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Of Gods and Men

October 30, 2010 | by

Photograph by Ronald Martinez.

Dear Louisa,

I hope you’ve been enjoying yourself so far.

I have a serious question to ask you; in fact, I have a serious piece of begging to do. May I please switch teams, just for game 4? It’s not the Texas collapse that leads me to this embarrassing volte face. It’s not Cliff Lee’s implosion that I mind—although we have to discuss that—or the fact that Josh Hamilton and Michael Young are hitting a buck twenty-five each, or even that Matt Cain looks like he’s wearing a clown wig under his cap in honor of Halloween. These are all things I can deal with. No, the problem is that the George Bushes, pere et fils (just to be elitist about it) are scheduled to throw out the first pitch in game 4. I had been willing to overlook the issue of previous ownership, but this is too much. I would like the Rangers to win tomorrow, lose game 4 and then have Cliff come back and win game 5 with me a fan all over again. What do you think, is this possible?

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The Tea Party vs. Nancy Pelosi World Series

October 26, 2010 | by

Dear Louisa,

I’m going for Texas, if for no other reason than because A-Rod taking a called third strike is one of the first things that happens when you get to heaven. The Rangers did so many things on Friday night that made me like them: striking out Rodriguez; nobody thanking God in their postgame interviews; and spraying ginger ale rather than champagne so that now-sober Josh Hamilton could be in the middle of it. It made them seem so kind.

Also they have Cliff Lee. Last year in game 1 of the World Series against the Yankees, Lee made a behind-the-back catch of a line drive by Robinson Cano, and then afterward gave this little smile like he just couldn’t help being delighted by how awesome that was. Then, in a postgame interview, he said—I’m paraphrasing here—something about knowing he could do it, and that that was what they paid him for. I have very deep feelings for Cliff; he reminds me of Gary Cooper.

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3 COMMENTS

October Baseball and the Meaning of Hurt

October 20, 2010 | by

Photograph by Ed Yourdon.

Dear Louisa,

I’m very excited to be writing about the World Series with you.

When I moved to America, I knew that it was important to find a sport, something to fill the void that my enforced separation from Arsenal Football Club was going to create. I settled (the term implies, inaccurately, some level of critical thinking) on baseball.

I have an uncle who lives on the Upper West Side, and for Christmas every year he would send me Yankee paraphernalia. I did ask for it, he wasn’t imposing on me, and so, since I already had the cap and because I would be living in New York and am a locavore when it comes to sports teams, I settled into Yankee fandom. This was easy to do at the time—1993—because the Yankees were terrible. There was nothing fair-weather about it.

I enjoyed the first few Yankee triumphs: My girlfriend in college was in love with Joe Girardi, who wasn’t a threat; I went to the Leyritz walk-off game in 1995; and after graduating from college, my friends and I used to go sit in the bleachers with a flask and a selection of loose joints. On May 17, 1998, the last time I took ecstasy, David Wells pitched a perfect game. It was a good time to be a fan.

And then my team betrayed me. On the Internet one day, I discovered the Yankees, a team that so far had provided me with nothing but the occasional good time, had signed a deal with Manchester United. You know how people in Brooklyn can never forgive the Dodgers for moving to LA—well imagine they had killed your grandmother as well. Read More »

4 COMMENTS

Spain’s Moral Victory

July 13, 2010 | by

Photograph by Mitsurinho.

Sunday was a moral victory: Spain clearly deserved to win not only the World Cup but also the actual game at hand.

The great Johann Cruyff came out today and accused the Dutch of being anti-football and, among other crimes, “hermetic.” He’s right about the anti-football. The Dutch strategy was as predicted: Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong set out to kick the Spanish into submission so Robben and Sneidjer would have a chance to win the game for Holland. Spain refused to let this happen and, as with Germany, imposed their methodical game of possession, albeit with more bruises, and won, as they so often did, 1-0. It could be noted that it was Andrés Iniesta, who scored the game-winner, whose theatrics got John Heitnga sent off—a booking which freed up the space for him to score a few moments later—but since Nigel de Jong should have seen red in the first half for putting his studs in Xabi Alonso’s chest, it all evens out in the end.

This has been a tournament of teams rather than stars. Messi, Kaka, Rooney, Ronaldo and the rest came and went without leaving any lasting impression. This is why Diego Forlan, who was everywhere for Uruguay, is so deserving of the golden ball award, for player of the tournament. Mostly the games have been controlled by players like Xavi and Schweinsteiger, midfield generals orchestrating their teams to victory. This is obviously all to the good—you only had to witness the idiocy of LeBron James’ recent prime-time special to see what happens when players are put above the game, and to understand why the triumph of Spain—and the related successes of Paraguay and Chile and Slovenia—are all to the glory of the sport.

