World Cup Preview 2018: Messi vs. Ronaldo, Magic Cats, Iceland!!, and the Entire Emotional Context in Which Much of Human Life Transpires

June 10, 2018

“Ladies and gentlemen, start your psychic octopuses. The biggest and strangest sporting event in human history resumes next week in Russia, where thirty-two men’s national soccer teams will begin the monthlong competition for the strangely un-cup-like trophy given to the winners of the FIFA World Cup. For many of the world’s best soccer players, the tournament offers a chance to become legends in their home countries and icons in the history of the game. For billions of soccer fans, the tournament offers a chance to participate in modernity’s most sweeping collective frenzy, a spectacle that will shape the emotional context in which much of human life transpires for the next few weeks. For the United States men’s national team, which did not qualify, the tournament offers a chance to feel gloomy while eating Cheetos on the couch.” New Yorker – Brian Phillips


Victory from the Jaws of Triumph: Ireland’s Euro 2012 So Far

March 22, 2018

European Championship qualifying group B was a strange one: Ireland beat Armenia who beat Slovakia who beat Russia who beat Ireland (while poor fourth-seeded Macedonia looked on and whimpered). The logical progression would have been for a match to be played out between twenty-two footballs kicking a man around the pitch. That man turned out to be Richard Dunne, and the final score was Russia 0-0 Ireland, a result you could only call miraculous if you consider Dunne to be a gift from heaven. …” Run Of Play (Oct. 2011)


As January Camp Roster is Announced, Has USMNT Missed Out on Jonathan Gonzalez?

January 12, 2018

“The U.S. national team, which is barely a team at this point, will kick off this World Cup year without a World Cup at a January camp defined by last fall’s qualifying failure. There are no big games for which to prepare and there’s no permanent coach. As a result, this is a program with very little structure or long-term direction. Former assistant Dave Sarachan, who led the USA at November’s friendly in Portugal following Bruce Arena’s resignation, will preside over the squad of 30 campers announced Monday. …” SI – Brian Straus


The Real Failure of U.S. Men’s Soccer Sporting – Brian Phillips

October 15, 2017


“For around 30 years, from the 1986 World Cup through the night of Tuesday, Oct. 10, the United States men’s national soccer team managed to project at least a pleasing illusion of progress. Maybe it wasn’t always real progress. Maybe it wasn’t the kind of spectacular success enjoyed by the United States women’s team, which has won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals and galvanized generations of fans. But there was always something you could point to, some piece of evidence to suggest that the men’s game was improving in this country. That the people at the top had a plan. …” NY Times


The Crisis of Noncrisis: Petr Cech and the Sorrow of Being an Arsenal Fan

August 14, 2015

“You know what soccer club isn’t in crisis this week? Arsenal, that’s what. Arsenal’s noncrisis, its state of not being caught in an irrevocable collapse, is the main talking point from the Gunners’ shock 2-0 home loss to West Ham on Sunday in their first game of the Premier League season. A disappointing result? Yes. Bad? Certainly. The sign of a club hurtling over the cliff’s edge toward the purple tentacles thrashing in the churning sea beneath? Not so fast, says the English soccer media.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


The Omnipotent RealmThe Profane: Ronaldo, Hazard, and the Soul-Killing Economy of ‘Who’s Better?’

August 1, 2015

“Jose Mourinho said this week that Eden Hazard is better than Cristiano Ronaldo. We’ll call that Thing One. The planet Earth came into being 4.5 billion years ago when the core of the solar nebula collapsed to form a star, causing debris in the resulting gravitational sphere to accumulate into planets. We’ll call that Thing Two. Thing One agitated people. Writers wrote about what Mourinho said. People who know how to make graphs on their computers ran to their computers to make graphs, proving or disproving (although almost always disproving) his claim. Stern men on television discussed the matter sternly and at length.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


FIFA’s Sepp Blatter Has Finally Met His Match

May 29, 2015

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“When I heard about the latest accusations of corruption against FIFA, the global governing body of soccer, my initial reaction was to think of Captain Renault’s disingenuous response to gambling at Rick’s Café in the movie ‘Casablanca.’ Like many other long-suffering soccer fans, I was ‘shocked, shocked!‘ to learn that the U.S. Justice Department had charged nine FIFA officials with conspiring to enrich themselves through such practices as selling their services to the highest bidder, siphoning off millions of dollars in ‘sports marketing contracts,’ funnelling money through offshore shell companies, and, in some cases, receiving suitcases full of cash.”
New Yorker (Video)
NY Times: Crisis-Hit FIFA Prepares to Vote on Whether to Keep Sepp Blatter as Chief
NY Times: How the Indicted Officials Fit Into FIFA (Video)
NY Times: After Indicting 14 Soccer Officials, U.S. Vows to End Graft in FIFA (Video)
World Soccer: Sepp Blatter

A guide to the FIFA corruption scandal for the athletically illiterate
“Sports, amirite? Probably not. As a lifelong self-identified indoor kid, I initially had no idea what was happening with this whole FIFA corruption thing. But, as a lover of scandal, I wanted to understand. If you’re anything like me, you do, too. So, here’s a guide to everything you need to know about the insanity that’s brewing in the soccer world right now, tailor-made for the athletically illiterate. You can do this.” Fusion

