Archive for the ‘Op-Ed’ Category

Op-Ed: Unless You’re Messi, Act As If

First, let me get this out of the way.

I, nor you, are this guy on the right...who has every right to celebrate....but rarely does in an audacious manner.

My first touch is strong…..strong as in a cement brick hitting a supercharged super-ball that is. My high school school coach used to say to me, “Matt….you’d be All-County….if you had a foot.”

Had to put my soccer skills in perspective first.

I’m lucky enough–and longtime readers know this–to play on a rec league team with a fair bit of talent. I’m a complementary player, a pretty selfless (I pride myself on that) player and I don’t give up on defense. On the attack, I’m a decent passer–those skills honed through years of getting rid of the ball quickly because my offensive moves are about as creative as a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.

…..

There’s a common axiom in business–and in sports too.

“Act As If”

Act as if….you’ve been there before.

If you’ve just become a CEO, act if you’ve been one before.

Sales guys preach this as well. That BMW a sales guy is driving? Well, it’s true many of them are going for the big spender-big ego-compensate thing, but another more meticulous and success-minded group wants to ooze that success when you meet them off-site. Act as if.

Act as if carries over to sports as well.

Larry Fitzgerald embodies it when he scores a touchdown. Minimal celebration.

Business-like...

Emmitt Smith, #2 on the all-time touchdown list, used to score and just flip the ball to the ref. Asked about his low-key post-touchdown routine, Smith once said, “I just take more of a business approach.”

Plenty of players embody it in soccer as well. I remember Dean Ashton–unfortunately now relegated to spectator by injuries–starting the 2008 season en fuego. He’d score, little celebration. This was a guy that was good, not great….but he was playing great so he acted as if he expected himself to be great. (Don’t ask me where the Dean Ashton reference came from.)

This past Sunday, our FC Black Sox team played a friendly against a top SF team. We’re a very solid team that predominantly plays in an 8-by-8 league. We decided, through a mutual player, to play an 11-by-11 friendly today–a chance to play “legitimate soccer.”

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What’s the deal with Jurgen?

Is he really a good coach?

So if Jurgen can stir up a hornets nest, so can I. I’m curious to know what the big deal with Klinsy really is. A lot of USMNT fans really really want him as head coach and I want to know why. I’m English, so first and foremost I support England, but having lived here for 20 years, I REALLY want to see the USMNT national team get to the next level in International Soccer. I just don’t see how Jurgen can take them there.

He’s had two managerial spells. One with the German National team and one with Bayern Munich.

With Bayern, he coached for less than a season (08-09) and was fired in April 09, with Bayern knocked out of the German domestic cup in the quarters, Champions league in the quarters and in third position of the Bundesliga, endangering their next years Champions League qualification.

He was given a squad that had won their domestic league the previous year and set them a few steps backward.

Germany's 2006 success had more to do with their fans, the players and hosting the Cup then their coach.

Klinsmann was more successful with the national team, at least on first glance. He took a young German team to third place at the 2006 World Cup and did do a good job of shunting out the older generation of players who had failed so miserably in the 2004 Euros, revamping Germany’s national footballing program on the way.

BUT, lets look at his results. Klinsmann’s first two years in charge did little to impress the footballing world, as they did poorly in friendlies building up to the 2006 World Cup (which Germany was hosting, so no need to qualify).

At the big dance, they won their group, but had less than challenging opponents in Costa Rica, Poland and Ecuador. They then beat Sweden (a solid team, but no world beaters) in the first knock stage and then an average Argentinian team on penalties in the quarters. They lost 2-0 to Italy in the semis.

Keeping in mind that every game they played, they were spurned on by their home fans, and that they had a relatively easy route to the semi finals. I would venture to say that the players got them as far as they did and not him as a coach. When they needed him to do something different and come up with a tactical magical moment, he failed and Italy won late in extra time.

After the World Cup, with the German press and pubic in full support, Klinsmann decided to resign, saying he didn’t have the drive anymore and wanted to spend time with his family. Joachim Löw took over and has taken an even younger Germany to the next level, and they are one of the favorites at Euro 2012 and Brazil 2014.

Did Klinsmann realize that he didn’t really have what it took to take Germany further and intelligently decide to step down on top? The cynic in me says yes.

A fantastic striker and amateur diver, Klinsmann and the word defense aren't very synonymous

I’m not saying he’s a bad coach, but I really don’t think he’s what the USMNT wants. I wouldn’t go as far as to say Klinsmann would be a step backward from Bob Bradley, but I don’t think he offers anything special.

Klinsmann was a fantastic striker in his playing days and his coaching style is reflective of that. I don’t believe the word defense is in his lexicon. This is not what the USMNT wants. The US’s counter attacking style and speed is one of their strengths, but they do not possess the skill to just outscore their opponents. They need discipline at the back and Klinsmann cannot provide that.

