England’s Management Exam | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 10, 2012) US Soccer Players — With Fabio Capello opting not to continue as England manager this week, the interplay between the coach and the administration is once again the topic du jour in world soccer.  Whether it’s for club or country, the job role of the head coach has historically been a source of friction.  For England’s National Team setup, the issue is simple.  The administration chose to act, stripping a player of his captaincy without the consent of the coach.  In turn, the coach chose to act. 

Now England is approaching EURO 2012 with an interim manager and conducting a job search for Capello’s eventual successor.  That’s not the optimal situation months before games count, but those running the Football Association had to consider the possibility when they made the decision to exercise their authority. 

In real terms, that’s what coach – management issues are about, the exercise of authority.  Again, this has no separation between club and country and is rooted in the idea of the coach holding ultimate authority over playing decisions.  In English club soccer, it used to be more than just playing decisions.  Historically, the role of the manager included pretty much whatever the manager in question wanted to do. 

That’s in stark contrast to another of the world’s oldest professional team sports, Major League Baseball where the job of the field manager evolved into just that.  General managers and staff handle the player personnel decisions, while the field manager works with what the front office gives him.  Though the era of the English manager barely answering to the board is no longer common with clubs trying to maximize multinational appeal and the associated revenue streams, it’s still closer to that than what’s normal in baseball.  The North American pro sports corollary would be a National Football League coach, especially those coaches also holding the GM title. 

At least in England, the National Team job was different.  A coach taking that position up until the 1960’s knew they would be dealing with a selection committee.  Like with baseball, the Football Association had a panel that picked the players, with the coach operating with whomever that panel selected.  That changed during Alf Ramsey’s run as England manager, with his successor Don Revie turning the job into something that at least resembled the role of the club coach in the 1970’s.  Revie wanted to use some of the things he’d done with Leeds United, and he was given the leeway. 

England’s National Team job modernized alongside the role of the club coach, and the contemporary version is something that isn’t seen as a significant obstacle.  Any manager of a successful club knows all about the club vs country issues, albeit from the other side.  The squad management issues are similar, especially for club coaches that don’t have the luxury of financial backing to buy and pick whoever they want.  National Team soccer is about limits, in practical terms closer to the cost control model of Major League Soccer than the world all-star lineups coaches with elite club teams are able to field. 

Maneuvering is critical to both jobs.  Even with a seemingly unlimited transfer budget players might not necessarily choose to sign and they might not workout once they get there.  Again, the club manager’s role becomes one of negotiations at multiple levels: getting the funds, spending them, and showing that the choices work.  The National Team manager doesn’t need the funds, but he or she does need the support of the governing body, the cooperation of the clubs that hold the player contracts, and the ability to put together a squad that works. 

With either job, should any of those steps become difficult the role of the manager, not to mention the administrators, can quickly become problematic.  It’s why so few of the great English club manager stories end well.  One could argue that’s what makes the stories great in the first place.  Brian Clough’s weeks in charge of Leeds in the Fall of 1974 has become its own industry*. 

That’s what makes statements like those made by Football Association chairman David Bernstein in the aftermath of Capello’s resignation so tricky.  It’s easy enough to stress the power of the administrators in making what they believe to be crucial decisions, but now they have to find someone capable of managing in the environment they’ve created.

In contemporary soccer, especially the brand played at the highest level in England, the real trick is figuring out the balance between coach and administrator.  The coach plays a very public role with a specific history.  Impede on that station too much, and the coach might just decide to make a very public point. 

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

More from J Hutcherson:

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* There’s a movie version of David Peace’s book The Damned Utd, along with detailed accounts of what Leeds United was like in that era such as Rob Bagchi and Paul Robinson’s The Unforgiven, Clough’s own autobiographies, and Jonathan Wilson’s new biography of Clough, Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You.

Anxiety Announcing | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 13, 2012) US Soccer Players — Watch enough English soccer broadcasts, and you might begin to notice a few trends.  Saying the last name of whoever happens to have his foot on the ball at a given moment might be more of a clich茅, but it's an expected part of an English soccer broadcast.  So are the stock set of comments that turn up whenever certain personalities are involved in the game.  That's the category that requires broadcasters to let us know that the manager of a big club likes to aggressively chew gum, or the national origin of well-known players and managers who aren't English. 

Another one takes more to tease out.  It's also repeated game after game, but can escape notice if done well.  One of the announcers mentions the league table, cup competitions, or current events that might hamper the competitive future of the club.  That turns into a discussion of a future that may never happen, but it's treated like a sure thing in the moment. 

It usually starts with the league table and the schedule.  Now this is fine when we're talking about previews or trying to get a grasp on what a club might be able to do over the rest of the season.  Short of employing a soothsayer or leaning on statistical models – for some the same thing – what else are you going to use?  Form requires overcoming the obstacles the schedule throws at a team, along with the condition of the squad, the form of the opponent, and everything from the weather to outright luck.  It's no surprise that the full account isn't going to make it into a soccer broadcast. 

Yet the synopsis version, a couple of spoken sentences normally pointing to the difficulties ahead, leaves enough out that we only hear a very high level take. Then it's almost immediately onto disaster prevention. 

Part of this is a clich茅, the insistence that each and every game is crucial in the Premier League.  Each and every game isn't.  Teams are allowed to slip, lose games they should've won, and get outplayed by lesser clubs and still remain in pursuit of a title.  Even in the era when Arsenal wasn't losing, they still had one point games that should've been three.  In a league with ties, nobody is winning every game. 

For some announcers, this would seem to be a new development.  A game in early February that causes a club to potentially slip from fourth to fifth might as well be the club ceding any chance of the title and, for that matter, passing on the European spaces.  It's not just a bad day, it's an unmitigated disaster in the works. 

Maybe, but part of always predicting the worst is that you're rarely surprised.  It's fortune telling but normally only in one direction. Predict a negative outcome and then treats it as if it actually happened even if these predictions seldom play out. 

For the Premier League announcers, it's rare that they ever revisit the stark predictions of gloom unless they happen.  Going for the worst is almost always a safer hedge than predicting the best, especially when no one really expects those vague predictions and outlines of looming trouble to be revisited. That type of commentary is in its moment, and barring a YouTube worthy gaff, normally forgotten when the next meaningful bit of in-game action takes place. 

What it creates is tension, something that's a selling point for lots of entertainment programming. For Premier League soccer, it's rarely just a game on the schedule. There has to be more.

What it's not is the standard North American announce team treatment of potential outcomes.  Normally, with the North American sports what we hear are detailed examinations of in-game decisions.  We get that with English soccer too, but with soccer it normally doesn't go as far.  Goat or hero, the American broadcasters will still be talking about it.  More often than not, the Premier League broadcast moves on with the color commentator saying something along the lines of 'well鈥?I wouldn't have done it."

Another clich茅 perhaps, but it's interesting that the standard crutch for North American broadcasters normally doesn't get as full of a treatment in England.  Instead, the focus tends to shift toward the biggest possible picture and stays there. 

Even middling teams that most have figured out aren't bad  or unlucky enough to be relegated but not good enough to really threaten get shoved into discussions of unmet potential in the best cases and disaster in the worst.  It's insisting on the long view in a league where longevity is at a premium even in the best situations. 

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

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Beating Contenders | US Soccer Players

In a week that wasn't exactly a highpoint for management in England, Everton's David Moyes bucked the trend.  After his club beat Chelsea 2-0, he took that opportunity to talk about what he believed was the potential for his squad to be even better.  These weren't empty words.  Moyes knows he's managing a 10th-place club that since the last day of January has managed to beat two title contenders.  The Premier League trophy might not run through Everton, but showing they can compete with and beat these teams sends a very clear statement.  For Moyes, it's that they can be better than 10th-place.

That's a laudable goal that's realistic.  Everton spent in the transfer window, they've gotten value out of Landon Donovan's short term loan, and they've demonstrated that they can disrupt the teams in the top five.  They're certainly not a club the rest of the Premier League should look forward to playing, in itself an accomplishment. 

