29 June 2011

Those questions

By Dr3

How is it that the men’s World Cup is just called The World Cup?

Why wasn’t the opening day of the Women’s World Cup (WWC) on the landing page on my news websites?

Why are WWC matches put together as part of a wrap and not given individual match reports on my news websites?

Why doesn’t livescore carry WWC scores?

Why does livescore still have the World Cup section of 2010?

Why does only soccernet of my news websites have a dedicated (however undedicated) WWC section?

Why is pre-match talk literally about player flexibility and uniforms?

Why don’t I know any of these women like I know the men’s teams?

Why don’t I know any of these coaches, except the U.S?

Where are all the born-again, well-to-do, football-fans and lifelong Brazil/Spain/Holland fans on my mini feed?

Why ask those questions I know, but can’t face, the answers to?

Are those......?

EDIT: Livescore now has a dedicated WWC section. Other websites start giving individual match reports on the fourth day of the tournament.

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24 June 2011

Technology; It's all in the game yo

By Dr3

Continuing in the same vein of being fed-up of “this” football, I’ve started enjoying the finer things once again. I read titles, and skim feeds, so as not to alienate myself from the ‘news’, but then run-like-hell-away from anything resembling an opinion. Even in the news, presidents have started sounding more like pimps in this buyer’s market, sometimes making rookies of seasoned agents when it comes to advertising their product. But it brings me to the game.

Injury-and-all I’ve restarted playing with random people at parks, kids, watching full replays on espn3, watching compilations of golden-era 90’s heroes, and started playing football video games again. It’s the last bit though, that I want to talk about. For some time I’ve been nostalgic about football video games, crusading that while the graphics, engines, and capabilities have improved so drastically in 10 years, the intangible ‘feel’ has withered away much like this football I keep talking about. Year after year, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer and EA’s Fifa, are reinvented and improved versions of their former selves. Yet, much like Pele and Maradona some timeless divas remain, as standard bearers even; remember Fifa 98’? Fifa 99’? ISS Pro Evolution? Pro Evolution Soccer 2?

Usually, I suppose I am very much right-wing when it comes to technology in football. Do I want to rid football of cheat/bad/horror-show calls such that there can be no UNICEF tirades? Yes. Do I want goal-line technology? Maybe. Do I want to above all preserve the non-‘stop/start’ quality of football? Absolutely. Such that in the black and white argument for and against technology that debaters would have us envisage, I’m white, in the foreground of the darkness of change. Even further I’m definitely right-wing when it comes to statistics in football-writing. While nowhere near echoing the melodramatic overtones and bitterness of this piece, I do definitely feel that something is lost in going towards ZonalMarking-type match reporting, and not gained.

"Put the calculators down!!". "Everyone just wants to punch-in numbers, but you gotta understand the concept!!".
- Mr. Warner, Strength of Materials Professor

To be clearer, statistics like tactics cannot be separated from the game (as my idol details). But while statistics are important or even essential in analyzing data, there is a huge difference between having statistics and understanding/using them. The problem with the rise of the “armchair tactician” coupled with data sources like opta, is that there are now more fallacies born out of errors in understanding the data. Crunching numbers or even being impressed by them, does not make you a statistician. Knowing about tactical set-ups and how they work, doesn’t make you a coach either. It’s problematic in that football is oversimplified into an equation where, “if I use this formation, I will nullify this team”. Or conversely, “it is because I used this formation that this team was able to beat me”. This is not to say that a tactical flaw cannot be identified by an armchair tactician. This is also not to say that having statistics about distance covered are not useful for the internet-footballer. But to give an example the problem arises in going beyond the actual data. I can casually say in fact, that Maicon was grossly affected by Inter’s high defensive-line positioning versus Gareth Bale. However, the conclusion that the error in Inter’s game plan versus Tottenham was a high defensive-line is simply put, wrong. While there is merit to the claim that the line shouldn’t have been that high, there is nothing that then says that by moving it further backwards that Inter would retain their balance, and/or even be able to nullify Tottenham’s threat, such that the line was the “problem”. A problem surely. But not the problem. Using possession statistics to substantiate that one team dominated the other serves as another example. It is true that a team with more possession dominated the possession, but in football that does not amount to any other conclusions on its own. Similarly there are goals/games ratios that are flashed like party wristbands. Kluivert and Pauleta have outstanding goalscoring records. But everyone, even as kids ‘oblivious’ to profanity, can recall their virgin ears being perverted by that mild-mannered Uncle; watching Kluivert. Everyone can recall “if only” sentiments towards Portugal swapping strike forces with any other European big team. How is it possible? The bottom line is that they exist, such that we shouldn’t pretend that they don’t, or feel as if we lack the ability to express ourselves for using them. But in writing going in that direction, the danger is that we may have Eskimos reciting lessons about warm summer nights.