Who would be perfect for the job. Honestly I don’t know. What perplexes me though, is why so many people think “California Klinsy” would be the savior of the USMNT.

Your thoughts!

Hanging Up The Boots

A kickette favorite, Raul was the heart and soul of Real Madrid for over a decade.

Brett Favre is going through his annual “Will I? Won’t I?” retire charade. Frankly, it’s a joke and I’ve given up trying to figure out what he’s getting out of this media circus The actual impetus for this article, though, was not Favre, but last week’s dual moves of Real Madrid legends Guti and Raul to Beşiktaş and Schalke 04 respectively.

Both players were incredibly successful with Real. They both won the Champions Leagues three times, La Liga multiple times (Guti 5, Raul 6), Copa del Rey multiple times and the Intercontinental Cup (Winner of the European Cup versus the winner of the Copa Libertadores).

They both played over 116 games combined for their national team (Raul with the bulk of the appearances), though both were dropped from the Spanish squad before the team’s recent success.

Individually, Raul has accomplished more than most teams. He is Real’s and Spain’s leading scorer (though Villa is closing in on his national record). He owns records in appearances for club, numerous nominations for World and European player of the year (finishing second and third in 2001). He won the Pichichi twice as well as countless other individual awards.

Both are 33-years-old and in the twilight of their careers. So why not hang up their boots?

Fiery and passionate and at times odd, Guti was a midfield genius for Real.

It’s not like they’re moving onto bigger clubs, nor will playing at these clubs add to their illustrious club careers. With no disrespect to Beşiktaş and Schalke 04, both whom are big clubs in their countries, but they are not Real Madrid.

When I saw the derby match between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in April, both players came on midway through the second half. Obviously a clear sign that they were no longer the focal points of the club they had spent their entire footballing careers with, it would have seemed that this summer would have been a perfect time to retire.

Within 24 hours, both had signed new contracts with new clubs.

Is it about the money? This I refuse to believe. They both played their careers at one of the wealthiest clubs in the world, and their good looks ensured that they weren’t short on individual sponsorships.

So maybe it’s for the love of the game…but then what of one’s legacy?

Not quite Mike.

Very few of the best athletes retire on top of their game. They almost always believe they still have what it takes to perform at the highest level. A lot of those that do retire get restless and un-retire with varying degrees of failure and success. Michael Jordan being a prime example of a failed attempt as he un-retired for a second time to play with the Wizards. His first foray from retirement led to 3 more championships with the Bulls.

Both Joe Montana and Jerry Rice had mediocre seasons after leaving the 49ers. While still considered some of the best at their positions, it was a little sad to see them not at their greatest toward the end of their careers. By the same regard, even though he had been at the twilight of his career, Larry Bird retired after winning Olympic Gold. Pete Sampras, too, retired at the top, after winning his 5th US Open and at the time a record 14th Grand Slam title.

In soccer, arguably the best player ever to play the game retired from international football at the age of 29. After winning his third World Cup, Pelé retired from international football by taking a lap of honor at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City after beating Italy 4-1 in the final. There can be no higher point in one’s career in which to call it quits.

Pele retired after scoring in the 1970 World Cup final

Pelé continued to play for Santos for a couple of years and then came out of retirement to play for the Cosmos where he was largely successful and had a rather extravagant last game.

More recently, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, retired from international and club football. He’s had an illustrious career, winning many titles and trophies in different leagues, and the Champions League with Barcelona. He captained his country to the finals of the World Cup, and scored a brilliant goal in the semis to get them there. They sadly lost in the finals, but GVB knew it was time to go.

He no doubt could have gotten offers from many clubs or could have played in Dubai or MLS to earn a little more money, but he chose to end his career on top. Kudos to him.

What makes Guti and Raul’s decisions even more perplexing to me, is that there is no attachment or sentimental value to either of the clubs they chose. They played their entire career in the country of their birth with one club, so why Germany and Turkey?

Some players who are surplus to requirements at the end of their careers, but still want to play the game, go “back home.” Claudio Reyna, after a successful career in Scotland and England, came back to play his last year with the Red Bulls (he was born in New Jersey).

Others, like Thierry Henry, want a different (and easier) pace to end their careers and want to test themselves in a different market. Henry, aged 32, having won pretty much everything football has to offer, is going to end his career (having already retired from international football) in New York.

GVB's wonder strike helped send the Dutch into the finals

He has made no secret of his desire to live in the Big Apple and for him it will certainly be a less hectic scene than what he was used to. Speaking perfect English, he will be a great ambassador for foreign players in the MLS (something which Beckham failed to do, though he did pave the way), and the US is also great avenue to concentrate on his many charitable causes.