‘Rampant, Systemic, and Deep-Rooted’: A Sting in Zurich Finally Targets FIFA Corruption
“It went down, in the end, like a scene in some 1920s comic novel, Wallander reimagined by Wodehouse: Swiss law enforcement officers politely stormed in through the revolving door of the Baur au Lac, a five-star hotel in downtown Zurich, and surrounded the concierge’s desk. They politely requested the room numbers of several FIFA officials in town for the soccer organization’s annual congress. Then they went to the rooms and politely arrested the occupants. They knocked rather than barged in. They gave the officials time to pack and get dressed. They let members of the hotel staff — ‘wearing suit coats with tails,’ as the New York Times reported — erect a barricade of white bedsheets to shield the arrested men from photographs. After a few minutes, they loaded the soccer officials into small, fuel-efficient hatchbacks and politely whisked them away.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

Soccer Superpower
“On July 4, 1988, at a hotel in a suburb of Zurich, the executive committee of soccer’s governing body, FIFA, awarded the right to host the World Cup to the United States. The country was a fútbol backwater. Its last pro league—the one that had imported Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and other aging international stars—had folded four years earlier. Its men’s national team hadn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1950; stocked with collegians, it was on the cusp of being eliminated from regional qualifying for the 1990 tournament. Its women’s national team, hastily assembled three years earlier, had played just a handful of games.” Slate


Listen Here, Cristiano: Sir Alex Ferguson’s Email to a Madrid Star in Crisis

March 28, 2015

“Listen here, lad, Don’t think for a tinker’s red second that I don’t know exactly how you feel, finding an email from me. I know, Cristiano. If there’s one thing they could say about me, it’s that I always knew what my boys were feeling — better than they did, most times, not that it took a chess master to out-think Gary Pallister. And yes, son, you’re still one of my boys. Now and always. Not a transfer fee on earth’ll win you a move from that club. So quit grimacing at your screen like a Kirkcaldy bricklayer with his first taste of chicken vindaloo. Sit down and pay attention. Bloody laptop’s probably got rhinestones on it.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


The Men Behind the Curtain: Inside FIFA’s Sinister (and Pretty Entertaining!) Presidential Race

February 15, 2015

“Let’s be clear up front: Sepp Blatter is never going to lose a FIFA presidential election. Never. He’s not going to lose the one in May. He’s not going to lose in 2019, if he decides to run — which looks unlikely, but then, we said the same thing four years ago, back when he, you know, promised never to run again if he was reelected. He’s running again, and he’s going to win again, too. If he wants to rule FIFA forever, it’s hard to imagine what could stop him. Get ready for the debate about whom the moon of Ganymede bribed to host the 2480 World Cup.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Blurred Icon: Steven Gerrard’s Contradictory Greatness

February 8, 2015

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“I’m thinking about the connection between a fan and an athlete — I mean the essential one, the basic identification, the feeling that the person in the red shirt is representing me out there. That some important part of me is wrapped up in another person’s ability to hit a jump shot, score a free kick, return a serve, make a tackle. It’s one of the simplest forces in sports; also surely one of the strangest, because why should I care whether you can catch a ball or not? Why should that have the power to make me happy or cause me pain? And yet I not only care whether you can, I feel involved when you do, as though my wanting you to do it somehow made you do it — as though desire made you my avatar.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Football Manager 2009 – Brian Phillips

January 22, 2015

“Pro Vercelli: The End, Or Is It. A new version of Football Manager is released today, which makes this, in my house at least, a time of hushed reflection. The old era is passing away, the new era is rising up before us. Everything we knew and loved is sliding into the sea, while before us, like a mountainous country, is thrust a terrifying and exhilarating possibility. Just like every day, really, but the arrival of a new FM makes it that much clearer. Here is the past, there is the future. Eurogamer gave it a 9, but wished more had been done to fix the press conferences. …” Run Of Play – Brian Phillips


The Ball Is the End: Assessing Lionel Messi’s Career on the 10th Anniversary of His Debut for Barcelona

October 8, 2014

FC Barcelona v APOEL FC - UEFA Champions League
“Lionel Messi played in his first competitive match for FC Barcelona 10 years ago this month, on October 16, 2004. He was already famous, of course, among the hardest-core coterie of Barça fanciers, the types who write forum posts about training-academy gossip; to the rest of the world, his eight scoreless minutes at the end of Barcelona’s 1-0 win over Espanyol didn’t do much to make him a household name. Still, if you watch the video now, it’s pretty clear, even allowing for the benefit of hindsight, that at 17 Messi was a frightening talent. He’s not ready yet, not quite, but he already has that strange quality of slant directness, that mysteriously straightforward elusiveness, that would later make him seem magical, insoluble.” Grantland


Man vs. Machine

July 11, 2014

This can’t be happening. At around the moment when Toni Kroos fired Philipp Lahm’s cross past the diving Júlio César for Germany’s third goal against Brazil, that thought started blinking in my brain like the red light at the top of a radio tower. This can’t be real. Only a minute earlier, Miroslav Klose had made it 2-0, breaking Ronaldo’s all-time World Cup goal-scoring record in the process; two minutes later, Kroos swiped the ball from Fernandinho, played a 1-2 pass with Sami Khedira to slip past Dante in the area, and scored again. 4-0 in the 26th minute. This isn’t possible. Three minutes after that, Khedira got the ball from Mesut Özil and knocked it home from inside the edge of the area. 5-0. I’m imagining this. The Germans had scored four goals in six minutes against the most celebrated nation in soccer history, a team that hadn’t lost a competitive match on home soil since 1975. I’m asleep. After almost four weeks of obliterating expectations, the World Cup finally produced a match that obliterated belief.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


