Here's the good sports news. The Chiefs are waking up. Joe Posnanski, who is a very good sports columnist, devotes his column to the Chiefs' awesome offensive line, who blast open huge holes for magnificent running back Priest Holmes, who is arguably the best player in the NFL right now, and give quarterback Trent Green, who is a competent pro and who wears a Super Bowl ring, plenty of time to run an effective passing game just like back in the Seventies, when teams would pass only fifteen or twenty times a game but those would be real passes, not little dinks. With three competent wide receivers, brilliant tight end Tony Gonzalez, and top return man Dante Hall, the Chiefs can light up almost any defense. The problem is the defense, which for most of the season has been just as bad as the offense is good. In the last two games, though, the Chiefs have shut down admittedly pathetic Arizona and the unpredictable Rams to a total of only ten points. Now they finish the season against the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders. They're 7-6. 10-6 is possible. The Chiefs offense can do the job, and if your defense can shut down Priest Holmes you deserve to win anyway--the Chiefs have no right to complain if the other guys play well enough to hold their offense to 17 or 24 points. The question is whether the Chiefs defense can hold the other guys to, say, 27 or 30 points. If they can do that Holmes and the offensive line just might put them in the playoffs. I predict that these next three games will be some pretty exciting football.
Here's the bad news. Barcelona choked again, this time 1-0 in Madrid against a bad team, Rayo Vallecano. There's no excuse for this. We don't expect Barça to win every game, but it is fair to demand that with all the money they spend on players--and a lot of that money comes from the 104,000 season-ticket holders and from the six million Catalan households who sit through the advertisements that TV stations pay millions of euros for--they put together a team that is competitive. This team is not functioning. Saviola is a good little player but he's not the top goal-scorer they need. Neither is Riquelme. They wasted the money they got from the sale of Figo on Petit, Overmars, Geovanni, and Rochemback, none of whom have had any effect. Rochemback is not a bad midfielder, but he's not worth nearly what they paid for him. Mendieta is playing poorly, which really is a surprise. Meanwhile, Couto, Nadal, and Pellegrino, all of them sold off years ago, are having good seasons yet again, just when Barça could use a couple of defensemen, and Simao, who was supposed to replace Figo but never really got a chance, is tearing up the Portuguese league. Sonny Anderson is tearing up the French league. Rivaldo is playing well at Milan. And Barça can't beat Rayo Vallecano, which is like being so bad you can't even beat the Royals.
Barcelona plays Newcastle this week at home in the Champions' League, where they are 7-0-0 but have beaten only one good team, AS Roma. Newcastle, coached by Sir Bobby Robson, Barça's ex-coach, whom they never should have got rid of and especially not for Van Gaal, is a good team. If Barça beats them there are grounds for limited optimism. If they tie, it's not good. If they lose, it will be just about the last straw, and if they lose again, Van Gaal will be fired, assuming he hadn't already been. Joan Gaspart, Barça's elected club president, is on the verge of being forced to resign. Good. Everybody hates him. Earlier this season some guys made a banner with a picture of Mr. Burns from the Simpsons and labeled it "Gaspart". Cracked everybody up because Gaspart really does look like Mr. Burns, but nobody had made the connection before. The TV cameras picked it up and now they run the shot of the banner as part of the highlights every time Barça loses. See, whenever Barça loses, which is a lot these days, they also run long stories on how the Barça has really been losing a lot lately. Gee, this wouldn't be a campaign by Convergence and Union, the Catalan nationalist party, who control local television, to put their own man in charge of the Barça in the place of the PP sympathizers, especially Gaspart, running the board of directors, would it? Of course it would. A big deal a few weeks ago was made when Sixte Cambra of Convergence joined the board in an attempt by Gaspart to reach out to the powerful CiU faction within the club. Cambra will stab Gaspart in the back as soon as he gets a chance. I normally sympathize with the PP, but the fact that I respect and approve of Prime Minister Aznar doesn't mean I want that prick Gaspart to run the soccer team into the ground.
Here's what they need to do. Fire Van Gaal. Give me the job as coach. I'll run a lineup of Bonano in goal, Puyol, Cocu, Gabri, and Navarro as defensemen, Xavi and Rochemback in midfield, Riquelme as the "quarterback", and Overmars, Kluivert, and Saviola at forward. This lineup will give up goals. It had damn well better score a few. And we'll put Luis Enrique anywhere we can shoehorn him in when he comes back.
In the Spanish first division Real Sociedad, Valencia, Celta, Betis, Mallorca, and Real Madrid are at the top. At the bottom are Rayo, Sevilla, Español, and Recreativo. In the English league it's Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U and Liverpool at the top and Bolton, Sunderland, and West Ham at the bottom. In Germany it's Bayern Munich way out front and then Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen; at the bottom are Kaiserslautern and Cottbus. In Italy AC Milan, Lazio, Inter Milan, and Juventus are at the top and Atalanta, Reggina, Torino, and Como at the bottom.