Tag Archives: soccer

David Brooks on Soccer, Baseball and Life

In today’s New York Times, David Brooks wrestles with one of the most fundamental questions of our time: “Is life more brookslike baseball, or is it more like soccer?” Brooks makes a couple of reasonably good points about soccer – that winning is all about controlling space, that the sport doesn’t lend itself to statistical analysis – and then quickly transitions to his usual faux-philosophical rambling. The article contains classic Brooks-ian pronouncements like “awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom” and “genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning.” It is monumentally stupid. Enjoy! 

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A Lousy Video About The Offside Rule

If you’re new to soccer and confused about the offside rule, don’t go to Slate.com for help. I’ve enjoyed Slate’s offsidecoverage of the 2014 World Cup – a new podcast, a regularly updated blog, etc. – but this video, which promises to “clear up your offsides confusion for good,” is pretty awful.

It assures viewers that, without the rule, soccer would be “mayhem, chaos, a catastrophe” but never explains why. (For one thing, strikers would crowd the opponent’s goal, waiting for long balls to be hoofed into the penalty box.) And it repeatedly uses the word “offsides” instead of “offside” — a common mistake, but still.

By the way, if you want to see the offside rule in action, watch a rerun of Italy’s 1-0 loss to Costa Rica. The toothless Italian offense seemed as confused about the rule as the legions of soccer newbies Slate is failing to educate.

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A Few Words About Fox’s Coverage of La Decima

During the buildup to yesterday’s Champions League final, as the always-rousing official UEFA anthem played gus johnson againand Ronaldo winked mischievously at the camera, I thought to myself: This is completely ridiculous. The dancers, the banners, the beer ads, the #riskeverything hashtag, the Portuguese guys dressed as sailors – the whole pre-game spectacle.

And then Fox cut to its Los Angeles studio – to Warren Barton, Rob Stone and Brad Friedel, who should have known better – and I soon found myself pining for more bad Euro pop, more weird dancing and more Heineken commercials.

Before the game, I hoped that Fox’s studio crew, or even its dumb-and-dumber commentary team, would produce something more than the usual platitudes about “the rivalry aspect” of a match featuring two teams from the same city. I hoped that someone at Fox would delve into the complex political history of Real and Atletico and that Stone would stop calling the kickoff “the kick.” Alas, my hopes were disappointed. In a dull pregame montage, Real and Atletico fans talked about how excited they were. After Sergio Ramos’ equalizer, Barton, whose lengthy career heading balls in the Premier League explains a lot, noted that “the pendulum [had] turned” in Real Madrid’s favor.

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Chris Wondolowski and the Beauty of Records

Chris Wondolowski is celebrating right before my eyes, which isn’t much of a surprise, because he’s celebrating right before everyone else’s, too. He’s grinning in that half-serial-killer half-kid-in-a-candy-shop way that’s endearing but also kind of terrifying. In a few days, he’ll probably be crowned the best – or, because this is America, “the most valuable” – MLS player of the 2012 season. In the unlikely event that someone else wins, San Jose fans will get very upset, and a massive Internet argument, replete with blog posts, newspaper articles, Twitter feuds, and message board profanity, will ensue. Wondo – who plays foil to strike partner and probable-Antichrist Steven Lenhart[1], and who also scores goals[2] and smiles and always stays on his feet, will say he doesn’t care, that there’s no “I” in team, but really he’ll be smarting, because these things matter more than they should.

For those of you who don’t already know, Wondolowski is, alongside the MLS Disciplinary Committee, the most talked-about story of MLS 2012. His team, the San Jose Earthquakes, won this year’s Supporter’s Shield[3] in buccaneering, come-from-behind style. For his part, Wondo has spent the year chasing the record for most goals scored in a single MLS season.

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AVB and Avoiding Disaster

For some reason, Spurs are interesting [1] this year. That’s not to say that they weren’t interesting last year – or the year before, or during their glory days in the mid-60s – but just that there’s something weirdly attractive about the way their season is shaping up. Perhaps it’s the wonderfully Icelandic-sounding Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson. Or perhaps it’s the unquestionable appeal of Andre Villas-Boas, the fist-pumping Mourinho protégé who steered Porto to a treble two years ago, then landed the Chelsea job, then fell back to earth five months later, haunted by John Terry’s menacing laughter. Of course, the real reason is probably a lot more mundane – probably something to do with Jermain Defoe’s goal-scoring streak.