World Cup Pass & Move: Weekend Warriors

July 7, 2014

“This past weekend saw quite a few footballing fireworks in Brazil. There were brilliant tactical decisions, gravely important injuries, near upsets, penalty shootouts, and Mothra landed on James Rodríguez’s arm. As a way of looking back on the quarterfinals matches, six Grantland writers — Chris Ryan, Brian Phillips, netw3rk, Mike L. Goodman, Graham Parker, and Ryan O’Hanlon wrote about six characters from the weekend action.” Grantland


Stop Making Sense

July 5, 2014

“Should we talk about where we’ve just been? The group stage was one coup after another, a sequence of thrilling games that gradually dismantled the existing order of international soccer. The last two world champions died in their baths. Italy, never expected to be a real threat, went down screaming about tooth marks, collateral damage in the Luis Suárez carnival of shame. Spain, the team that spent six years enforcing stability at the top of the sport, went out almost before the tournament had even started, like the first corpse in a murder mystery: Robin van Persie, with the forehead, in the invisible wind tunnel.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Train in Vain

June 20, 2014

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“The trains run every half-hour up the green slope of Corcovado, the Hunchback, through a forest whose branches scrape against the windows of the cars. They climb a mountainside where howler monkeys live, and also ocelots, and birds the color of imaginary jewels. Twenty minutes after setting out from the leafy station on the Rua Cosme Velho, they deposit tourists at the base of a long escalator, which rises to the feet of Christ the Redeemer, Cristo Redentor, the white colossus whose open arms embrace the crescent sliver of Rio de Janeiro more than 2,000 feet below. From the peak you can stand and look down on the marvelous city, a cidade maravilhosa, Rio, a bright thread curling between the mountains and the sea.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Diamonds in the Rough

June 10, 2014

“The human body is 18 percent carbon, which means that if you subject it to high enough pressures at high enough temperatures and hold it there for a long enough time, it will form diamonds. You can try this yourself, in a laboratory. All it takes is, say, a pound of human ash, more than 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and 60,000 times the standard atmospheric pressure of Earth at sea level. Extract carbon, bake, compress. Check back in a few weeks. Not a DIYer? No problem. Just FedEx your burial urn to one of the many Internet-facing memorial-diamond companies that have sprung up in the last few years. For between $2,500 and $25,000, outfits like Chicago’s LifeGem and Switzerland’s Algordanza will take the cremated remains of your loved ones and return them, presto chango, in the form of wearable jewelry.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Fear the Underdog?

May 17, 2014

“Atlético Madrid is the third-most successful club in the history of Spanish soccer, which is a little like being the third-most famous khan in the history of the Mongol horde. Good job by you, but you’re never going to stop hearing about Genghis and Kublai. Atleti has won nine titles in La Liga, Spain’s top division, which is great, except that Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have combined for 54. And when you start running the math on that, and realize there have only ever been 82 champions crowned in La Liga, and add in that Madrid and Barcelona have collectively finished second an additional 45 times (versus eight for Atlético), and further consider that Atleti isn’t even the biggest team in its own hometown (that would be Real) — well, you get a clear picture of a tough little club that’s been overshadowed by its planet-conquering, culture-altering rivals.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


The FC Barcelona Doom Metric

April 28, 2014

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“Earlier this week, during a raid in the port city of Alicante, Spanish police confiscated a batch of hallucinogenic chocolates that had been molded into the shape of the FC Barcelona crest. The chocolates, which were allegedly laced with marijuana and mushrooms, had been disguised as soccer-themed candies by the only person arrested in the operation, a master confectioner nicknamed ‘Willy Wonka.’ The incident gave rise to a whole host of significant questions. For instance: Isn’t ‘Willy Wonka’ pretty much the only possible nickname for any master confectioner freelancing in black-market drug work? Was there even a fallback option for this guy? Is ‘master confectioner baking controlled substances into candy products’ the topic heading of basically the shallowest nickname pool known to humanity? Is the phrase ‘my candy guy, Willy Wonka’ inevitably followed by a bemused chorus of ‘which one?’ at drug-kingpin summits? How does the fraternal organization of master confectioners keep its narcotics mailers straight?” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Baby Turtles on Fire

April 11, 2014

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“It was a goal, one of many. Vincent Kompany took the ball out of the center circle. Jesus Navas was loitering ahead on the right wing, totally unmarked. No man is an island, John Donne says, but Donne never saw Navas play against Southampton. Kompany rolled the ball up to his Spanish teammate, not with any real urgency — their Manchester City side was already up 3-1 at home, with 10 minutes left in the match — but just, you felt, to get his winger re-involved with mankind. Navas ran onto the pass and flicked a casual cross into the area. The ball did that juddering scythe thing it does sometimes, skipping ahead of three defenders by a few inches each. Southampton’s goalkeeper, Paulo Gazzaniga, tried to fall on it and failed. So it dropped at the feet of City’s Stevan Jovetic, who dinged it into the empty net. 4-1. From the center circle to the goal, the ball was touched three times. Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for midtable Premier League defenses.” Grantland – Brian Phillips (Video)