Admittedly though, technology has rescued me. The divas I mentioned remain even though the consoles, resolutions, and operating systems have changed tenfold. Technology? In doing a google search about my martyrs, I found that I was not alone. The Japanese version of Pro Evolution Soccer (PSX); Winning Eleven 2002, has a huge cult-following such that the game designers amongst us have started remaking that game. Every year, a new version of the same old game is made, with updated transfers so that we can keep up to date, while being out of date, but maintaining that ‘feel’ that has yet to be replicated. Hacks, they call them, standing as archetypes. This is what the new games should be like. ‘Hackers’ have translated Japanese to English, encoded online-playing options (for a playstation one game), created players and even created teams all for the sake of holding onto this utopian diva. Coupled with the existence of emulators for almost every console ever, I’m reliving the charm of playing this for the first time almost ten years ago. Now while I can’t see Ronaldinho’s face, or identify his stride from the tower camera, there is an intangible authenticity about this experience. I am forced to accept that 10 years ago were the stone ages by looking at these pixelated heroes. I am forced to accept that 10 years ago commentary was horrendous in video games. I am also forced to applaud technology even in the face of my sentimentality. Using a PS3 controller, I can play the best playstation-one game, with new players, transfers, and teams, on a computer? Years after the eulogies for fallen consoles, here I am with this gem. Fitting that in a time where change and technology have become overwhelming, that a time-machine would appear and provide solace. Ironic even, that my right-wing ambitions are being facilitated by the same technology and change that I fear may ruin “my football”.

SN: Technology; exposing racists everywhere.

Another sidenote: The title is a reference to The Wire and interestingly I found this site. If you're a fan of the show AND football, it's pretty funny.

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08 June 2011

The World's gone mad

By Dr3

I suppose I’ll start by saying I’m tired. I’m tired of reading about this football.

Football is my vice, my outlet, my joy, but it’s all getting a little nuts’ out there. There’s the hyperbole-competition of internet-footballing coupled with a real-world revolution in football. There’s also the overstated ‘scandal’ of FIFA corruption, along with the cyclic guaranteed transfers; heard wherever first. In the back of all of this, a couple of greats now need new pastimes, money bought a couple of trophies, and chivalry was resurrected by just one gesture.

Firstly, the Revolution might as well be called Barcelonafication (By the way, congratulations to Barcelona on their emphatic double this season). There was a time when clichés were reserved and preserved/recited for and from the ancient tales, books and fables. Barcelona though, through their winnings, record shatterings, and style in doing so have shelved this practice in carving a new one; ‘like-Barcelona’. In watching the highlight-reel of Argentina’s 25 pass goal versus Serbia & Montenegro, one would be forgiven for salivating, slipping, rolling on the floor, crying, then shouting, “Barcelona”, before singing that Queen Song. Everything is now compared to the zenith that is playing football like Barcelona. Everything in football now, includes a supposition. It’s the way it was always meant to be. Supposed to be. As Xavi always says of their victories; “it’s a victory for football”. So much so that Barcelonafication is evidently rampant.

Manchester United was outclassed, for about 80 minutes at Wembley. It stood out to me that Manchester United started the game; trying to be Barca. More interestingly though, no one seems to think anything is wrong with that. So much so that even the Gaffer has suggested that their model ‘should’ be followed. So much so that the question raised wasn’t why, but why didn’t they continue for more of the game; pressing high, supporting each other in little triangles all over the pitch. So much so that the sadness of losing, was a dignified sadness. Manchester United shockingly, at least to me, played as timidly as a virgin to the big time. But that’s ok.

Beyond them, a trend is brewing all part of this renaissance. Why the hell are so many teams hiring young coaches? AC Milan? Allegri? Leonardo? Juventus? Conte? Ciro? Roma? Montella? Luis Enrique? There was a time when only a resume mini-booklet, laminated and stamped, could even merit discussions with these clubs. There was a time when everyone KNEW in order to win, you had to hire reputed winners. Even with players, why the hell are so many teams interested now in buying youth, and long term projects? Promoting from the ranks? It used to be about a blend of the young and the campaigners. It used to be about the experience and guile to deal with high pressure situations. A winning mentality gained through years of playing. But this Barcelona is now so unprecedented, and simply put too enamoring. Cantera products who understand the value of the club, honor the club, not interested in filthy money, coached by a cantera product and play real football? It really does not get any better. Yet there is an inherent madness in all of this. Certainly not every team can employ the same strategy and have the same results? Certainly merit should be attached to the actual players beyond the system. Could it be that by being so in love with the style that we underrate the talent of the individuals? If we play and run our club like Barcelona we could beat them? Really? Xavi isn’t really the greatest of all time anymore? It’s just this brilliant system that we should all just adopt-and-become-the-best-period? Barcelona is so enticing and fascinating that they are now a really bad cliché, while a great team. The cliché of their greatness is so true, that it generalizes the talent of the players and lulls us into believing that it’s all one big trick. Yet we know it isn’t. Believing in a fantasy that we know to be just that? Dortmund did it though, right?