Clint Dempsey and Fulham are in a similar position two places and three points behind Everton.  Their shock result came against Arsenal the day after New Year's, and they'd already drawn with Chelsea the day after Christmas.  Though they lost 3-0 to Manchester City at the Emirates, it's worth remembering their earlier meeting ended in a tie.  So did their first time around with Arsenal, giving us another team that has shown they can compete with the top five clubs even with that lopsided home loss to Manchester United.

Though it's hard to play up the role of spoiler at any point prior to the last few weeks of the Premier League season, there's that aspect as well.  Frankly, that doesn't flatter either Everton or Fulham.  It's not about spoiling a better team's season.  It's about taking points where you find them especially when that means having to ignore the quality in the other team's squad.

Playing to your own team's strengths and letting the results fall is hard at any level.  At Premier League level, it can send a decidedly mixed message.  Clubs that can compete with the top five should be able to get results against teams that can't.  It doesn't always play out that way, which adds to the impact of Moyes's statement.  To use his own phrase, "the strange thing is" he's right. 

Corner Rating: (with 1 treating these upsets as flukes and 11 pushing Everton and Fulham as potentially challenging for a European place) 8.5

Last Week's Corner: Well, we may not have literally sent a congratulations card to the club, but we got a response via twitter from DC United's communications office.  Again, using an opportunity that presents itself is a win for the club and by extension the League.  If local advertising is available on Fox's national Premier League broadcasts, MLS teams should be buying it.  Corner rating stays at 10.

What Ever Happened To… Teofilo Cubillas | US Soccer Players

By Clemente Lisi 鈥?NEW YORK, NY (Feb 14, 2012) US Soccer Players — Before Designated Players began flocking to our shores in an effort to bolster Major League Soccer鈥檚 star power, there was a time when it was common – even stylish – for international players to move to the United States.  One of those players was Peru鈥檚 Teofilo Cubillas. 

鈥淲ho wouldn鈥檛 want to come play with all the greats such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and George Best?  I thought Fort Lauderdale was a very interesting market, not to mention a great opportunity for me,鈥?Cubillas said about his decision to move to the US in 1979.

Cubillas, who earned the nickname 鈥淣ene鈥?鈥?the Spanish word for baby 鈥?because of his boyish looks, still looks like a young man at the age of 62.  In a career that spanned some 20 years, Cubillas is remembered most by American fans as a former member of the Strikers during the days of the North American Soccer League.

Asked what stood out most for him at the time, Cubillas replied, 鈥淭he atmosphere, the crowd that supported us.  Also, the Robbie Family (who owned the Strikers).  I want to send a special thank you to all the old 鈥楽triker Liker鈥?fans.  They made me feel right at home.鈥?/p>

Home is exactly what South Florida became for Cubillas, who was nominated last month for entry into the National Soccer Hall of Fame on the veteran ballot.  After retiring in 1989, Cubillas settled in this country.

鈥淚 was of the idea where my kids start school they will finish,鈥?he said.  鈥淢y family and I have made great friends along the way that I still keep in touch with today from the old Striker days.鈥?/p>

The former midfielder has run summer soccer camps for children over the past 27 years.   

鈥淲e always did summer camps under Nene Cubillas Camp Futbol and that has been going on since 1985,鈥?he said.  鈥淲e will be starting an academy this year to teach the youth of tomorrow.  I feel that when a child begins to play soccer, he needs to learn the basics and fundamentals.  With time, practice and dedication, he or she will make it to the next level, as there are so many talented youth players in this country. They just need the opportunity.鈥?/p>

Cubillas also works for FIFA and as an ambassador for the Special Olympics.  At the 2010 World Cup, Cubillas was part of the 16-man team that headed the FIFA Technical Study Group.  As part of his report, Cubillas observed, 鈥淚 really admire how the United States have done in South Africa.  They have shown incredible spirit, huge enthusiasm and the will to battle back after conceding first in nearly all their games.鈥?/p>

Cubillas dreamed of a pro career as a child and got his chance at 16 in 1966 with Alianza Lima.  In 1972, Cubillas had his best year at the club level, finishing top scorer in the Copa Libertadores Cup and taking South American Player of the Year honors.  His goals got him attention in Europe and Cubillas went on to play with Swiss club FC Basel and Portuguese side Porto.

