Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Let's Go Do Some Crimes

While the rational, grown-up part of me recognizes, of course, that footballers are human beings like the rest of us, beset by the same human frailties--which they all too often exhibit both on and off the pitch--there is also an eight-year-old living inside me who looks upon even the players on our local squad as shining heroes.

So, when I run across a story like this one (by way of Roberto's Timbers blog), about former Timbers forward Fadi Afash's new career defrauding the elderly of their life savings, I am reduced to a state almost unknown to me: speechlessness.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Becks on a Plane

I've clearly been devoting far too much mental energy lately to David Beckham's problems at Real Madrid and his defection to the US; last night I dreamed I found myself seated next to him on a long flight, wherein we discussed at length his footballing future and how much Posh was going to enjoy living in the belly of the beast, I mean Los Angeles. In my dream he was exactly as he appears to me on television: charming, sincere, soft-spoken, and rather dim. Now were I to actually set down a list of even the top twenty footballers I'd like to be seated next to on a plane, either in real life, or a dream, Beckham would not be on it. Here's hoping in future my dreaming mind does a more accurate job of plumbing my football-obsessed unconcious.

It's Hard to Be Switzerland

Or, how does that whole neutrality thing work, anyway?

The prospect of watching one of the first truly exciting live games televised by FSC in a while enabled two-thirds of a pretty move to haul our ordinarily-much-lazier asses out of bed at 8 am on a Sunday morning. Derek swore he was rooting for Man U because a win from them would further endanger Chelsea; I find it difficult to root against Arsenal myself, despite the fact that they often frustrate and disappoint me: there's the balletic grace of Thierry Henry (when he's on, which he hasn't been much this season), a roster rich with players from Africa and France (I dream of a channel that televises African football, and I've not yet recovered from the disappointment of losing La Ligue games on FSC this season), the lingering affection for the squad shared by many of us bookish football fans due simply to the infectious joy of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, and of course their acquisition of one of my favorite Czechs, Tomas Rosicky. Even the presence on Man U of former Barca forward, the great Henrik Larsson, can't mitigate the existence of the wildly talented, wildly petulant, wildly annoying Cristiano Ronaldo.

So as the game gets underway I announce I'm rooting for Arsenal. The first Man U goal leaves no doubt where both our hearts lie; after the shock of its power, we both make a "huh" sound and do not even manage to indulge in our usual glee at seeing the oh-so-flappable Jens Lehmann bested. When a bolt from van Persie levels the scoreline we're leaping and shouting (the neighbors must love us), but it's the 94th minute stunner from Henry, with his characteristic ease, that brings down the living room. In 90-minutes-and-then-some Arsenal has managed to frustrate us once again, falling back on ugly and uncreative play as they do all too often, despite their reputation for pretty moves and Continental flair. But the win is suddenly and dramatically theirs, all at once the Premiership looks to be holding the potential for a much more interesting four-way battle at the top, and van Persie has done his work for Derek's fantasy football squad. For a few moments, at least, football has done its occasional good work of making us feel like all's right with the world.

Friday, January 19, 2007

How Do You Say "Liar" in Spanish?

Real Madrid were booted out of Spain's Copa del Rey competition on Thursday at the Bernabeu, losing to a determined Real Betis squad on a 1-1 away goal aggregate. I only caught the last half-hour or so, but it was anything but a bore (unlike last week's nil-nil result between the two clubs) as the dagger-eyed galacticos assaulted the Betis keeper with a series of thunderous shots on goal, including a farcical bicycle-kick attempt by Sergio "Look, Becks, I'm wearing my hair just like you" Ramos (though it would've been pretty if it had gone in), a seemingly endless series of corner-kicks, and a header by Ivan Helguera in the 88th that was justly ruled offside. And then the party really got started--a shower of projectiles--bottles, cans, even a cell phone!--came hurtling down upon the pitch, with the linesman being hit in the elbow with something or other. He didn't look amused. Not long after, with the frustrated Madrid wonderboys realizing their luster was sloughing off at an alarming rate, their tempers hit El Clasico levels and they subsequently lost their shit. Fighting ensued between both sides, time was wasted, and all the while David Beckham sat high above the melee in the stands wondering, remembering, how to say "liar" in Spanish:


Sunday, January 14, 2007

my wild fantasy about the man in the sarong

I live in a town now. A big one, built around a Shakespeare festival, not an ordinary town by any stretch, but a town. You can walk anyplace, one end to the other. Even dawdling and malingering, I still get to work within minutes. I am a town-dweller.

In my town, there is a single soccer bar: one of those faux-British places with a nonfunctioning red phone box where they'll give you fish and chips if you give them a $20 bill and a true pint for an additional fiver. I ask the waiter for a match schedule. He says, "Yeah, we show soccer. I don't know anything about it. Ask the bartender." I ask the bartender. He says, "Yeah, we show soccer. I don't know anything about it." Vaguely he agrees that my best bet is to wander in when I know a match is on.

I wander in when Valencia is playing Villarreal. Soccer? I ask. The bartender says, "We can't show soccer during football playoffs. Nobody wants to see it."

Read that sentence again to let the full horror of it sink in. Where do we, Joe Soccer Fan, get recognized as other than Nobody, if not in a town's solitary soccer bar? If you cut us, do we not bleed? If you call yourself a soccer bar, will we not demand soccer? If you make us watch any more American football, will we not run mad?

It was from beneath this pall that I heard the news of Beckham's approach, like the welcome clattering of hoofbeats when the cavalry's on the way. Picture this (I give it a year, maybe two): I am sitting in a random sports bar, some little joint off the highway on the way to nowhere. On the television screen, Sheringham heads in a Benayoun corner to give the Hammers an edge over their Real Madrid opponents. On the sidelines, Fabio Capello is spitting mad. Meanwhile, a guy walks up to the bar, says, "Hey, can you flip it over to the Steelers game?"

And the bartender says, "Sorry, man. We can't show American football. Not during Champions League knockouts. Nobody wants to see it."

It'll happen. (OK. Maybe not the part about the Hammers. A girl can dream.) When it does, you'll be able to draw a direct line straight back to the arrival of the blond man with the tiny voice and the beautiful moves.

My hero.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Two-Minute Hate

Jose Mourinho tells Roman Abramovitch to sack him or give him the money he needs to do his job. I can't blame him; Mourinho is understandably pissed off. I've written here before about my mixed feelings toward Chelsea and Mourinho himself. I think Mourinho is very good at what he does; there are those who say anyone with that roster could carry a team to the top, but we need only look at Real Madrid's struggles in recent years to see that a team of superstars does not make for a sure thing. Chelsea fields some players I like a lot: Drogba, Cech, little Joe Cole and his fancy feet, and John Terry makes me blush and stammer and drop my schoolbooks all over the sidewalk. Sheva kind of freaks me out, but I like him, too, although I believe he should've remained in Milan and I never got the whole "my wife* wants our children to learn English so I have to quit my job" thing. (Here is Silvio Berlusconi's unreconstructed take on the whole affair, and I really hope I don't have to turn in my feminist credentials on account of cracking up when I read it.) They do have American schools all over the world, and I'm betting the Shevchenko family can afford the tuition. I worry that Shevchenko has ruined his career.

So, all that said, I nearly always root against Chelsea. It's like a reflex. I've taken an unseemly delight, considering my largely-neutral stance, in their struggles this season and I am especially pleased when they are held to a draw or scored upon by a lesser team. Above all, I dislike Chelsea's style of play, which to me epitomizes what I dislike about the Premiership in general--its emphasis on speed and strength, versus La Liga's (or Argentina's Primera Division's) looser, slower, more technical, methodical ballwork--and, of course, the flair, oh the flair above all. I've heard arguments about which league is "better" and that just seems silly to me--both are obviously world class and it really does just come down to the style of football you prefer.

Anyway, Mourinho's ultimatum forced me to face the inevitable: he will be leaving the Premiership, later if not sooner. And man, I'm going to miss him when he goes. That petulant, put-upon expression, the passive-aggressive declarations of persecution, the injured air that everyone is always picking on me, because I am The Special One--all best conveyed in one of my favorite-ever covers from When Saturday Comes. But hope springs eternal in the form of one of the best rumors I've heard in a long time--that Mourinho could be moving on to Real Madrid. This could be the answer to all my prayers: the team** and the manager I most love to hate in one convenient package.

*I base my opinion of Sheva's wife's intelligence entirely on what the guy behind the counter at the magazine store told me during the World Cup, when I was looking at an article about the two of them, and really, if you can't trust the guy behind the counter at the magazine store, who can you trust?

**except maybe for the German national team

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

S. S. Lazio and Their Rejuvenation Movement

Racism is a stain that plagues a lot of European football, not just in Italy or Spain. But for some reason, Italy has had more than a few run-ins over the years with accusations of racist fans and players harboring possible fascist sympathies. It’s the unfortunate sinister underbelly of the sport, something fetid like eating a bad sausage or meat pie, scrunching too close in the stands to that one big, bald smelly guy, or supporting S. S. Lazio.

Lazio were Mussolini’s favorite team. Out-of-the-closet fascists such as Paolo Di Cannio have proudly served them, and Di Cannio infamously gave the fascist salute last year after his team won their derby against Roma. The team’s rabid ultras, the Irriducibili, routinely display banners and flags with Nazi and/or fascist symbolism adorning them (such as the SS Totenkopf), racist and anti-Semitic chants are routine, and up until recently they rarely if ever recruited black players to the squad. And if they did, those players didn’t last long.

ESPN soccer columnist Roberto Gotta would like you to cease being so hard on these lovable black shirts. Sure, his argument is a valid one—be wary of generalizing or demonizing teams, individuals, etcetera. I can’t argue with that. Pretty much all of the major football teams in Europe and South America have had problems with their more militant-minded supporters and I don’t believe that the majority of Lazio fans are little wolves. But this is a team that has fervently embraced the iconography of Roman imperium for too long to simply be dismissed as mere symbolism or the way of the old guard. Owner Claudio Lotito’s attempt to refashion the team into something more accommodating to the world beyond Rome’s borders is admirable, I guess, but I’m not really convinced that it’s anything more than cosmetic. Just ask Di Cannio if his devotion to the club was only skin deep.

I realize that the Gotta article is a few weeks old, but I just came across it yesterday. I’ve been hibernating.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Zaragoza v Sevilla

Nothing like a little La Liga and sissy boy slap party action to drag one out of the post-holiday doldrums. Saturday's match between fifth placed Real Zaragoza and the team at the top, Sevilla, was a contentious affair to say the least, but did it really have to come to this? Apparently.

It was a psychically damaging defeat for Sevilla, especially since their hold on the top slot is precarious--Barcelona is only two points behind--and their inability to capitalize on forward Luis Fabiano's goal in the 71st after numerous attempts was absurdly comical. Exciting match, but it was all overshadowed by the slap party. Okay, it didn't actually start out that way. Real punches were thrown! But in the end, it was all slapstick. Guy Maddin, I think, is smiling.