And yet, it’s all a little bit anti-climactic. There is something too-scripted in Spain’s victory: the good guys won, if not too easily then at least too coherently. Spain was a joint favorite from the beginning, and played far and away the most elegant football of the tournament—exactly the kind of football they said they would play. They had not only the courage of their convictions but their conventions too. Only in the first game against the Swiss were they ever threatened, and that took three freak deflections to happen. Other than that, they won the ball, they kept the ball, they knocked it around the middle, they got kicked, complained, won a free kick, passed the ball around the middle some more, and then David Villa would score. It is easy to admire Spain, but not love them.

Compare this with World Cups past; Diego Maradona in '86, Paolo Rossi in '82, and, most spectacularly of course, Zinedine Zidane winning it all in '98 and then, to really cement his legend, dragging France to the final and then throwing it all away in 2006. (Italy, the actual winners, ending up only bit-players in Zidane’s grand narrative.) There has been very little of that drama this time around. Instead, we’ve had 4-2-3-1, vuvuzelas, and the inconsistencies of both ball and ref to provide our talking points. I have had more conversations about goal-line technology in the last month than I ever thought I would have in my life. (For the record I am against it, unless it happens to my team, at which point I think it's completely necessary and an outrage that it hasn’t been already introduced.)

It’s still the World Cup, though, and as the poet Ian Hamilton once said, “you should see me watch football. I watch it really hard.” Asamoah Gyan holding his shirt over his head, unable to believe that he has just missed the penalty that would send Ghana to the semi-finals, the U.S. goal against Slovenia, Carlos Tévez against Mexico, and Frank Lampard against Germany—the most memorable moments of the tournament have been the injustices. Tolstoy's famous dictum about families, it turns out, is also true for football.

4 COMMENTS

Zero Hour in South Africa

July 9, 2010 | by

There are two games left. The third place playoff takes place on Saturday, Uruguay against Germany in a game often described as one nobody wants to play in. It can be well worth watching though—teams have been known to forget about tactics and play with something approximating wild abandon, which in this World Cup will come as some relief.

Then on Sunday, it’s Spain against Holland; one of two favorites going into the tournament against the perennially-highly-fancied World Cup bridesmaids. Neither team has won it before, so whichever way it goes, there will be a new name on the list. It will be the first time a European team has won in another continent, a particular triumph for Old Europe, after the continent as a whole was dismissed following the group round, the commentators agreeing that the new champion would inevitably come from Latin America.

Both teams play the same formation, the 4-2-3-1 that uses the holding midfielders to prevent the other team from attacking. But oh, they do it so differently. Holland plays with two thugs there, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong to break up the attack and to do so by any means necessary or at least invisible. Once they have won possession, their only job — one they do very well — is to give the ball to Wesley Sneidjer, the conductor of the Dutch attack.

The leader of the pair is Van Bommel, who has managed to somehow commit 14 fouls, some of them proper horrors, whilst only getting one yellow card for dissent. Over the course of the tournament, Van Bommel’s star has risen in exact relationship to the amount of opprobrium heaped on him by fans. He is nasty, sly, always the first to complain to the ref about some perceived injury done to him—quite often when he was the one dishing out the punishment rather than the other way around. There is something reptilian about him; nasty eyes and an absolutely massive jaw. Without him the Dutch would never have gotten this far; he is a beast. Read More »

3 COMMENTS

Deutschland Über Alles

July 6, 2010 | by

The semi-finals of this World Cup have led to an earth shattering cosmic twist: everybody now likes Germany.

Most of the credit for this goes down to the way they play. Germany was dazzling to watch, especially in the crushing of Argentina and England. They lost their captain, big star and only member of the team to play outside Germany, Michael Ballack1, a month before the finals began. The team they brought to South Africa is made up of young players who mostly came up through the German youth system (and many of whom helped the country win last year's European youth championship). They’re a marvelous spectacle—they keep their shape, looking to play on the counter attack. And when they do, the ball moves so swiftly and intelligently from one end to the other that no one can keep up with them. They also seem largely free of the diving, grandstanding, and waving of imaginary cards. Unlike so many other teams in the tournament, they get on with things.

Speaking of diving and imaginary card waving, Spain came into the tournament as the European favorites, with ball movement and a promised redemption for previous failures. But even if they win, they will leave with their haloes gleaming a little less brightly. We have been denied the glory of Xavi and Andres Iniesta running the midfield at a tempo and geometry they dictate. Instead we have been forced to watch the odious Sergio Busquets collapse in a heap every time someone looks at him funny, while Xavi and Xabi Alonso get in each other’s way. Up front, Spain has been entirely dependent on goals from David Villa. Fernando Torres, who came into the tournament as the Spanish golden boy, has had so bad a time of it that The Guardian—in a misguided attempt to salvage his reputation—called him a more talented Emile Heskey. Perhaps worse, it turns out he dyes his hair. Read More »

Annotations

  1. He was injured in a tackle (and I use that word in its loosest sense) put in by the Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, whose half-brother Jerome is the German left back. The Boateng brothers apparently no longer speak.

3 COMMENTS