Sticks and Stones

February 23, 2014

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“Jose Mourinho knows how to lie in a way that sounds deeper than the truth. Of his many usefully unscrupulous talents, this is one of the most useful and least scrupulous. He says things that he knows are untrue, and that you know are untrue, and that he knows you know are untrue, but that somehow or other just stick. In 2005, during his first run as the manager of Chelsea, he called Arsene Wenger a ‘voyeur’ when the Arsenal boss publicly questioned Mourinho’s transfer policy. It wasn’t fair, but neither is poetry. The jibe captured something weird and curdled in the impression the hawk-eyed Wenger makes; they were still talking about it in England eight years later. No one actually believes Wenger spends his free hours gazing into the rear courtyard, but that’s not the point. The goal of Mourinho’s lies isn’t to persuade you to believe anything. It’s to hit you at a level below belief, to shock your sense of reality into thinking it agrees with his.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


A Yellow Card

November 15, 2013

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“Three points make a trend, but in a World Cup year, two points are good enough. So here’s one: Early on the morning of October 29, 31-year-old Geisa Silva, a social worker with the Brazilian military police, found her husband’s backpack on their front porch in Rio de Janeiro. Joao Rodrigo Silva Santos was a retired professional soccer player, a journeyman who’d spent most of his career knocking around the Brazilian lower leagues; post-retirement, he ran a food shop in the city’s Realengo neighborhood. He hadn’t come home the night before, and Silva had been worried, jumping up at the sound of every car. Before dawn, she got ready to leave for her job with a police unit responsible for conducting an anti-gang crackdown. When she opened the front door, she saw the backpack. It contained her husband’s severed head.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Ö Pioneers!

September 22, 2013

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“A couple of years back, in the ‘Hey, YouTube exists!’ golden age of let’s call it 2007-10, it got to be a common thing for up-and-coming young soccer stars to release promotional rap videos. I’m talking European rap here, which blasted this trend into a whole other Bad Idea galaxy. You’d get these willowy midfield prodigies, kids who’d just signed their first £30k/week contracts, who’d barely even learned how to downshift their new Maybachs. Then suddenly there they’d be, shyly posturing in front of a studio mic while some mirror-shade-wearing Dutchman called DJ Hogwarts bounced around plaiting his Mennonite beard, nodding on one and three. It was a fascinating era. I miss it.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund: Tactical analysis

May 24, 2013

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“The key to Bayern Munich’s success throughout 2012-13 has been their adaptability. On their way to a record points total in the Bundesliga, Bayern’s ball retention was consistently remarkable, while in the Champions League victories over Arsenal, Juventus and Barcelona they have been equally impressive when using a physical approach designed to overpower the opposition.” Guardian

The Champions League Final: Fünf brennende Fragen
“… So it’s disconcerting that the Oxford-Duden German Dictionary appears to contain not a single entry corresponding to ‘the strange curiosity one feels regarding the 2013 Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the first all-German European Cup final in history, which will be played Saturday at 2:45 p.m. ET at Wembley Stadium in London, and which feels oddly compelling despite the fact that the teams involved have played one another approximately 345 times in the Bundesliga this season.’ I mean, you’d think they’d be all over that, right?” Grantland – Brian Phillips

What’s on the line for Bayern, Dortmund, all of Germany in CL final
“1. This doesn’t mean the Bundesliga is the best league in the world. What constitutes “the best” football league? If it’s affordability, sustainability, indigenous talent on pitches and benches and a decent stadium experience you’re after, the Bundesliga is your bag. Most of these factors, while commendable, are only of real concern to German fans, however. As an international entertainment “product,” the Bundesliga is still miles behind the Premier League and will continue to be so unless there are three or four Bayern Munichs, competing for the best international players and entering the Champions League with a realistic view to winning it. That will take a lot of time and even more hard, smart work, even if dormant giants like Hamburger SC, 1.FC Köln or VfB Stuttgart will begin to wake up.” SI

Bayern and Dortmund bring Bundesliga battle royale to Wembley
“Saturday’s Champions League final between German powers Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund could be the greatest clash between good and evil since the Book of Mormon. Bayern are Germany’s superclub, a possession-hungry, passing, pressing powerhouse that are loved or loathed, but always feared. Dortmund, the resurgent underdogs, prefer to thrill with movement and speed — a fearless young team that run hard and attempt to overwhelm opponents with a vicious transition game.” ESPN (Video)


Hi Xavi :)

May 6, 2013

“Hello old friend, Now and then I say to myself that time is the wind that blows the seeds of a dandelion. We begin in one place, in a golden flower, but the months and years carry us where they will. Perhaps we land in the sidewalk crack beneath the giant poster for Iron Man 3 near the bench where I am sitting in Manhattan, across from the Qdoba, in the sun, where we put down new roots and flourish. Or perhaps we are blown into an industrial intake fan and chopped into 500 pieces. A lot of things can happen, in time. 🙂 Wenger, Xavi — Wenger never understood this. … Yours affectionately, Pep :)” Grantland – Brian Phillips


