. Though the squad will still have the glory of its accomplishment, player bonuses for winning Europe (reportedly as high as $1.4 million for Marta) will be severely cut. Where playing for pride has become a sports cliché, Tyresö’s talented squad may have no other reward.

This is Leeds, Málaga, Anzhi, and the myriad of other more broadly told stories of teams trying to spend their way to history. It’s also a story of a club that could be done before the next Champions League season starts.  If it goes out of business, the memories of Tyresö’s accomplishments will be tied to an ambition that destroyed the club.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.