Cubillas signed with the Strikers at a time when soccer was king in South Florida.  Over five seasons, Cubillas scored 65 goals in 141 games for the Strikers and created a potent attack after teaming up with Gerd Muller and George Best.  In a 1981 game against the Los Angeles Aztecs, Cubillas scored a hat trick in seven minutes.  Cubillas wore the number 10 jersey and played like it.  He was the one spearheading the attack.  What fans saw was a gifted player who possessed a potent shot and was brilliant on dead ball situations.

For all his exploits on US soil, Cubillas remains one of the best players ever to emerge from South America to play at the World Cup level.  His 10 World Cup goals put him on the list of all-time leading scorers.  Remarkably, he scored five goals at the 1978 World Cup and another five eight years later at the 1982 edition. Cubillas also played at the 1970 World Cup for Peru when he was just 20.

鈥淚 would have to say that there are two of them,鈥?he said when asked about his favorite World Cup goals.  鈥淭he first is when we were losing 2-0 to Bulgaria in the 1970 World Cup and we came back and tied the game 2-2.  I then scored to put us up 3-2 and it turned out to be the winning goal of the match. This goal gave back hope to our country as two days before an earthquake hit Peru, killing 50,000 people.

鈥淭he second would have to be the free kick I scored in 1978 World Cup against Scotland.  The final score was 3-1 and I scored the second and third goal, but it was the final one where I set up for a free kick and bent it around the wall with the outside of my foot.鈥?#0160; 

To this day, Cubillas said fans still recognize him.  

鈥淚t鈥檚 a great feeling when people recognize me on the streets, especially in Peru,鈥?he said.  鈥淏ut since I have stayed involved in the soccer world over the years, even the youth of today that didn鈥檛 even see me play know who I am thanks to their parents and videos or Internet clips of goals.  People will always ask to take a picture and I will always take the time to sign an autograph because these are and will be forever my fans and I am grateful for the opportunity I was given.鈥?#0160;

Clemente Lisi is a New York-based writer. Contact him at: CAL4477@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi

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Questions: Everton, Sporting, Cap, Premier, Money | US Soccer Players

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Feb 14, 2012) US Soccer Players — In Tuesday’s edition of the Questions, Tony asks about Everton’s tactics against Chelsea, where the real problems might lie for Portugal’s Sporting, and how Major League Soccer is viewed in financial terms.

How did Everton win the tactical battle against Chelsea this past weekend?

A few weeks ago, I wasn’t very impressed with Everton manager David Moyes’ tactical lineup. But this past weekend, Everton pressed high up the field, forcing Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech to play his goal kicks long, and not allowing Ashley Cole, Juan Mata, etc much time on the ball. It seemed like Frank Lampard was so well marked out of the game that his main contribution was trying to calm his teammates down during their frequent whining at the referee. That’s five unbeaten for Everton in the league, even if three of them are ties. They are up to 10th place now with 33 points.

Tactical high pressing can be dangerous against a team that has the ability to play the ball on the ground, but when it works (as it also did for Norwich City in Saturday’s game against  Swansea City), you’re forcing the other team out of their comfort zone.

Maybe the problem for Oguchi Onweyu’s Sporting wasn’t the coach?

Sporting took the obvious solution on Monday, firing Domingos Paciencia with the team in fourth, on goal difference, and seemingly out of the running for a Champions League spot. Paciencia was replaced by former Sporting Youth manager Ricardo Sa Pinto.  Yet, a quick look at Sporting’s stats show Onweyu is their second leading scorer. Maybe their international cast of midfield and striking talent should focus more on goals and less on yellow cards?

For all that goes into putting together an MLS squad, how important is knowing and knowing how to use the salary cap rules?

Crucial. As the article points out, the Galaxy and Bruce Arena are masters at building a squad, not just on the field, but at getting the right players into the locker room. It also highlights that, for the most part, the better the cap management, the more chance an MLS team will thrive.

