Saturday, July 10, 2021

EM 2020--Goodbyes and Championship Pick

Dearest Friends,

Time for the sentimental and affectionate address. Consider yourself forewarned. It's perfectly fine to get misty-eyed. 

Here we are my most valued chums. Nineteen years and 28 chapters strong. Another glorious Summer of international football. 

As always, it's been a pleasure and a privilege to spend these last few weeks with you. This time, in addition to having an absolutely brilliant tournament to enjoy together with friends across the globe, your friendly bookie had the privilege of visiting the locale where it all began. Once upon a time way back in 2002, there was lanky teenager and a college computer lab. 

Deprived of the chance to travel and interact with interesting internationals during the 2002 World Cup, this teenager made it happen anyway with a bunch of e-mail addresses and a listserv. Grounded in a place where "the greatest show on earth" barely qualified as an event, an idealistic young boy reconnected with as many far-flung friends as he could and traveled in his head. 

Taking around a drastically different version of the old collegiate stomping ground these past few weeks, it sometimes felt as if very little has changed. Of course, in reality, everything has. An exponential growth in technology radically altered the shape of our daily lives. The last 18 months turned practically everything we understood about our daily routine on its head. We've changed so much too. We've grown up.

Syndicate Member 23-M and I were recently discussing the remote controlled VW that delivered the match ball in this tournament's opening match. It returned for the semi-final. You'll see it again tomorrow. After some soundly reflective rumination, we agreed that the car perfectly embodied everything we love about this time of year. Cometh the Summer, cometh the chance to reestablish contact with that little boy in you. 

"How goes it inner-child?"

"It goes well now that you called. Thanks for checking in!" 

Each chapter of our syndicate carries with it a separate them, as does each farewell address. We've talked of love, careers, drive, dedication as so much else. The little kid in all of us seems an apt enough one to close out our 28th chapter. Your friendly bookie issues a friendly reminder that that person remains someone worth checking in with once in a while, even if most of us prefer the accumulated wisdom of a mature mind. 

Childhood should not be romanticized. So many (including your friendly bookie) stand eternally grateful that such a long, awkward, and difficult phase of their life lies behind them. Life undeniably improves with age. We discover better ways to cope with the world, more effective strategies for dealing with our own issues, and--in the process of becoming more comfortable in our own skin--settle into our own place after a great deal of brutally painful trial & error. 

That isn't to suggest that there isn't a value to nostalgia. On the contrary, one should make time for it. In the midst of life's more stressful and angst-ridden situations, revisiting a more playful and innocent time provides one with a much-needed momentary respite. When situational darkness weighs one down and the storm in one's head rages on ceaselessly, the old analgesic of "this too shall pass" works considerably better when one can capture a particular sensation. 

No matter how uncomfortable your childhood was, there should still be a simpler version of you capable of assisting you in clearing up your head. Visit with that kid sometimes. Listen to what that incarnation of you wants. Let its imagination run unrestricted and free. Above all, learn to be patient, tolerant, and kind to it. That's a hell of a trick to pull off if no one else ever treated the kid that way. One can nevertheless learn based on the important fact that someone might as well start. One can master the art of being a good parent to oneself without direct teaching. Hard to believe, but true. 

There's absolutely no shame in holding onto something from the past for sentimental reasons, provided that you're prepared to make enough room for the present and the future. Over the past 19 years of keeping this sportsbook, your friendly bookie has learned quite a bit about the nature of friendship. To reconnect with footballer friends across the globe who share my passion for the beautiful game is a most exhilarating annual experience. 

In addition to that, I've also learned a lot from those -Ms who have moved on. It's truly astounding how many wonderful people touch your life in a positive way then exit it forever. This is a perfectly natural and appreciably beautiful part of our existence. We often know full well which people we shall never see again, yet the inspiration they left us remains in our heart and our thoughts as we continue along our personal journey. Your friendly bookie highly recommends you make time for nostalgic visits with those who have left too. They can help you as well.

At some point, there will be a final Syndicate Chapter. The Terminus exists within your friendly bookie's line of sight. As much as the little boy inside me loves to ride the rails, there comes a time to step out onto the platform. Even the "Trans-Europe Express", following 42 years of service, has to pull into its final station one day. 


