Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On players and their connection to a team

I could go on. And on. And on and on and on.

As it stands, however, I've got about five minutes to crack this out. I'm doing so in the hopes that it may well drive me to expand on the thought when time permits. Whenever that may be. If you've been paying attention at all (of course you have!) you'll have noticed time is at a premium and Match Pricks has (ahem) evolved into the higher art of tossing off tweets whenever we come up with something.

This morning, while plowing through a bowl of Cheerios and some morning papers, I stumbled upon a piece in The Telegraph that tells me Tottenham have left Rafael Van der Vaart out of their Europa League squad. Yes, the pitfalls of a Europa League campaign are many, with matches on Thursday and a general requirement of miles upon miles of travel, but still, it struck me as odd that a team like Tottenham, with a genuine chance of success in the competition would leave out such a vital player. Now, it's important to note my schedule to this point of the Premier League season (heck, of all of the leagues) has left me wanting. I've essentially paid attention to the Arsenal matches, noted a few Liverpool matches (that sultry lover that they've become ... again, follow Twitter for that filth) and then have checked the other results on a mobile device while reaching for another Saturday afternoon beer. Priorities and all that.

Here's the article ... 

And here's what struck me so strongly ...

"Spurs could at least have consulted me. Anyway, it's up to the point of no return."

Spurs should have consulted you, Rafael? Spurs? I got news for you, buddy. You are Spurs. You wear that kit. Your pay stubs probably have a little Spurs logo on them. You train at their ground. You get treated by their staff. You are a Spurs player and therefore you are Spurs. 

That statement strikes me so strongly and plainly as a wonderful capsule of the modern footballer. I often talk about the habits of players on Twitter and the Club's inability to properly work with the players to express themselves in the right way in this new forum. And that ties in quite directly to Rafael's statement. Whether he says it in a press conference, in a personal blog, at a cafe with his friends and family or in a tweet (read: news release), it is a representation of his relationship with Tottenham Hotspur. It'd be the same for any player at any Club. 

A Club is an entity. A brand. They stand for something. They represent something. They offer football on the pitch and they offer a feeling in people's hearts (for better or worse). The players are representatives of that brand. Of that entity. They are ambassadors who carry that representation forward with them everyday in all they and in all they say. 

A relationship to a Club is not what you happen to be doing at the moment. It is deeper than that. Clubs need to do a better job of cultivating that with their players and the players need to do a better job of recognizing it. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thank you, Mayor: My great confession

I have been wrong and now, I need to make amends.

You see, all this time, I've been clinging to a possession that just was not rightfully mine. And by mine, of course, I mean a part of my Club, the football Club I support. Today, I've come to understand I've been wrong all this time. I've been selfish. We've been selfish. In the face of better judgement and what is, really, true justice, we've been guarding and ultimately making a prisoner out of our little Cescy Poo. How wrong we've been, Cesc Fabregas, how wrong we've been. We've been acting the clown. And now, all these years later ... all these many, many years later ... I sit and reflect on the selfish and purely hubristic exercise we've been conducting since October 28, 2003 when the lad made his debut for his captors, Arsenal, against Rotherham, aged only 16 years and 177 days. In fact, one could go back even further, to be sure. Now I see that time, all that time, as stolen. It is not time served as a member of this worldwide family. It is not time given to our common cause. All of the wonderful memories, the inexorably strong bond we've forged ... all forced. All pantomime. All ... a great mirage, a grand illusion.

For my complicit and taciturn approval of this unjust saga, I can only apologize.

What hurts the most, perhaps, is that in keeping him prisoner these many years we did more than that. We gloated about it. We'd sing right in his face about it. We'd wave our hands at him. We'd feign eye contact. We'd write great missives about the wonder of our captive. We'd assault the character of those unsavory enough to assault his. "Not our Cesc," we'd assert, never understanding the depth to which we clung to our possession. We'd wear replicas of the scraps he was left to wear while toiling behind our bars. "We've got Cesc Fabregas!" we'd repeat over and over and over in a union of taunting. We carried not the whips of guards trawling the boxcars of the gulag but, mind the restlessness in your heart, we are every bit as culpable a party to driving his torment. Lock him up and throw away the key, this boy was ours.

That I laughed at the comments of the mushroom plucker Xavi all these years ...

That I cried shame at Pique, Puyol and others at the "Shirt Incident of 2010" ...

That I scoffed at the inane and poorly cloaked Twitter hash tags of his sweet sister ...

That I continued to cry foul with every peep out Barcelona's leadership team ...

That I'd bellow "Mes que un Club, my ass!" with every mention ...

... Looking back, it paints me in shame. Looking ahead, it clouds my reflection with sullen eyes when I consider how cruel we've been through this decade.

So it is with a turn of heart and with cap in hand I say, "thank you," to Senor Estanislau Fors i Garcia. This is the man who has pulled the veil back on our cruelty. This is the man who has redefined that which we have defined for so long. For eight years, our collective insolence has served only to imprison a son of the whole of the Catalan people. For eight years, our collective insolence has served only to spin the whole of the Catalan people - kind, respectful and judicious as they are - into dizzy disorientation.

Thank you, Estanislau. I apologize.

Imagine the uncaged bird singing. Imagine a free Cesc Fabregas.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So what happens if Arsenal really do win a trophy?

Do you want them to jump up and down like happy clowns?