Spurs aren’t the best team in the league, and they almost certainly won’t finish in the top four this season. Last summer, their best player, Luka Modric, sacrificed his status as one of the biggest stars in the Premier League for the chance to become one of the smallest stars in Real Madrid’s midfield. Harry Redknapp – part-time football manager, part-time Nintendo Wii poster boy, full-time hilarious-courtroom-quip producer – was sacked in May after putting Tottenham within a German-team’s-winning-a-penalty-shootout of Champions League qualification. But that’s just kind of how Spurs roll. They’re only stable when their backs are against the wall, only happy when they’re on the wrong end of a transfer tug of war, or when Daniel Levy gets to spend deadline day toying with Dimitar Berbatov’s footballing future. Spurs didn’t bother to wait for the advent of the Premier League before executing their slow drift from title contender to top four pretender. Their slide started the moment Bill Nicholson quit.[2]

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A Blue Revolution Powered By The Green Stuff

“In soccer, money is destiny,” Brian Phillips wrote in 2011. “And destiny’s not distributed equally.”

At its best, the Premier League is an exhilarating spectacle sustained in part by a moneyed elite that spends millions on superstar players. At its worst, the Premier League feels like a lame excuse for the moneyed elite to play for more money. In the early 1990s, English clubs broke away from the old Football League and formed their own competition designed to realize the commercial potential of a new, streamlined league that would fully embrace live television. Since then, a small band of financially empowered teams has dominated. Sometimes they’re a “Big Four;” sometimes they’re a “Big Three;” once in a while they’re even a “Big Five.” While those clubs vie for major honors, the rest of the Premier League invents and then competes in a series of phony battles, the most notable of which is “The Battle To Avoid The Drop” and the most banal “The Battle To Finish In The Top Ten If, By April, We’re Too Good For The Drop But Not Good Enough For Europe.”

Occasionally, it’s possible for traditionally weak teams to break into the top tier; however, such maneuvers require the type of money that Chelsea, traditionally a promising but never truly successful club, has enjoyed since 2003, when Russian billionaire and celebrity yacht-owner Roman Abramovich decided, virtually on a whim, that he rather liked Stamford Bridge. After a couple of seasons of steady investment, self-proclaimed “Special One” Jose Mourinho secured Abramovich’s team the Premier League title. And last year, after numerous failed attempts, Chelsea became the first London club to win the Champions League, or European Cup — as it was known before a certain fascination with the green stuff necessitated a rebranding.

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It’s Like Watching Brazil!

The 1970 World Cup was almost a religious experience. The tournament has gone down in football history as the greatest, most exhilarating exhibition of attacking play ever, and anyone who dares to say otherwise, or so the argument goes, is either “too young to remember” or “too fickle to be taken seriously.” This was the stage on which Brazil’s legendary striker Pele redefined the game, playing football with more exuberance and creativity than anyone before or since. It was the moment when the cult of the Brazilian – football’s worship of anyone with decent ball skills and a life story that starts with kicking soda cans in a favela – took root.

When non-football fans think about football, they generally think about Brazil. That has a lot to do with Pele, arguably the best player of all-time, and – largely because he devoted the last three or four years of his career to self-promotion – a recognizable star. People still love him even though, in the years since 1977, when his playing career formally ended with his second retirement, he’s demonstrated just how banal a retired athlete with guaranteed lifetime fame and a cushy administrative position can be. His post-career achievements include winning FIFA’s Player of the Century gong amid controversy – it took official intervention to stop Diego Maradona from walking away with the title – and deflecting criminal charges after his company robbed UNICEF. Still, clips of his greatest goals are a must for any TV montage worth its salt, and the image of a shirtless Pele lifting the World Cup is one of football’s most iconic.

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Arsenal Crisis? It’s That Time of Year

In the weeks leading up to Premier League kick-off, fans know to expect a few things. Newspaper pullouts, gigantic fixture lists and billboard advertisements are all necessary reminders of the approaching excitement, without which we might begin to doubt the once reliable word of the kitchen calendar. But even if Sky suddenly gave up on football montages, we’d know it was August, because now there’s an even surer sign. It’s always exactly this time of year that Arsenal’s off-season rumblings become painfully audible.

Arsene Wenger must be getting a little discouraged. In 2011, he watched Arsenal’s two most dangerous players, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, join rival Champions League teams. And then, earlier this summer, Robin van Persie sensationally refused to sign a new contract.

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INFTH Book Review: All Or Nothing

At football’s European epicenter lies the world’s premier annual sporting competition. The Champions League shapes the
ambitions of clubs across the continent; all of them dreaming of the same ungainly, two-handled trophy. All or Nothing is the story of that tournament. The story of the teams, fans and players that make-up modern football’s most defining edifice.

Andy Brassell sets out to understand the Champions League’s transcendent influence on European club football, to examine how the tournament affects competitors big, small and in between. Unfortunately, Brassell’s account of one “season in the life of the Champions League” fails to compel. It’s not fresh, it’s not new and it’s not exciting. Moreover, only eight years after publication, it’s hopelessly out of date.

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