😎 Such a gorgeous mode of transport. Kraftwerk did her full justice. 😎


For those who care to hang around, there shall be a bit more international football to share on this space. Your friendly bookie can't emphasize enough his sincere hope that all of you continue to stay well-versed in the global game. Football remains your ticket to the world. If you speak football, consider yourself fluent in humanity's true version of "Esperanto". This holds true whether you speak with your mouth, hands, or feet. 

Humankind's highest art form kicks off everyday all around this spinning blue globe. The game's finest poets--Eduardo Galeano, Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabokov, Aleksandar Hemon, Laurent Dubois, Nick Hornsby, Arrigo Sacchi, Christian Bromberger, David Goldblatt, Christoph Biermann, Nick Holt, Jonathan Wilson, and oh so many more--hail from every country on Earth. 

They call out to you. Hundreds of thousands of collective voices chant in unison:


Straight from the heart and available to everyone. Football belongs to you. It is yours. To quote poet Dubois, "speak this precious human language." If your only tuning in for the World Cup and European Championship, you're missing out on so much more of the international splendor of the game.

We've covered practically all of it here on Shadow Scholar Syndicate. 

There might be time yet to cover some of it again. 

The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on January 9th 2022. The bookie absolutely adores this tournament, covering it on the blog in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019. This is the competition for those who love everything about the football fan game. Africa cranks it up to the power of ten. 

Another chapter covering this glorious continental championship seems something worth striving for. 

Don't forget that next Summer the women once again get their turn! Don't feel glum about leaving England tomorrow. We're headed back to Isle next year for the UEFA Women's Euros. Lieke Martens and the Dutch Leuwinnen seek to defend their crown in a genuinely awesome tourney that kicks off July 6th, 2022. My German Mädels want the title back and the hosting Three Lionesses have a fantastic team. 

As all the syndicate -Ms know, the bookie has been a lifelong women's football advocate. We've covered the last three Women's World Cups on this blog and even did the Women's Euros in 2013. I still never miss a chance to write on the NWSL, WSL, Frauen-Bundesliga, and Women's Champions League whenever a website accords me a chance. I won't stop imploring all of you to watch this sport. I just won't

Insofar as the future of the syndicate is concerned, we near a final chapter in large part because many of you have urged me to take my work out of the shadows. I cannot thank my dearest mates for being persistent in this regard. Over the years, I've kept this blog going mostly because I loved sending you and your kids presents afterwards in the form of "schwag packs". Honestly neither wanted nor expected to get a gift myself. Somehow, it happened.

Wherever this next year takes us, know that your friendly bookie loves you very much. Football is yours. So is this sportsbook. From the very first Line on the very first day, it was dedicated to you. From my perspective, life doesn't get much better than sharing the beautiful game with you. 

Many have found their place in life. Some still struggle and seek. Hang in there. Don't give up. It has been better before and it will be better again. There's another match for you every day. Our motto here at the syndicate has always been "you'll never watch alone." You never will, not so long as I'm around. 

Don't forget that little kid inside you or all the people who were kind to you in your life. We've all experienced the sharp and jagged nature of existence. For those of us of a rather, how shall we say, "intense" disposition, thoughts can crush in the best times and outright destroy in the worst.

Slow down. Breathe. You will be okay. Even in the absence of other people, the kid and the memories of kind deeds can always be summoned. As soon as you encounter another live person, you'll have the opportunity to be kind to them. No drug in the world can compare to that feeling. Your next chance is never far away.

And with that we'll conclude our 28th syndicate chapter. Nothing much else to deal with other than.....oh right....A MONSTER FOOTBALL MATCH! 

Supreme Champion of the European Football Universe:

England vs. Italy


Football's greatest cathedral plays host to what should be one for the ages. I know some people insist on remaining upset about some of the Italian diving we saw in the quarterfinals and the chicanery of the English fans during the semis. Call me a "progress snob" if you must, but football fans have witnessed far greater degrees of shithousery over the years. This is tame stuff by historical standards. 

