Monday, February 25, 2008

as the internet would say, LOL.

Eduardo's breaking ankle will be the nightmarish after-image this weekend leaves in the minds of most people. Here's hoping he recovers well and as rapidly as possible, and much the same to Adrian Mutu, whose injury this weekend in Fiorentina's game against Roma has come at a horrible moment for the Viola, who are in the UEFA Cup's last 16 and playing peek-a-boo at fourth spot in Serie A, whence Milan dislodged them last night, for the first time this year. May Everton be dazzled by the force of the Bobo, who becomes their #1 striking option now.

If it weren't for these, this weekend might have gone down as the funniest one all season. Juventus lost to Reggina on a soft penalty. They're writing letters to FIGC about it this morning. It's unbelievable. A season in B has apparently done nothing to dent a sense of entitlement that would -- how to find the words for it? -- that would put Milan to shame.

Football Italia reports that
Ahead of Tuesday evening’s derby, city rivals Torino have reacted with little sympathy to Juventus’ complaints

“Poor Juve, having to be treated like everyone else,” a statement from supporters group Toro Club reads.

They really are calcio royalty -- the prurient interest and perverse pride that so many fans take in supporting them is matched only by the resentment and derision harboured by others. I forget who wrote a novel I once read about Queen Elizabeth being forced to re-locate to a suburban housing project after a disastrous Parlimentary election. Perhaps in time Juve's Cadetti season will take on a similarly absurd quality.

Then, of course, there's Marco Borriello, best known for his profile shots in Milan's annual D&G calendar and the Incident With The Ointment [Paolo Bandini's weekly Italia roundup in the Guardian recounts it today]. Bundled off in disgrace to Genoa at the end of last season by a fastidious Milan, he now sits at the top of the capocannoniere lists of the season. Chris has video links.

And over in Spain, Arjen Robben noticed there was something badly wrong about the goal he scored.

that football ... it's not where i left it

Tim Stannard squees. I think it's Sergio Ramos who truly brings the picture to life.

[Thanks to Martha for the pic. I'm so glad you're watching football other than Newcastle these days, bb. *ducks*]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

you ask, he answers


Yesterday I renewed my British Council Library membership and celebrated by checking out, among other things, the December 2007 edition of FourFourTwo. Football experts will know that this is British football's matey, laddish monthly chronicle. Those with good memories will instantly recall, too, that this particular edition bears an alarming picture of a smiling Arsène Wenger who, the inner pages will reveal, is in fact a (money) plant on the part of Nike and one of their new coaching initiatives.

We can look at Arsène Lupin instead.

I am a big fan of the 'Arsène knows' maxim, mostly because of its powers to offend non-Gooners. I admire Wenger and his teams. I think he is intelligent and eloquent, much like Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are, in their own distinct ways. [I swear that is not a backhanded compliment.] In the absence of patriarchal club owners who run their teams as they would their families or their shady businesses, people like Ferguson and Wenger must necessarily occupy the centre of attention in English football's corporate power structures.

As a cultural outsider who is, to all intents and purposes, an Anglophile, Wenger's perspective is valued to an immoderate degree by his adoring populace, and others besides. His opinions are worthy of attention, even when he is being disingenuous, and he is that very often. I suspect it may have given more than one outraged football fan a moment's pause when, contrary to the reservations of practically every club bigwig who was asked their opinion about the 39th Game issue, Wenger actually claimed he thought it would be a good idea. Flabbergasting, from a man who one would assume to have thought of the physical wear-and-tear, the mathematical integrity of the league, and every other good argument against the proposal long before the rest of us had. Might he have seen something there that we were missing? His reasoning appeared simple to a fault: he said he thought fans in other countries deserved a chance to see their teams in action.

In this interview with FourFourTwo, presumably conducted at least two months before the Scudamore storm broke, Wenger was asked the inevitable question about the un-Englishness of his teams, and he said, wisely, that he would fight against every notion of a quota. Then he was asked, by a reader from Birmingham, about whether he thought football had lost its moral compass. His answer was:

Football has a worldwide responsibility because every big game in the Premier League is watched by 500 to 700 milllion people - sometimes a billion people. Imagine a kid sitting in India or in South Africa watching Wayne Rooney or Fabregas - the kind of influence these people have in the world is highly important. Also, I believe that in our countries that have such a history of war, multi-cultural teams can show a harmonious way to live and achieve things together. Sport has a responsibility on that front. [...]

I'm not certain whether he's lying about this, or about his discomfort with the idea of managing England because he "wouldn't know which anthem to sing" if his team ever played France [an opinion he repeats in this interview]. I get the feeling he is completely sincere about both. He is contemptuous of international football. '...because they destroyed it,' he says. 'Take Russia: once it was one country and now it's 21. Yugoslavia was one and now is six. As a result the level has dropped. Then you add countries like Andorra, Faroe Islands and San Marino and suddenly three games out of four are of no interest.'

Perhaps he believes himself incapable of the collective anti-nationalist meritocracy he seems to envision for the sporting world, but holds out hope for his charges and for all the kiddums in India and South Africa losing every sense of place and time as they watch Rooney and Fabregas being one-size-fits-all idols. He makes a clear distinction between what he perceives as 'big' and 'small' concerns - one presumes it's perfectly alright for coaches of San Marino or Kazakhstan to be of a different nationality, since they're not big enough to be awkward about their nationhood, anyway. There is a practical sense in his making this distinction, as far as the coach issue goes: countries trying to develop their football culture will feel justified in adopting ways and workers from already-established countries in a way that the big guns might not. But this isn't what Wenger is advocating - in spite of fearing his own nationalism, he seems unwilling to tolerate it in others.
There is a certain kind of libertarianism that believes that the breakdown of social controls will allow for new, less unjust ways for entities to relate to each other. I don’t think it applies successfully in sport. Wenger opposes the nationalism that creates divisions in sport, but he does it without considering the other sources of power that divide people. Money, for one. Does falling on the right side of that particular divide allow him to ignore it entirely? Is it, in fact, possible to see the glorious rise of a fandom sans frontiers without seeing how very imbalanced it would be?
I find this so frankly ridiculous a thought, the idea that the EPL going to the ends of the world to play their 39th game is "for the fans," that when Wenger came out and said just that, I did a double-take, and walked myself back through his proclamations, trying to find evidence that he is Ligue 1 counterintelligence of some order. It's an appealing sort of notion, but if it isn't the case, then I'm going to hope that everyone who says 'Arsène Knows' does so with at least a tinge of irony.


Does he know, however, to beat Milan? I believe he does. I believe that Arsène does know enough to take on the entire establishment that is propping up this particular Milan team - laboratories, tactical traditions, at least a century of collective European experience on the pitch, it's absurd to to suggest that there's anything so simple as a one-on-one coach-off at work here - but it appears, more than any other tie in this round so far, to come down to the uncertainties of the night.

Inter, on the other hand (where my face is currently resting, dejected). Are unspeakable.


Following on the last post about Paolo Maldini: the Telegraph did not stop there. Henry Winter, writing the day after the game at the Emirates, said

Paolo Maldini was particularly magnificent, embodying Milan's refusal to yield a centimetre.

Even in the cynical world of modern football, an opponent's brilliance can be respected. Even a man whose job it is to destroy can be saluted. At half-time, Maldini was embraced by Emmanuel Adebayor, the Arsenal striker he was paid to frustrate. At the final whistle, the great Italian defender was applauded from the field by Arsenal's admiring supporters. Maldini responded with a smile of appreciation and a brief wave before disappearing down the tunnel.

Even at 39 [...] Maldini looked like he had just stepped from the catwalk at Milan fashion week.

I'm glad he's getting his adulation from a crowd that generally finds it convenient to hate Italian football, but this is just suspicious. Does no one have anything to say against him?

... I'm a little afraid of the answer to that. Ruud Gullit has a 'My Perfect XI' at the back of the FourFourTwo, and predictably, over a third come from il grande Milan: Rijkaard at central midfield, Baresi at centre-back (Gullit plays a flat back four), Marco 'the man' van Basten in front, and Maldini at left-back. "Position for position one of the greatest players ever," he says about him.

About van Basten he says, "He was also a vicious player. If defenders tried to kick him, he would kick them back. He knew how to look after himself on the pitch." Small comfort for a man whose career was hacked away by the time he was 28? But oddly true to life, even for someone who has only ever known him as a YouTube superhero and the really unpleasant man who manages Holland.

Gullit's pick to play up front along side van Basten? van Basten's new boss, Johann Cruyff. There is a very funny novel in there somewhere. I'm sure of it.


All this talk of defenders and hair [for we talk not of defenders without talking of their hair] and Ursus' comments have made me want to write about Alessandro Nesta. Count this as prior warning, Martha.


I still need a job. Recently discovered: Mills & Boon have an India branch. Could I write pulp romance? We have been reading a slew of their ghastly novellas of late. Like Baldrick hoping to marry into the aristocracy, I could look into bringing the system down from the inside.

Monday, February 18, 2008

a very long engagement

Tributes in the form of verbal fellatio are already being offered to Paolo Maldini. Yes, again. We can only presume that this is in the wake of his impending ejection from his European hunting grounds -- if Milan live to progress to the quarter-finals of this year's Champions' League no doubt there will be another round of articles, and then another, and then, on the slim chance of his arriving at Moscow, a final glorious barrage of attention.

So what kind of man is this who can dispossess Diego Maradona and force Zinedine Zidane to seek refuge on the other side of the park? Maldini shrugs his shoulders as if to say: "Just doing my job." His acceptance speech after winning World Soccer magazine's player of the year award in 1996 went something like: "What, me? I'm a defender."

Most women would risk their long-term relationships for half an hour with him. He's impossibly good-looking, even by Italian standards; he's captain of the world club champions; a euro-billionaire and a male model. If pushed, he'll host your disco.

Okay, so I'd better get *my* sentimental tribute piece in before it's too late.

The accompanying photograph to the Telegraph piece carries the caption: "Paolo Maldini has won everything in his playing career." I have always found this a very imperfect truth when describing this man among men. My first acquaintance with Paolo Maldini was at France '98 [I have memories of '94, but they are dim, and mostly of Maradona's drug bust and the slumped shoulders of Roberto Baggio] and that, and subsequent re-acquaintances, always ended in almost comic disaster: that penalty shootout, Trezeguet's golden goal, Byron Moreno, 4-0 at the Riazor. Paolo Maldini is the only man in that elite class of legends, peopled by the likes of Maradona and Beckenbauer, who can honestly claim to have lost at least as much, and as dramatically, as he has won. It's one of the reasons I like him unreservedly. He calls to mind the 'If you can face triumph and disaster/and treat those two impostors just the same' line that is one of If's better moments. Perhaps not as deserving of the plaudit as someone like Franco Baresi, since he is and always has been the child of fortune, but deserving enough.

Maradona, in his autobiography, said Maldini was too pretty to be a footballer, which I think says some very interesting things about Maradona. But I, too, have always thought that Paolo is one of the nicest-looking men we are likely to come upon in our lifetimes. Which is why it amused me when the Telegraph article made apparently innocent reference to "that trademark central parting." Fans of the inimitable James Richardson and his quips about Cesare Maldini will know why this is such sweet sorrow. I prefer the windblown curls of his late twenties myself, but the style appears, like the bandieri of Italian football, to be an anachronism.

Going back to pretending that football doesn't exist for the next little while now. It's been an unpleasant couple of weeks, even by Milan's low standards for the season, and I admit that the Milan-Arsenal tie is now giving me a clammy forehead and shaking hands. I have taken to sublimating this with neurotic Inter-baiting.

PS. How exactly does one 'host a disco' in this day and age? Do you rent out the strobe lights or something? The lycra costumes? The shady drugs? Is there money in it? I will need a job in a couple of months.

[Found the picture I was looking for - thanks, Neko.]

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Wow. More English football. How thrilled I am not.

Hopefully by 2011 Internet penetration in India will have reached the stage where streaming and webcasting are widely supportable, and an entire underbelly of rebels can switch off ESPN for good. And watch the Copa Libertadores. Or the African Cup of Nations. Or go out in the sunshine and watch something, anything else. (Which I missed the chance to do a bare couple of weeks ago - I slept through the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal derby, and a Baichung brace, at that. I suck - as do East Bengal, sadly.)

This is why my first thought on hearing that England hadn't qualified for Euro 2008 was paranoid fear that the sporting networks in their wisdom would assume that us dollar signs in Manchester United tee-shirts would not in fact need to watch the tournament at all. One could argue that a Euro-centric tournament once every four years is enough, certainly. But there will be so much hell to pay if I don't get to see Donadoni and van Basten shake hands on the touchline.

DONADONI: van Basten. It's been ages.
VAN BASTEN: You can say that again, er. ...Costacurta, wasn't it?

Almost makes you wish Capello was in on the party.