The Return of Matt Le Tissier

April 16, 2013

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“Matt Le Tissier is coming out of retirement, and I’m going to type that again, because it contains words that deserve to be repeated. Matt Le Tissier is coming out of retirement. If you don’t know who that is — and there’s a good chance you don’t, if you’re American, not a soccer fan, or under 25 — watch the YouTube clip of him scoring against Newcastle on October 24, 1993. This is the second season of the Premier League, all lunging tackles and signboards for Street Fighter II. Le Tissier’s playing midfield for Southampton, the team in red-and-white stripes. The ball comes flying over the left flank to the Southampton striker, Iain Dowie, who heads it down toward the middle of the pitch, where Le Tissier’s running forward at a smooth trot. It’s a bad header; the ball scuds directly behind him. The move should be over. But watch what Le Tissier does.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Schrödinger’s Coach

December 7, 2012

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“You’re familiar with The Gaze, yes? It’s late in the match. Arsenal is trailing 2-1 to a beatable opponent. The Gunners are passing with urgency, doing everything but scoring, when suddenly some jumped-up Championship striker — let’s call him, I don’t know, Lee Stanhope, or maybe Robbie Davies — nabs the ball on the counter and goes barreling off toward Szczesny. He gets past Koscielny — it’s not hard — and finds an opening before Sagna can track back. Quick chip shot and … yes! It’s 3-1, just in time for the fourth official to hoist his little light board. The air sucks out of the Emirates. Game over.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


How to Survive the Apocalypse

October 5, 2012


“The ships came out of the sky without warning and devastated most of our cities. Washington, D.C., is a crater; Moscow is lit with green flames. In London, packs of slavering, glistening aliens roam the streets outside the rubble of Parliament, harvesting survivors for the minerals in their bones. The future is canceled. To all appearances, humanity is doomed.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Forza Pro

August 25, 2012


Genoa – Pro Vercelli, 0 -1, 1913
“I have a magical connection with the tiny Italian soccer club Pro Vercelli because I once spent a year pretending to be them in a video game. Moreover, I spent a year blogging extensively about pretending to be them in a video game. Without going too deeply into my reasons for doing this — more or less the usual Internet cocktail of narcissism, a ‘desire to interrogate constructions of fantasy and reality in sports,’ and generally warm feelings about playing Football Manager at two in the afternoon for money — I can say that the project spiraled hopelessly out of control, sucked in hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of words, generated about a million inside jokes on my old soccer site, and left me with a permanent love for this obscure little club from a city of fewer than 50,000 people in the northern Italian province of Piedmont.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

Pro Vercelli: They were one of history’s greatest teams
“But by the late 2000s, Pro Vercelli were entrenched in the lower leagues, their glorious past forgotten. Until one day, a man bought a video game. Read the uplifting saga of a small-town Italian club, an unknown American manager, triumph, betrayal, passion, and several extremely good recipes, from start to finish below.” Run of Play


Englands of the Mind

June 16, 2012

“The English national soccer team is, as of this writing, located in Krakow, Poland, its official stamped-by-UEFA ‘Team Base Camp’ for Euro 2012. England’s hotel in Krakow, the Stary, was ‘revealed’ in November via a press announcement from the Football Association. It was then re-revealed last week via the FA’s official YouTube channel, FATV (‘Football’s Home’), or more specifically via an ‘exclusive’ synth-y corporate down-tempo waiting-room video mostly devoted to slow pans over billiards tables and shots of boxes sliding into focus.” Grantland – Run of Play (Video)


U.S. Men’s National Team: Baby Steps to the Elevator

June 2, 2012

“Most of the time, when a ‘promising,’ ‘up-and-coming,’ ‘dangerous’ team is developing into an elite power, its progress resembles the climb of an elevator. The floor and the ceiling rise at the same pace. The team gets better when playing at its best, but it also gets reliably better when playing at its worst. Wins that once seemed crazy to think about (say, the Thunder rolling the Lakers) start to feel routine; losses that once seemed fairly normal (say, Manchester City hacking up a game to Everton) start to feel inexplicable and devastating. That’s part of what getting good is: raising expectations at both ends of the spectrum, as well as all the points in between.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


The Premier League Is Sensational

May 17, 2012

“Like everyone else, I blacked out when Manchester City scored two goals in stoppage time to snatch the Premier League title from Manchester United. In my case, I woke up three days later, in a bathtub full of ice. My right kidney was missing, and a piece of paper containing the following text was folded in my hand. I have no idea what to make of this.” Grantland – Run of Play


Homage to Guardiola

May 13, 2012

“Pep Guardiola liked to remind his players to have fun. Under normal circumstances, ‘go out there and have fun’ is the emptiest sort of yapped-around-a-whistle coachspeak, but with Guardiola “normal circumstances” often felt like something more profound, and also stranger, than that: He made you believe that he meant it. He had the very disorienting gift of making banal sentiments seem to come from a place of deep soulfulness. Whether he was actually banal or actually soulful was a problem you could think yourself dizzy trying to solve,1 but either way he brought results: His Barcelona teams, especially during their astounding three-year run from 2008 to 2011, ran on a kind of sustained collective joy that was thrilling to watch precisely because it seemed so sincere.” Grantland