The Italians used to do little else other than try to cheat their way through matches. English hooligans used to redefine the bottom when it came to humanely acceptable norms. No one condones booing during Denmark's national anthem or flashing a laser pointer at Kasper Schmeichel. Pretty heinous stuff. Still not necessarily on the level of people losing their lives in post-match stampedes, eyes getting gouged out in beer bottle riots, or bags of urine/bananas being thrown on the pitch. 

We've a ways to go as a civilized species. For whatever reason, I happen to enjoy reflecting on how far we've come every so often. The beautiful game still has it's ugly side. So does just about everything. Progress doesn't equal perfection for the very good reason that they happen to be two different words with different meanings. The former ideal also happens to be constantly attainable while the latter rarely, if ever, lies within reach. 

I'll be sanguine and predict that we'll get a good straight football match here. Holland's Björn Kuipers is a solid referee who won't point to the spot easily. Germany's Bastian Dankert and Marco Fritz should do a good job in the VAR booth. They'll be looking for simulation in a fixture as big as this one. An early caution on the first flop should keep the players in line. 

All of the tactical analysis undertaken during this Summer's blog leads me to tip England as the winner. As I was saying in the Day 21 recap, Gareth Southgate has truly done a marvelous job managing his personnel throughout this competition. He's also employed a variety of tactical systems, all very well tailored to each individual opponent. In the case of Mancini's 4-3-3, Southgate can man match very well down the Italian left. 

At the end of the day, we should get a fantastic story either way. England capture their first ever Euros, not to mention first piece of silverware since 1966. If not, the Squadra Azzura atones for missing out on the 2018 World Cup with their first continental championship since 1968. All bets remain off for the Final. Just take the greatest possible pleasure from a great football match with whomever it best pleases you. 

Tomorrow should be a fabulous day. Next to the World Cup Final, the EM Climax may be the second greatest collective experience we share as human being. Adios to the Season of "friends and football". Adios from your friendly bookie, who just has that last customary set of advice for what to do after the match is finished.

THE PICK: England +1 Goal


Enjoy living your life. Enjoy it for its own sake. Dance to the music. Appreciate the painting. Delve deeper into that novel. Make laughter and love as often as you can. Live lionhearted or don’t bother living at all.


We’ll meet again. The Syndicate will return. For the time being……


“Go kick a ball with a stranger”


Seriously…go kick a ball with a stranger.  


--S.S. P.J.W.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

EM 2020--Day Twenty-One Recap

Your Syndicate Daily is proudly presented by "Bündnis 90" and the European Greens.

With warm preemptive congratulations to Kanzlerin Baerbock :)

Your friendly bookie wholeheartedly endorses a German velvet revolution. Let's go Europe!

Day 21: Recap



Bookie’s Stats—

Spread: 17-33

Straight up: 22-18-10

A pleasant Summer's eve, gentlemen. Some football match we've to discuss in what will be our final daily of the Summer. One could scarcely have hoped for a better send-off. After 55 (!!) long years, England have finally made it back to the final of a major international. Don't allow the egregiously soft penalty to fool you either. They earned it on this day. 

Sensational match from Sterling and Maguire. Walker and Henderson were excellent too. The day doesn't belong to any of the actors on the pitch, however. The real star of the show was the world's most closely watched and nitpicked football manager. 

No more carping and quibbling, Limey -Ms. This is the man who got you here. All of you should be grateful that big Sam went popping his mouth off to those undercover reporters. Few would have predicted that a hastily installed caretaker who had never even coached a team before reach such heights.

He's your hero. What an amazing tournament from the gaffer.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown 

Your friendly bookie is certainly no Michael Cox, even if he averages about as many words on a daily basis. Moreover, the blog isn't meant to feature deep-scout tactical write ups. Hard to believe, I know. These are the short versions; breezy and light for the Summer season. If you still don't believe me, I'll gladly point you in the direction of some twelve page Bundesliga single-match narratives. 

Without going into that sort of depth, we will supply some extra illustrations tonight. I genuinely wish to show you how brilliant Southgate was in managing his shape and personnel. The Internet surely brims with thousands of other praise pieces this evening. The bookie wishes to add his own modest one as this syndicate chapter draws to a close. 

Here's how I thought it would look.

 Lineup—England—PROJECTED (5-2-3) (6/5/2021) 

Turns out I, like many others, were wrong before we were right. The English trainer retained the 4-2-3-1 from his quarterfinal victory, raising a few eyebrows be reinserting Saka over Sancho despite the fact that the former had dipped hard and gotten injured in his previous start. 

 Lineup—England—Match Six (4-2-3-1) (6/7/2021) 

Following a furious start for the hosts at Wembley, the two counties effectively cancelled one another out through much of the opening 45. A 1-1 halftime score seemed fair. Both teams kept the football at a high and eminently watchable level.

Neither tally had much of anything to do with tactics. Damsgaard's set-piece gem, aided by a late Pickford reaction, gave the Danes a deserved goal while Kjaer got the hard-luck own-goal credit after some brilliance from Kane, Saka, and Sterling. 

More evenly-matched entertaining football from both sides after the break, with Kasper Schmeichel dampening whatever slight edge the There Lions maintained in terms of chances. Extra time seemed fully logical. 

Only one substitution from Southgate in normal time. Grealish replaced Saka in the 69th. The Villa man everyone on the Isle is so enamored with took up the left wing attacking position while Sterling moved right. 

For some reason we had six minutes of added time at the end of the full 90. Not entirely sure how match official Danny Makkelie's worked that out. In any event, Southgate let it run. He wouldn't employ any additional changes until five minutes into the first added period. 

That's when things got an apt enough minute.

 Lineup—England—96th minute (5-2-3) 

There's the 5-2-3 we had all expected to see. A smart move to plug a fresh Jordan Henderson in at sweeper and slant Phil Foden unexpectedly left. As the team maneuvered into this shape just prior to the substitutions, everybody started getting a pop in. 

For the time interval between the 93rd and 104th, Schmeichel was under more or less constant bombardment. The Danish keeper spared his team's blushes on several occasions. A English goal was most assuredly in the air. 

Yes, yes. That had nothing to do with this. 

A bad call. Plain and simple. Sterling went to ground far too easily and embellished far too obviously. This wasn't merely a soft penalty. Virtually no one agrees it should have been awarded. Okay, okay. England were still racking up plenty of chances and the Danes were completely flat. 

Arguments that the Danes may feel hard done by after Schmeichel saved a poor Kane spot kick and the rebound propitiously fell back to the England striker fall apart in view of that fact as well. That's why we football lovers respect the xG stats. They tell us everything about the better team.

Literally nothing more from the Danes after that. No energy or inventiveness from the Red-Hvide so many of us wanted to see win. To call Braitwaite's effort in the 115th a legitimate chance is being very generous indeed. 

One more thing I'd like to show you. Southgate subbed off his sub Grealish--something considered a serious affront to a player in German football culture--and closed it out with this. 

 Lineup—England—107th minute (5-2-3) 

That's how you close out a match. Switch to three at the back, flatten out, add a second sweeper, and keep a fresh player on one of the wings and one central for closing counters. It's brilliant. The tired legs are protected. 

It nearly led to a second goal, with the Danes at least remaining steely enough to prevent it with their last reserves to prevent it. Great stuff from both sides in that regard. A magnificent finish to our last analytical daily of the Summer festival.

 S.S.S. Salute to Fallen Comrades 

 Denmark—"De Rød-Hvide"

-6 games played

-12 goals scored

 Previous Denmark Tactical Coverage:

-Group B Preview

-Day Two Recap

-Day Seven Recap

-Day Eleven Recap

-Day Fourteen Recap

-Day Nineteen Recap

At this point you're friendly bookie can (and does) recite the Danish tactical set-up in his sleep. The thing of it was that Hjulmand's tactics were no secret. Southgate timed his formational shifts based on the re-formats we all knew where coming.

It didn't take long after the final whistle for the DBU actors to collapse on the pitch. Less than a second and they were on the deck. Pure exhaustion down the stretch. Nothing left in the tank after a grueling competition of 3-4-3/4-4-2. 