When Chelsea won the League Cup a couple of years back, after dominating the Premier League, they acted like a toddler who just crapped in a toilet by himself for the first time. Or, better, a college kid who just successfully nailed his first beer bong. Yes, that was how they reacted. And it came, like I say, after they won the league in about as masterfully assertive a manner as a team can. 

So if Arsenal win, do you think they should go bananas after winning fuck all for 6 years? I sure don't. If I'm in that squad, I walk on stage, accept my medal, gather round the trophy, smile for the photo and smile at the memory and respect of the teams I've beaten and respectfully exit stage right. I might, at first, be rather inclined to jut my arms in the arm and hug my teammates. I'd likely, as the seconds pass, run to the support that has stuck by us year after woefully barren year. And it's entirely likely that I'd actually leap into the air a few times. But all in all, I reckon, I'd stay remarkably un-Leo Messi-likein my celebration (for the record, I whole-heartedly support Leo and his celebrations in this video). And I'd be even less of a reflection of Pepe Reina. 

You might be asking, "Why, you crazy fool?" Well, let's see, what will have happened? 

They'll have won something, yes. But for me, the thought, the pressing and pervasive thought, the tell-tale heart beating under the floorboards is the big, fat, dripping with reality line we'd all feel like shouting if we were being honest with ourselves ...  "Well it's about goddamn time." It's the sigh of relief. It's not jubilation. It's the ... and they've damn near said this themselves ... it's the feeling of ... "right, now let's get on with it." If they go from there and win the league, win the FA Cup, win the (SHOCK! HORROR!) Champions League, then let us flood the pub with our tears. But, if they win that League Cup, let's not shit ourselves. Let's shake hands. Let's pat each other on the back and then let's put our goddamn game face on and get the fuck in there on the next one with that newly christened winner's attitude. It'd be like driving a spanking new car to work. A car that we already tore the quiet country roads up with.

I've been saying it for a while now (well, at least since I first heard the fantastic line in Inglorious Basterds) ... attendez la creme. Wait for it. Wait for the cream. Wait for that velvety nugguty center. Wait for the deliciousness. Wait for the best. It's not the first bite at the cherry ... that just lets you know what it tastes like .. it's the second, third and fourth ... it's gobbling the little fucker whole. Because at that point you know what it tastes like, don't you? I've forgotten what winning something tastes like, what it feels like. I've forgotten the chills you get, the spring in your step and the 'jut' it gives to your chin as you thrust it into the air at any given opportunity. Red light? I've a chin that says, "screw you, mister, we've just won a trophy." Long day at the office? Right, chin. Bad haircut? You better believe it, I've got the chin of a winner, fella. But as it stands, I've forgotten how high you can hold you head. I've forgotten that it gives you the last word. 

I want to remember all of those feelings. I want to remember them so I can want them again. Savvy?

When I lose at the FIFA (I write that as if I regularly play. I don't. I'm too poor at it.) my first nine times in row and I manage to sneak one crazy victory, I'm not running around my friend's living room. I'm thinking, well, I got one over you, didn't I? Then I'm thinking about getting to the kitchen to grab some more beer. The last thing I'm gonna suggest the next time we all have a free night is playing the FIFA again. But hey, if I win three out four, five out of six or even seven out of 10 you better bet your ass I'm clearing the schedule and saying, hot damn, brutha, when you wanna play again? What do you have going on Monday? I have some vacation time I can blow. Let's do this.

Same with winning a trophy. Win it once, meh, great, good for you. Anyone can win the odd trophy. (The caveat here is, of course, the difference between those who expect to win, are close to winning and those who never actually expect to win but go through the motions anyway. If those lucky bastards stumble upon a trophy then they better go nuclear when they win it because, mama, it ain't happening again anytime soon.) Anyway ... Hey, you pull that trophy in, I'm gonna know what it tastes like, what it feels like ... i'm gonna get that spine tingling sensation.

And I'll want it again. And I'm pretty sure you'll want it again too. So get the fuck in there, Arsenal. Don't learn how to win. Do it, win, so that you want to win again. Because for five years, hey, we know you've been trying but it sure as shit hasn't looked like you really want to win. You've just been hoping you'd win. And like I say, anyone can stumble across a win now and then. if you've the quality, you can probably squeze a few more out than the next guy but ... you gotta really want it if you're gonna win all of it. Savvy?


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Neurosis or a case for Dr. House?

I have this shaky history with following United matches at work. I keep an eye on 'em, and usually nothing special happens. Sometimes, United's opponent starts to do something interesting or threaten to get a draw or win, and I decide to pull up Soccernet or something similar to keep even closer tabs on the match. Invariably, United goes on to score a goal and take all three points. It happens to me a lot. My increased interest ends up increasing United's chances to win the match.

Well, when I saw on Twitter that Stoke equalized in the second half, I paused for a second and then my curiosity got the better of me. I went to Soccernet, my eye scanned to the score box at the top of the home page, it said 1-1, I clicked the Gamecast option and BAM! The Gamecast loaded with the score 2-1 United and the commentary timeline freshly loading the description of Nani's goal. I mean, the mere act of expanding my access to information about the match basically scored a goal for United. Just acting upon my interest!

Thinking back now, I'm not sure I've ever followed a match United has lost, other than the few times recently that Liverpool beat them. Maybe once I watched them lose to Chelsea in real time. All other United defeats, that I can remember, have happened when I didn't care at all what the hell Fergie's boys were doing.