So I guess Guti and Raul are still playing as they still love the game. They could have retired as Real Madrid legends and will probably always be remembered as such. They instead decided to continue their stories elsewhere. I REALLY and TRULY hope they both win their current domestic championships and prove to everyone, and most importantly to themselves what we all know: that they were great players and now it’s time to hang the boots up. Favre…take note!

Movie Review: Pelada

A MUST SEE film

Last night Matt and I went to the Victorian Theater ( a lot fancier than it sounds ) to see the documentary Pelada.

The movie follows two former college stars a few years removed from undergrad as they try and figure out what to do with their lives. Luke is being pressured by family to go to law school and Gwendolyn is trying to write a novel. Both frustrated and missing soccer they plan a worldwide whirlwind trip to play pickup footie.

They start off in Brazil and make their way to Argentina and other places in South America. They play with elderly folks, they play in dodgy sections of Buenos Aires and even play in a prison pickup game.

They then make their way to Europe and Africa and then to China and Japan. The film ends with them in the Middle East.

I really enjoyed this documentary. It was a good mix of interviews and stories with some of the people they played against/with, as well as a snapshot of the places they were visiting. Both Luke and Gwendolyn were incredibly friendly and respectful to the people and situations they came across and in turn were treated in similar fashion. There is a lot of humor in the way it was shot and the camera people/directors (Rebekah Fergusson and Ryan White) did a wonderful job of capturing the fun with the intensity of each pick up game.

Austins Field in Methare Valley, Nairobi - Kenya

As someone who has done a lot of traveling and often migrated to any area where there might be pickup, I recognized the nervousness and awkwardness of speaking an unfamiliar language while trying to communicate that you would like to join their game. Most everywhere they went, they were greeted with welcoming arms and curiosity. Both could hold their own, though pretty much everyone playing was surprised and impressed with how good Gwendolyn was.

Just like all situations in life everyone had a story. The film often concentrated on the idea that while things are tough either through poverty, politically or what have you, that everyone enjoys a game of football and that it transcends all. We are often led to believe based on various feel good stories that come out around any major tournament time that football can bring peace, stop wars, end conflict (which they do) etc… and it was refreshing though sadly interesting that their experience in Jerusalem did not follow these feel good paths.

Jerusalem is home to three different religions and close to various violent attacks and conflict from many sides. They play a pick up game where the division between teams is between the Jews and the Arabs and it is very obvious. In the interviews it is clear that they don’t like each other and when a conflict arises over whether a goal is scored, things get heated. It seems from the film that the game just ends after this situation.

Gwendolyn and Luke

The film is careful not to take any sides politically and it does it best stay away from showing anyone in a negative light (apart from a guy in a “Robin Hood” hat who deserved it). Its very respectful of every situation they are in, which mirrors the attitudes of both Luke and Gwendolyn. They’re both wonderful people and their joy and excitement with every game they play is infectious. As mentioned they were former college stars who didn’t make it professionally. Luke has made peace with this (he comes across as one of the most patient and easy going people in the world) and his calm demeanor is mirrored in the way he plays the game. Gwendolyn is having a harder time as she wrestles with her current situation versus her life long dream to be the best.

This is an excellent movie that captures the joy of kicking a ball around with old friends and neighbors whether in competition, for exercise or just something to do. It reminds you that regardless of how tough life can be, that people do find joy and release in a pick up game of football, that the game is important to everyone and in most cases brings people together.

Check out their site here and if there is not a screening being shown near you, buy the DVD, watch it and then go out and find a game.

Op-Ed: Don’t “Claim” ‘Em This Time Around

It’s happening. A little earlier this time around than 2006 I think.

You know you hear it.

You’re at the gym in the morning–as happened to me on Friday–and suddenly you hear a discussion. It usually goes something like this:

Everton United!

Mr. Too-Much-Under-Armour: “I think we can beat England.”

Mr. 1998 Kona Marathon T-Shirt: “Oh…of course…Landon Donovan killed it in English league with Everton United and Tim Howard is the best in the world. It was important for them to play together before June to develop good chemistry.”

Mr. Too-Much-Under-Armour: “I know and everyone’s going to be talking about Jozy Altidore. Remember how he demolished Spain last year all by himself?”

….and then you look down and they’re both holding identical sweat-stained copies of ESPN the Mag.

Don’t snicker and certainly don’t do the one thing that your mindwill want to compel you to do.

Don’t claim your battle-tested, world cup qualifying Yanks uber-fandom this World Cup cycle!

Don’t do what the Sports Fella (Dan at The Yanks Are Coming told me he’s called the Sports Fella now by those in the know, not the Sports Guy) did with Kevin Durant.

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