MLS’ additional allocation money to teams in the Champions League is an under-reported but important benefit for teams competing in  international competition. The first leg in the Champions League is in less than a month, and LA  goes in as huge favorites over Toronto.

What’s one area the new Indian Premier League differs significantly from MLS?

While the league complements MLS’s franchise model, the owners of the new league aren’t in it to develop players. As the article makes clear, the owners are in it to make money.

鈥淲ith [the new Indian league], you can make profits as well as develop football.鈥?/p>

MLS has come late to the player development issue, but with teams such as Dallas, Philadelphia, and the Red Bulls already seeing benefit from their development process, clubs have to realize the investment in development is money well spent in the long term.

What do the people who put together the Deloitte Money League think of MLS?

They are cautiously impressed, according to this overview of five leagues that didn’t have teams qualify for the latest round of the Deloitte Money League. The report cites MLS’ growth in attendance, without getting into too much detail about specifics (oddly), but does caution that market size is only one variable and to grow, quality of play and the ability to attract and pay players is crucial.

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The Champions League And Rangers | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 15, 2012) US Soccer Players — The story of the European Cup's transformation to the Champions League is an easy target for criticism.  The experimentation with two group stages, the current setup that uses the Europa League as a wide safety net for underachieving teams, the market distribution that makes it possible for the loser to make more than the winner.  All of these speak to the basic problem with designing a competition to appease the richest teams in Europe. 

Not much for big sweeping generalizations? Think about it this way. If the Champions League made less money than what the big clubs expected, what would happen? We already know the answer. It would be revamped into a format with a better chance of getting what the elite feel is an appropriate return.

For those of you unfamiliar with Champions League finances, there are payments for every level of participation plus the new marketing bonus based on how many people in the home market watch the games.  Big market finalists can normally expect to see a total payment of around  $65 million dollars each.  All of the 32 group stage teams get at least $9.5 million before win and tie bonuses.  The total, as reported by UEFA, was $988 million paid to clubs for last season's tournament. 

The Champions League has to generate a significant amount of money to pay the clubs, and the tournament has no problem surpassing that figure.  We're talking about a tournament that approaches the two billion dollar mark, and if anything is undervalued in the global marketplace.  The move to a Saturday final showed what kind of business the Champions League can do in North America.  A few more tweaks to the format, and it's the most valuable club property in the United States. 

Yet UEFA finds itself in the bizarre situation of paying out significant sums from what's already the most lucrative club tournament in the world while preaching financial responsibility.  It's a push/pull that not only created the Champions League itself, but also helps fund clubs at the level that causes UEFA such concern.  Though the big markets have already figured out that the marketing bonus is the real prize, for other teams the prize money itself changes their world.  Even the idea of the prize money on offer can do that. 

By any standard, the Scottish Premier League is a small circuit where most of the games only matter to the small number of fans that follow the teams involved.  That might sound a bit harsh, but it's one of the first points raised with talk of mergers with England or a joint league across multiple small European countries.  You have Rangers, Celtic, and everybody else.  Perhaps not the most flattering portrayal for clubs that have been in business for over a century, but let's be honest.  This is the classic example of a top heavy league that is dependent on two marquee teams. 

Celtic and Rangers have both chased Champions League glory in the obvious way.  They spent on squads that made no sense from a domestic perspective.  It was an arms race between the two of them, and both ended up suffering financially as a consequence. 

Rangers recent financial troubles have been more pronounced.  After years of talking openly about the competitive imbalance of the Scottish league setup, the lack of interest from elite players even when they have money to spend, and the problem with a league that includes clubs lucky to draw 10k a game, Rangers have shown in practice what that can mean.  Administration for one of the two Scottish giants. 

Using Rangers as an example for Financial Fair Play is convenient, but it doesn't really work.  Rangers and Celtic both made decisions based on a situation UEFA created on the behalf of Europe's elite.  To avoid a Super League that didn't include them, UEFA introduced a tournament that allowed some teams to make large amounts of money.  It also created an environment where established clubs with widespread appeal needed to take risks to keep up. 