Homage to Barcelonia
“It is January 25, 1939. You reside in what is left of Barcelona. The Spanish Civil War has raged for several years. At night, the bombs fall. Franco’s forces have surrounded and strangled your beloved city, Within, moral and societal decay have gripped the institutions you loved. At first, democracy was the war cry. Viva la Republica! Then, the anarchists arose and spoke of the need to collectivize, collectivize, collectivize. Then, the Stalinists sprang up and called for nationalization. The summary executions of suspected Franco sympathizers made you feel uneasy. Now, the anarchists and Stalinists shoot one another in broad daylight. Food and water have disappeared. Retreating Republic forces burn warehouses & offices before fleeing to France. When Franco’s forces arrive the next day, chills run up and down your spine. To your astonishment, people take to the streets and cheer and applaud and wave and welcome their arrival. You weep quietly.” Run of Play


Turkish Football’s Dirty War

May 13, 2012

“Do you know what hate, in its essence and heart-wrenching ugliness, truly is? Not only the concept of genuinely disliking something with every fibre of your being, but the sensation of slowly falling into a black hole filled to its brink with unhealthy, dirty thoughts? It is a feeling that, when activated deep below our day-to-day, unextraordinary consciousness, completely robs us of our humanity and compassion. It brings out the worst in us. Basically, hatred is what keeps Turkish football in 2011-2012 alive.” Run of Play


Celebrity Entropy

April 16, 2012


“It’s a short career, sports superstardom, which means that the world accumulates ex-great athletes at a fairly remarkable pace, one a year at least, as if time itself were an aging athlete out fielding fly balls — Elway, Sampras, Shaq, Ronaldo, thunk, thunk, thunk. At any given moment there’s a significant population of ex-sports superstars milling around in the weird background of culture, the part that’s half after-party and half wax museum. You could throw a dinner for them, the living retired great athletes, and fill a pretty good-sized hall. I’m picturing Yogi Berra trading fake punches with Muhammad Ali, MJ smoking scornfully in the corner booth. Maradona face-down in a cake.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


All Elbows and Ugly

March 30, 2012

“Because he looks ridiculous, is a streaky player, has pixie cheekbones despite being 6-foot-7, reads as ‘posh’ and ‘soft’ in a sport that complicatedly worships killers with no nerves in their knuckles, has a sense of humor, is married to a woman who is noticeably hotter than he is, and tends to be photographed in the process of transforming himself into comedic aerial hieroglyphs — e.g., this, and this and this — Peter Crouch gets a bad rap. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that Peter Crouch is not often judged with the benefit of nuance.” Grantland (Video)


Nándor Hidegkuti

March 29, 2012

“Harry Johnston was an outstanding defender who played nearly twenty years for Blackpool, mostly as a center-back. He was so good that in 1951 the FA named him footballer of the year. He played for his country as well, making his last appearance in 1953, at Wembley, against the upstart Magyars from Hungary, but that would not be a good day for Harry. The problem was Nándor Hidegkuti.” Run of Play


Champions League Retro Diary II: Barcelona-AC Milan

March 29, 2012

“Brian Phillips and Chris Ryan return for the second day of the Champions League quarterfinals first legs. On Wednesday, the guys pulled up their thrones to watch a game between two of the most storied sporting institutions in Europe, Barcelona and A.C. Milan. Here’s what transpired.” Grantland


Failure to Cohere

March 27, 2012

“Around 11 p.m. last Monday, Caleb Porter was wearing a pained, tight expression, like a man who’d elaborately prepared an orange for eating – peeled it, scraped its white resins off the delicate inner skin, sectioned it; perhaps opened a beverage suitable for the side; sat himself somewhere comfortable, with entertainment, orange and beverage at hand – only to find that the orange was not an orange all along, but was instead an artistic evocation of one’s career hopes vanishing forever, and so every choice thereby proved wrong in that moment. No orange, but an orange-suitable entertainment. And orange-suitable beverage! But no orange. His expression pained and tight. In short, a man in crisis.” Run of Play


Any Given Saturday

March 19, 2012

“INT. DRESSING ROOM – EVE. We are somewhere in the bowels of a large football stadium. Several staff and 23 players – three lions on all their shirts – sit around looking nervy, or nervously applying ‘product’ to hair (hair shaped like one of those asymmetrical postmodernist sculptures named after abstract nouns – Courage, Trust, Camaraderie – and habitually found outside civic buildings, which, within a generation, have become discoloured, unloved, and appropriated by skateboarders).” Run of Play


The Banal Hero

March 15, 2012

“‘Men walk as prophecies of the next age,’ the celebrated essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. The Real Madrid boardroom fell silent. ‘We will not miss Makelele,’ harrumphed Florentino Perez at last, snapping his fingers for Emerson to be escorted from the room and for a more expensive essayist to be brought in.” Run of Play


On Distant Fandom

March 15, 2012

“On April 2, 2011, India won its second Cricket World Cup. But unlike most other cricket fans, I didn’t watch the final in its entirety. For a ninety-minute stretch, I was watching Manchester United produce a typically wondrous comeback against West Ham United. It was a significant win without which any joy at India’s triumph would have been unmistakably sullied. Even though I was born and raised in India my attachment to a soccer club — one that I’ve never seen play in the flesh — was stronger. When, a few weeks later, on May 14, Manchester United clinched its 19th league title and surpassed Liverpool’s long-held record, I felt transcendent joy.” Run of Play