 Lineup—Denmark—PROJECTED (3-4-3) (6/5/2021) 

Everyone essentially knew what was coming, even if we found ourselves in disagreement over whether Yussuf Poulsen (Yurary) or Daniel Wass might find their way into the XI. Hjulmand faced a choice as to whether he might want to alter the shape somewhat. 

I would argue that he engaged in some mistaken tinkering.

 Lineup—Denmark—Match Six (5-2-3) (6/7/2021) 

It was definitely wider that what one expected. Furthermore, the "flying wingbacks" worked a considerably deeper axis. To my eyes it wasn't necessarily conclusive that Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg were working a split-stagger, so I leave them axially paired in my illustration. 

In any event, it never really got going. One could label something like this far too conservative. Admittedly, Hjmulmand probably faced an unavoidable intimidation factor facing England at home at Wembley. That didn't mean he needed to succumb.

All of us tactics-heads kept a close eye on the overhead cam to see when the 4-4-2 would materialize. Right on cue, it came with the triple substitution in the 67th. Southgate anticipated it well. His players were clearly instructed to spread it out/tire it out in possession. They executed this perfectly. 

It failed for other reasons besides this. Hjulmand waited another twelve minutes to get his next sub on, then didn't get the final personnel switch off until almost the end of normal time. As a result, a completely gassed Thomas Delaney had to function as the ten until Mathias Jensen finally relieved him. 

 Lineup—Denmark—89th minute (4-4-2) 

It couldn't function with Delaney in the place where Braithwaite was ultimately supposed to be. If Hjulmand was intent on triggering the 4-4-2 reformat, he needed to get all the right players on far sooner than this. Too much time was lost.  

Additionally, this particular version of the 4-4-2---understandably enough--couldn't keep the same kind of menacing shape as the ones studied from previous encounters. Maehle, Højbjerg, Braithwaite, and Kjaer have all logged maximum minutes in this competition. Nothing left. 

Boy do these guys ever need a vacation. What a harrowing and enervating month it's been. Pity it doesn't work that way in the footballing world. It's straight back to club training camp for everyone. I hope Thomas Delaney at least gets next week off. 

“Riffs of the Day”—Day Twenty

Related image

Reader: Does Mikkel Damsgaard's hairline concern you too, Vicey?

Vicey: 53-M.....Damsagaard's emergence this Summer has forced every man to reckon with what (for most of us) is coming. 

For some of us, it comes at the tender age of 21. Others carry a false sense of security into their 30s or even 40s. Just when we feel as if we've lived long enough to evade the curse, we fling up our arms in celebration and.....

....whoot. There it is. Today wasn't much better. 


It's coming for (almost) all of us. 

Unless you happen to be Arlo Guthrie, that hairline is coming for you. 

Reader: Why must we endure this Grealish nonsense every fucking match?

Vicey: A fair question, 38-M. 

According to the internet, he's basically the male version of Kiera Knightly. 

Er....thank you, Internet? I guess. I don't know.

Reader: Is that an English man-pile?

Vicey: Something I'm not used to beholding either, 11-M.


They just out-man-piled the Italians! Wouldn't bet against them in there final!

Reader: Since there aren't any more lines, can we get some hot English girls for the farewell close?

Vicey: Absolutely not, 23-M. I already helped you out on that front back on Day Three. I already have a better idea of how to close this one out. 

Reader: Feeling a bit letdown by this. I'm not used to knowing what winning feels like.

Vicey: An amalgam text from a few English -Ms who actually have no clue what it feels like to make the Finals of a major international. 

Since your friendly bookie has seen lived to see his own country make six Finals, take the European crown, and win two World Championships, I think we need to end on the following note: 


This is what it feels like! Take her out for a spin, England! Football parades and caravans don't exist on the Isle in the same way as they do on the least not until today. 

The bloody English don't even know what to do with themselves now. They've stopped signing "Football's Coming Home" and picked up "Sweet Caroline". It's mass hysteria. 

The high-percentage vaccinated population of the Isle takes a break from these historic celebrations to bid you a spirited farewell until the final goodbyes.