That's what makes the near future of European soccer so interesting.  UEFA has created a tournament designed to create large amounts of revenue that are then paid directly to elite clubs.  At the same time, they're telling clubs not to spend beyond their means in pursuit of those riches.  It's a decidedly mixed message, and both parts need to be included when looking at what's happened to Rangers. 

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

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Arsenal And The Long Game | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 16, 2012) US Soccer Players — England’s cult of the manager took another hit yesterday.  Arsenal had no response against Milan, the latest Premier League club to make things very difficult for themselves in the Champions League.  If the story of the 2011-12 season is the major English clubs underperforming, Arsenal is the latest example.   

"You could say that the crisis at the moment in England is a bit like fire. It moves very quickly from one club to another," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told his club’s official site earlier this week.  "It’s like a fire with strong wind so you have to be a bit cautious because it can quickly come back. The wind can blow it back!"

This season’s Champions League has already done a good job pushing clubs in the wrong direction, and Premier League form certainly hasn’t helped.  The top five have dropped enough points against teams they should’ve been able to beat.  That’s no knock against the over-achievers from lower down the table.  Instead, it’s the simple recognition that clubs spending at the level of the top five expect to beat the clubs that don’t.  At this late date in the Premier League’s evolution, titles aren’t supposed to be decided because a club couldn’t pull it together against a team outside of the top 10.  Yet here we are, wondering what is happening with the Premier League brand. 

As always, the managers are first in line for criticism.  It doesn’t matter that we’re talking about individuals who will rank highly on any list of great managers.  The length of stay, the trophies, and the unrivalled accomplishments are never likely to overcome later disappointment.  That’s not the way professional soccer works, and there are more than enough examples of pedigreed managers hanging on too long with clubs they revolutionized. 

Media and fans calling for the manager to quickly explore other job opportunities might be responding in the moment, but that’s the world contemporary professional soccer has created.  Even in the North American sports where great teams have to go through rebuilding efforts, it’s normally not with the same coach in charge.  Raise a team to an exceptional level, and you have to remain exceptional. 

Working against Wenger are his own accomplishments.  He’s done better, and the absence of the kind of success Arsenal fans were used to creates a high hurdle to cross.  It doesn’t help that a change in venue creates a disconnect between what happened at Highbury and what hasn’t happened at the Emirates Stadium. 

Arsenal also hasn’t helped itself.  There’s been too much focus in recent years on sports business, the long game of positioning the club better than its rivals once Financial Fair Play takes effect.  Meanwhile, Arsenal’s nearest and dearest have continued to spend heavily.  With that in mind, the job Wenger has done might hold up in a weighted comparison.  Achieving more with less resources is an accomplishment, but it simply doesn’t count so much for a contending club in the Premier League. 

Not helping at all is the rise of Spurs to prominence.  That’s its own hyper-local issue, the rekindling of a rivalry that’s historically been one-sided.  If Arsenal in a bigger stadium with a wider base of support and an established global brand can’t stay ahead of Tottenham, things have to change. 

The problem is that in recent years Arsenal have built their business for a different league.  The change they expect are limits on squads and spending, not a continuation of buying the kind of talent that pushes a club towards a title.  Their new world approach hasn’t gone unnoticed by other clubs.  There’s certainly the feeling that Arsenal might have botched the timing, transitioning too early to remain truly competitive in England or in Europe. 

It’s certainly worth asking why Arsenal seem to be the only established super club adapting to UEFA’s financial mandates before they’re imposed.  It’s a reasonable response, but one that has led to loss of traction.  With this in mind, Wenger might be a convenient target.  He’s certainly getting the type of tactical criticism from which he was once all but immune.

Where this leaves Arsenal over the rest of the season might not be as open a question as it would be at other clubs.  Wenger has received legitimate expressions of support from his bosses, and the picture they paint is that Wenger decides when he wants to leave.  That’s where Arsenal’s long view might be more of an asset than a detriment.  Like his bosses, Wenger might be planning long-term for a version of the Premier League and Europe that doesn’t exist yet.  European soccer under the rules of financial fair play.  

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

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