Unprofessional Foul


January 3, 2011

2011 In The Soccer Universe


With all the confetti strewn about this wild planet and footy already sprung in the new year, one wonders what joys and horrors await our beloved sport. Will we experience yet more riches to justify our frothy obsession with the game, or will the game’s luminaries disappoint, anger, and frustrate?

I reckon they’ll do as always, plumped by the constant flow of money into the sport, and give us thrills and fails in equal measure. Like thirsty paupers, we’ll always consume, and so, in recognition of the calendar year that stretches out before us, I’m curious as to what we have in store.

Wayne Rooney
Buoyed by the break—at long last!—of his scoring-from-open-play drought, Wazza experiences a kindler, gentler sense of self. Gone is the arm-flapping, chin-wagging petulance of old, replaced by a sturdier sense of spirit. Though prone to lapses in the kind of youthful effervescence that punctuates his game, we’ll see a man freed of the idea that everything United must flow through him.

After all, for those years of unwavering focus in which there was no blade of Old Trafford grass left untrod, he gleaned little more than a monkey on his back and tabloid-fueled marital problems.

The game was oh. so. very. close to snapping him in two, as it had to retro souls like Gazza and Ariel Ortega-zza and Adrian Mutu-zza, but now, with a single goal, he should slowly click back on track. He’ll luncheon with Sir Alex Ferguson and share odd silences with Dimitar Berbatov. He’ll show concern in the colors that his sullen bride picked out for the nursery. He’ll find peace with priggish referees, prickly armchair pundits, and Paul Scholes. He’ll learn media etiquette from Rio Ferdinand, finding joy in the utterly, infinitely mundane.

And he’ll score the odd goal or two, his pocked face beaming to the Stretford End with every tally. No word on trophies yet.

Michel Platini
Is there any man better positioned to strike a dagger blow into the hearts—and cloaks—of Zurich-based skulduggery? One might think not, given the weighty force of UEFA within the family of football federations, and the air of being Sepp’s prodigal son that is worn so well by the French legend. The pair share a very Wall Street kind of relationship; Blatter’s bloat and self-certainty scream Gordon Gecko while Michel dances in his vapor trails, taking notes and leading the charge against the biggest threats to their empire, namely the English, rich and prestigious domestic clubs, and the concept of a strong labor force on the field.

And so, while waging this crusade on behalf of his shadowy mentor, one wonders if he ever finds time to recall just what he loved about the sport in the first place. The pageantry, the artistry, the carre magique that ruled the French midfield in his 80s heyday. Heck, playing alongside Marco Tardelli, Claudio Gentile, and Michael Laudrup at the Stadio Olimpico. Happier times, and ones that couldn’t be further removed from his current station as chief destroyer for “The Establishment”, a million miles away from two perfect hat-tricks to help his nation to victory at Euro 1984.

A happenstance meet-and-drink with former Juve and FFF teammates prompts a change of heart in the entrenched bureaucrat, and he emerges from his chrysalis with a less righteous stance on the world game than the one that fueled his Blatter-groomed rise to power. Financial regulations are slackened to allow empires room to build overnight. All of it gone, and with it, erased too are the safeguards designed to prevent empires from burning, rewarding prudence and common sense in soccer without railroading it down such a path. Arsene Wenger smiles and gives him the keys to the Emirates. Sepp grumbles in his barca lounger contemplating a ski trip, ousted by Platini’s joyous soccer carnavale, one with genuine roots unlike Sepp’s PR-spun narrative. The Glazers go back to managing shopping malls.

Or at the very least, he makes the criminality a little less blatant.

Antonio Cassano
Another banner year for the Italian Craig Bellamy. He’ll fight, scrap, f$@k, and gorge his way through two more professional soccer teams, leaving their owners curled in the foetal position praying for the Rapture. With his incandescent character on Italia’s biggest stage at the San Siro, he’ll make mincemeat of the wannabe badboys japing their way around the attacking third. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be cruelly exposed. Robinho’s thumb-sucking affectation will be laid to rest. Andrea Pirlo will wake up.

A player of such honesty is never long for this world, as evidenced by Berlusconi’s desire to rid his squad of the one man he feels he most identifies with. Though it’s fun for ol’ liver-spotted Silvio to finally feel that he’s got a protege on his payroll, the pair can’t co-exist in the same basic structure, and so off goes Antonio again in the summertime, hands tucked in jeans pockets, searching mournfully for another home. With the mischief of Pan and the mouth of Bob Saget after 10pm, Cassano skips on to his next conquest, his handlers queuing up the women and the pastries ahead of arrival.

Ha! There’s no hope. Yet more brave souls eager for a confrontation. The usual array of missed fouls, over-exuberant carding, irrational penalties, and overlooked headbutts, spittle, colorful language and general spite. Their biggest handicap is that their employers continue to trust them 110%.

Hosting A World Cup in Qatar
I’m thinking this year, people will mellow. Fury will gradually be redirected onto traditional patsies like the idiot at the bar on a Saturday morning who thinks he knows it all, the unbelievable conspiracy being perpetrated by the league against your tireless, noble club, love, death, and taxes. No matter how many necessary bastardizations of their sacred beast FIFA sputters out from an oak podium in Switzerland, we’ll learn that people are capable of change, money generally gets things done, and we’ll all still tune in to the 2022 festivities whether they take place in July, January, underground or in an air-conditioned bubble. And England will still fail miserably.

Yep. Still dead.

Maybe more predictions and guesses as the year rumbles to life.

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About the Author

James T