We Drink, They Rig

March 8, 2012

“Seated stands, modern roofs, security guys like well-fed oxes: none existed back in those days. Chaos and disorder reined in the stadiums, just like it did on the streets outside. I told you, there were no seats on the stands. You had to bring something to put under your ass; anything you could lay your hands on. Real sofa cushions from your house, make-shift cushions out of styrofoam, old magazines, newspapers, whatever you could find outside the stadium…” Run of Play


The Coolest Soccer Team in Europe

February 25, 2012


“Napoli’s startling 3-1 upset of Chelsea in the Champions League last Tuesday accomplished three important things. It put a formal timestamp on the moment everyone realized that Serie A had caught up to the Premier League. It launched a thousand ‘Andre Villas-Boas DeathWatch’ columns, to the point that hasandrevillasboasbeensackedyet.com became a vital resource for soccer journalists. And it cemented Napoli’s status as the coolest club in Europe and the default answer to the question, ‘If you’re an American looking to get into European soccer, which team should you support?'” Grantland – Run of Play

Napoli 3-1 Chelsea: Ivanovic plays high up and Napoli exploit the space in behind him
“Napoli played their classic counter-attacking game to put themselves in a strong position going into the second leg. Walter Mazzarri was suspended from the touchline, so assistant Nicolo Frustalupi took charge. Morgan De Sanctis returned in goal, Hugo Campagnaro was fit to start, and Juan Zuniga was picked rather than Andrea Dossena on the left. Andre Villas-Boas left out Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, though the latter replaced Jose Bosingwa early on at left-back. Florent Malouda got a surprise start (though he has played the majority) of games in Europe this season. As expected, Didier Drogba played rather than Fernando Torres, while John Terry was out.” Zonal Marking

The Question: Why is the back three resurgent in Italy?
“Given everything in football – tactically speaking – is relative, perhaps nothing can ever truly be dead. Systems and styles of play that have seemed to have outlived their usefulness drift away, fade from consciousness and lie dormant, waiting for the game to forget about them so they can be triumphantly reintroduced. For a long time, playing three at the back seemed finished, but Napoli’s victory over Chelsea on Tuesday night was just part of a wider resurgence.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


On Thomas Müller

February 25, 2012

“There are a lot of reasons to be happy about Germany right now. Comparatively, things are really great there. More importantly, they have an excellent soccer team. As James Tyler wrote at The Classical, they’re a really good soccer team because they’ve decided to stop being German.” Run of Play


Suarez/Evra: The Poem

February 23, 2012


Eugene Delacroix, Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople on 12 April 1204
“Suárez, enemy of Ghana,
incensed by slur on his hermana,
started this whole ugly din.
Muttered something, pinched the skin. …” Run of Play


My Dreams About Jose Mourinho

February 23, 2012

“I have recurring dreams about Jose Mourinho. The circumstances change — there are different places, different story lines — but each time we exchange a surprised glance, and one of us begins to talk in a strange language. And then something horrible happens. The last one I had came the night I was doing research for the next day’s Athletic Bilbao-RDC Mallorca game in La Palma.” Run of Play


Arsene Wenger and the Whale’s Back

February 21, 2012

“Arsene Wenger is like Schrödinger’s cat, or one of those particles that are supposed to be able to exist in two places at once: it’s impossible to measure him accurately because we don’t know enough about the constraints he’s under at Arsenal. If the board is pleading with him to spend money and he’s responding by humming loudly and composing an oil painting about youth development, then he’s a dogmatist who should probably be fired. If the board is counting out bills in ones and scowling when it hands them over, then he’s doing a miraculous job adapting to a difficult situation.” Run Of Play


Harry Redknapp, Rube of the Year

February 10, 2012


“Harry Redknapp does not have a soul, but he has a sort of dead-eyed Cockney sparkle that’s served him as a pretty adequate replacement. England’s most successful English soccer manager, he’s also England’s most successful allegations-shrugger-offer, ‘Who, me?’-expression-haver, preposterous-quip-to-distract-your-attention deployer, and crafter of bespoke logic-annihilating narrative Möbius strips. When 60 police officers crash-swarmed his house as part of a conspiracy sting in 2007, Harry insisted that they were merely soliciting his help catching other people.” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Soccer’s Heavy Boredom

January 18, 2012

“Soccer is boring. One of the misconceptions non-soccer fans have about soccer fans is that we don’t know this. The classic Simpsons parody of a soccer match — ‘Fast kickin’! Low scorin’! And ties? You bet!‘ — hangs on the joke that the game puts Americans to sleep while somehow, bafflingly, driving foreigners wild with excitement. Calling the game for Springfield TV, Kent Brockman practically grinds his teeth with frustration: ‘Halfback passes to the center … back to the wing … back to the center. Center holds it. Holds it. [Huge sigh.] Holds it.’ One booth over, the Spanish commentator is going nuts: ‘Halfback passes to the center! Back to the wing! Back to the center! Center holds it! Holds it!! HOLDS IT!!!'” Grantland – Brian Phillips


Imaginary Enemies

December 17, 2011

“Nicolas Anelka will soon be playing professional soccer in China. This is surprising because Nicolas Anelka is still a talented, effective soccer player who would help all but about 10 teams in the world. This is not surprising because Nicolas Anelka is going to a place where they’ll pay him an exponent of a number it’d take me years to count to.” Run of Play


