Sunday, December 20, 2009

Occam's Razor, Jesus Christ and my treasured Sidney Moncrief 'Sir Sid' poster

Yes, after two-plus months of inactivity, my return to actual writing – not tweeting! – at Match Pricks is going to be a fan's lament about Liverpool. However, I can offer you a 100 percent money back guarantee that you are not going to come across one similar to this – at least in execution. It'll be like scrolling through one man's private journal, only any sexual allusions that somehow end up in this will be more comical than you might expect.

I have spent a good deal of time during the past two or three months thinking about why I can't seem to piece together long-form (i.e., more than 140 characters) football thoughts here at Match Pricks – enough time, actually, to probably write four or five fun and somewhat-interesting posts. It's been a good deal of wasted energy thinking about football, and I've definitely overthought it. After all, I'm the Liverpool guy here, and there's little else to do when you have a massive football obsession but your team is currently specializing in conceding stoppage-time winners and equalizers, own goals and whatever that was yesterday at Portsmouth.

I could've written a dozen posts about the team's injuries. There also is fodder for the strategic approach: breaking down Glen Johnson's forward style at fullback; breaking down how Glen Johnson's defense is always breaking down; the sudden, unexpected demise of Jamie Carragher (minus the United match); and, of course, The Aquilani Conundrum™.

Look, nobody cares what I think the reason(s) might be for Liverpool spray painting the word "SUCK" all over English top-flight football grounds (and the one in Florence, too). But I do want to shout out a simple reason for my own unique pain. It's the simplest answer available: I miss Xabi Alonso. Not, "I wish Alonso was still there." Not, "The team was better with Alonso" or "They failed to replace Alonso." I miss Xabi Alonso.

I didn't work as a newspaper reporter and editor for 7 1/2 years because scientific theory and mathematics were my specialty, so until recently I never understood what Occam's Razor represented. In thinking more philosophically in my old age, I came to realize the easiest answer or possible solution to something was also the easiest one to defend and explain a situation. Of course, a few weeks back I stumbled across Occam's Razor in the dictionary. (There's the sentence you'll never see in any other Liverpool fan's lament.) Well, I started thinking really hard again, but in a much more clean, productive way.

Ultimately, this is an irrational hobby I've dedicated myself to enjoying. There's a million ways to explain it and also no ways to explain it. I could give you five hours of one-sided conversation about why I love Liverpool and football in general, but sometimes it comes down to "I miss Xabi Alonso." Last year, it came down to "I worship Xabi Alonso! He's a footballing genius!" In 2005 it was, "Way to finish off Juve, Xabi!" There's two moments lately that have kept popping into my head, both innocuous but unforgettable. In the Carling Cup at Tottenham last season – a match in which Philipp Degen etched his name on the "Rafa Benitez failed transfers" granite tablets alongside that of Dossena, Voronin, Pennant and the others – Alonso came on as a second-half substitute. Previously, Liverpool had looked even worse than their most-abysmal performances from this season. He suddenly calmed all of the action around him. Things slowed down but didn't become ponderous. Liverpool took a deep breath and the team's play became coherent. They had been losing something like 3-0 or 4-1, and if I'm remembering correctly, they actually got within a goal and briefly threatened to make a game of it. The transformation in the entire team's play was what was unforgettable – and not a coincidence.

The other moment was at Portsmouth last season, a match Liverpool trailed 0-1 and then 1-2 with only a few minutes left. Again, Alonso was a second-half substitute. The action at the end was quite frantic and Liverpool was desperate for possession to create their winning chances. There was a scramble for the ball in the Portsmouth half along the right side, about 35 or 40 yards away from goal. Four or five players spent several seconds fighting for it. Alonso put a foot in and flicked the ball over his head into free space – which he didn't glance to see was available – then turned to control it, assessed his options and restarted the Liverpool attack. Watching it at my friend's place, I gasped. We shared a quick moment muttering something like, "F***ing genius," and then we went back to the match.

Now, that's an ephemeral quality that's impossible to fully convey the emotion of seeing, so your impression of my brief description there might be underwhelming. But I'll never forget it. Never.

That's why this week Colin and I had an email exchange that brought all of this together. It was the very first thing that popped into my head when I read a short note from Colin about a Mascherano transfer rumor. Here it is:

"One of these days, I'm just going to have this "born-again" moment. Only instead of finding Jesus, this figurative dark shroud is going to be lifted from around my head and all the truths of Liverpool without Alonso will be revealed to me in a soul-shattering epiphany that leaves me weeping uncontrollably on my knees in the middle of the bar at 9:21 a.m. on a Saturday.

"What I'm getting at is, I miss Xabi Alonso."

Other than the moment actually happening at my desk in the middle of the afternoon, everything else there is true – well, I didn't weep on my knees, but you get the idea. It sounds ridiculous and absurd, but it's how I'm viewing my Liverpool fandom at this moment. At a Christmas gathering yesterday, during a conversation about traveling to Spain, I mentioned how I want to go to San Sebastián. Of course it's because that's Alonso's hometown! I want to see Real Sociedad play a home match. I want to just walk around there and enjoy the experience, the whole time knowing in the back of my mind that this is the place that gave birth to Xabi Alonso, my favorite player of all time. The midfielder who revealed the secrets of football passing, tempo and control to me as a latecomer to the experience that is the best-possible way to kill two hours during any day.

It's an idealistic, childish way to look at something I take so seriously. It's also goofy and a little weird. Yeah, so?

Whatever your reasons for following a sport might be, fun has to be in there. Are you having fun? Is this a fun thing to do? Did I consider the previous two hours a fun experience? You want to answer "Yes" to those questions as often as possible. And you want to do it as simply as possible. It's why I wish I still had my Sidney Moncrief "Sir Sid" poster from when I was a boy. Surprisingly, I can't find it on the Web to post here. It's a crazy, "only in the '80s" sort of sports hero worship. Milwaukee Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief, dressed in his uniform and holding a basketball, posing with a full suit of armor. I had it as a boy, and in college we tracked down one of them to re-live the joy of it.

Now I'm going to be 33 years old in a week and a half, and I'm searching for my current version of the "Sir Sid" poster. I had it every time Alonso stood on the ball in a Liverpool shirt. Last year, it was in a golden, diamond-encrusted frame when I watched the proceedings at White Hart Lane, Fratton Park, Anfield and elsewhere. Now, I can't find it anywhere. It doesn't get beamed to me via satellite television technology and Web searches are fruitless, so I'm stuck recalling it in my mind's eye.

Well, that isn't a lot of fun.

No comments: