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

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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)