Quiet Revolutions

December 15, 2011

“In an era of Galácticos, oil ball, and 300,000-a-week wages, it’s easy to view football as a revolution. When something is wrong, blow it up and start over. Avram Grant not working out? Try Ancelotti. Ancelotti not the ticket? Go for AVB. If Ronaldo and Kaka aren’t enough to be beat Barcelona, maybe Ronaldo, Kaka and The Special One will be. If a group of mostly-academy grads isn’t enough to hold off Madrid, add Alexis Sanchez and academy washout Cesc Fabregas—even though you’re already millions in debt.” Run of Play


Possession

December 15, 2011

“It’s remarkable how varied soccer teams’ attitudes towards possession are. Obviously, no team is more deeply committed to possession in all situations than Barcelona, even though that commitment can cost them, as it did in the recent Clasíco, when easily-intercepted pass from Víctor Valdés.” Run of Play


The Death of Sócrates

December 7, 2011


“Sócrates is dead. It’s hard to see how anyone could be surprised. It’s also hard not to think that he died because he wanted to, since Sócrates always seems to have done what he wanted to. He smoked incessantly because it gave him pleasure; he seems to have ingested vast amounts of alcohol for the same reason. When people die from alcoholic poisoning — which is in effect what killed Sócrates — it’s usual to speak of their ‘demons’: he could never escape his demons, he could never conquer his demons, in the end his demons destroyed him. Few will use that language about Sócrates, in part because, according to much testimony, drinking didn’t really change his personality. He drank because he liked it, probably.” Run of Play

Socrates so much more than a footballer
“Just over five years ago, when Brazil’s 1982 World Cup coach Tele Santana died, team captain Socrates recalled the scene in the dressing room after their elimination by Paolo Rossi’s Italy at the second group stage. As the media were searching for explanations, there were tears and tantrums, dejection and disappointment. Amid the chaos, Santana stood peacefully, proud of his team and the glorious football they had played – still remembered with extraordinary affection all over the world. They had given it their best shot.” BBC – Tim Vickery (Video)

Socrates Dead: Brazil Soccer Captain At 1982 World Cup Dies At 57
“On and off the field, former Brazil star Socrates stood out above the rest. His elegant style and his deep involvement with politics made him a unique figure in Brazilian soccer, setting him apart from the players of his time and even of today. He was mostly known for captaining Brazil at the 1982 World Cup, regarded by many as the best team ever not to win football’s showcase tournament.” Huffington Post (Video)


Goodbye Twentieth Century

November 30, 2011

“A proposal: when we wile away the hours compiling lists of the Greatest Ever Footballers, we are doing a disservice to this form of discourse if we do not take its premises seriously. To pretend that we can go on existing without this genetically-hewn proclivity for reducing the world to an Excel document is both futile and obscene, and we’ve no interest in arguing as to whether Grand Ranking is real a childish waste of everyone’s time.” Run of Play


Generalissimo

November 23, 2011

“I’ve watched Diego Maradona’s final World Cup match (a 2-1 victory over Nigeria played in Boston) at least ten times. Nigeria pushed Argentina back early with plundering counter-attacks, one of which led to the match’s first goal—a sumptuous chip that had more than a whiff of offside to it. Maradona was imperious that day though, Napoleonically strutting around the confetti-flaked pitch, drawing fouls, and making key passes for both of Argentina’s goals—free kicks finished by Claudio Canigga.” Run of Play


The Rat in the Engine: On FIFA 12

November 19, 2011

“The above sequence has never happened in an actual soccer match, but it happens too often in EA Sports’s latest approximation of actual soccer, FIFA 12. Which is to say it happens at all.” Run of Play


Deus Absconditus

November 10, 2011

“I first came to understand the passions that soccer could arouse when I was about twelve years old, though at the time I had never seen a match. I may have noticed some people kicking a ball around, though I doubt it; I expect that I had been exposed to a few grainy highlights on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. No, I learned about soccer obsessives the way I learned most other things I knew, or believed I knew, when I was twelve: through reading science fiction.” Run of Play


How Mario Balotelli Became MARIO BALOTELLI!!!

November 6, 2011


Mario Balotelli
“Sometime during the early morning of October 22, around the moment when the first reports started appearing on the Internet, Mario Balotelli ceased to exist. The headlines that caused his sudden dematerialization were, for the most part, surprisingly restrained, especially for the British press. You could even call them tasteful. “Mario Balotelli rescued by fire brigade after setting his house alight with fireworks,” the Mirror murmured. “Mario Balotelli’s house set on fire as he shoots fireworks from window,” the Guardian agreed. Maybe the copy editors were struggling just to fit in all the facts — none of them even alluded to the best detail of all, which was that the fireworks that ignited Balotelli’s mansion had been launched from the bathroom window. Or maybe the basic outline was weird enough that not even the tabloids needed to dress it up.” Grantland – Brian Phillips (Video)


Race, Language and Symbolism

November 2, 2011


William Blake – Los Painting
“I begin with a basic and ironic premise: when dealing with racism, we too often think in terms of black & white. No, not black people and white people, but rather innocence/guilt, right/wrong, good/evil. The most dangerous aspect of evil is its ability to snuff out empathy, even for its own evil bad-ass self. These past few weeks, we’ve seen instances of Spanish-language players, Luis Suarez and Cesc Fabregas, allegedly uttering racist insults. Yet I ask—do our Anglo racial linguistic norms really offer the right and only lens by which to judge them?” Run of Play