What can we yield by making about 15 clubs run in the same way as the Catalans? If every ‘big club’ played football in the same way, and was run in the same way, it would mean exactly what? Entertainment? Real entertainment? I’m tired.

What makes it worse beyond the fact that I saw it coming based on Barcelona’s success, is that there once was a time where gushing was neither unanimous, nor ubiquitous. I could still rely on some good author, somewhere, to be a contrarian, or otherwise just a hater; like Side Lowe on Mourinho. But, everyone has seemed to be swept up into this ideal. “Supposed to be”, “Should”, and the like, are now as common if not as necessary as punctuation in sentences when talking about football. Nobody stands behind their own opinion anymore without quoting Opta. Instead everything is about possession stats, completion rates, and distance covered, substantiating Barcelona as a brand, and as an ideal, to be the realest existence of the sport. It is no longer acceptable that a team sets out to play football any other way. And as long as a team’s style is remotely ‘attractive’ however intangible that is, it is compared immediately to Barcelona; which is Spain in the same breath. It is at such a stage that my dreariness has turned into a longing to hear Andy Gray lavish praise on Stoke again.

To every left there is a right, and for every ‘should’, there also is a ‘should not’. It’s a dangerous and very annoying day to ‘like’ football in the way I do. Soon liking tactical battles will be outlawed, since no other tactic reflects the way football should be played, and as such are all obsolete. Or maybe by qualifying it to only ‘big teams’ it would make it okay; big teams should play with possession and press high, with “false nines”, and should have interchanging midfielders, and should have gallivanting wing backs. Perhaps a consequence of just how liberal the internet is, the bombardment of praise as it existed for Sacchi’s Milan, now multiplied, is overwhelming and nauseating if you’re not quite on that train. It’s no longer a question of not reading the sports pages in the newspaper, or not subscribing to some magazine, instead in order to escape with your left wing views of football intact, you pretty much need to cancel your internet, watch games on mute, and don’t talk to anyone about football.

There’s more. Its name is Balotelli. I considered writing another ‘defense’ of Mario with a little play on words calling him Il Diavolo for what it’s worth. I realized it was way beyond any defense though. When the media doctors information about parking tickets per day; in the same way players were removed from images to make Dani Alves offside, then it’s definitely all over. Balotelli is now being “linked” with the betting scandal in Italy for touring with thugs in Naples. While Wayne is allowed to let Everton fans know his feelings about United, Balotelli should apparently be killed for such gestures. Ironic I believe is the best word, for a player who has received more red cards in one season than his entire career prior to moving to a more physical, more lenient, more ‘manly’ league. Maybe it’s not ironic though, but more so just referees who have grown tired of reading about him.

I am tired, confused too. Seeing that I am a fan, Manchester City won a trophy, even though they didn’t play the way they ‘ought’ too. Confused, because I still can’t grasp where money ties into a style of play. Confused because I still can’t grasp exactly what the expectations for the style of play really were (oh, like Barca). Like Real Madrid, because a certain amount of money was spent, the style of play, by default, must be Barca’s; in every game. I’m confused because the predictable Serie A is the only of the big three in Europe to have a different top two. I’m also confused because I was under the impression that buying Zlatan Ibrahimovic meant that you intended to not win titles, as used in a punch line by some writer, in relation to non-interchanging and non-moving, non-false-nines being obsolete; you know, unlike Barcelona’s strike force. By the way, Chicharito for all his brilliant movement “between the lines” was even more invisible than “Big Ibra” in the biggest occasion, is he now a big game flop? Most confusing though is Paul Scholes. I was under the impression that Xavi was the best midfielder not only of his generation, but of all time. Scholes is five years older than Xavi, and started his senior career four years before him. Xavi and others have all at one time or the other said that Scholes was the best of his generation. Is the conclusion that a generation spans 4-5 years then?

I suppose I should end by saying I’m tired. But even the staunchest hater (which I am undoubtedly now) can admit to one positive in this revolution. Maybe there will be more examples to humanity like this moment.

We shalt protect all of humanity from annihilation - Xavi, everyday

EDIT: RUN OF PLAY wrote something similar (I think), but vindicated me in not liking them by being as verbose and annoying as ever. Turns out I'm not alone though, someone else finds them a bit acrid.

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