The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Howard Webb at his finest

July 12, 2010   Comments Off on Howard Webb at his finest

Oranje Devolution

Today Slate had an article entitled “Orange Devolution” in which the author argued that the current Dutch team are the antithesis of all that has come before. Football fans should be hoping they lose, he continued, because their game is ugly both in style and content. I couldn’t agree more. To emphasize the point, the author included a YouTube link showing one of Mark van Bommel’s more cynical fouls. In in he tries to take out an opponent’s knee before body-checking him like a hockey player. There is absolutely no attempt to play the ball. In truth, De Jong is almost as bad. Van Persie chops down everything that moves. And, of course, Arjen Robben is the world’s most accomplished diver. At least, Kuyt is honest and Sneijder has a bit of magic. Still, who would not hope that Spain, which resembles one of Cruyff’s Barcelona’s teams, wins? The mantel of Dutch football is now worn by the Spanish.

July 9, 2010   Comments Off on Oranje Devolution


I watched the first half of the Germany-Argentina match on American television and the second half on the BBC. Seeing Argentina fall apart was a shock to the system. Of course, Diego had been outcoached. The Argentine midfield could not cope with the likes of Schweinsteiger, Özil, and Khedira, as well as Podolsky, Klose, and Müller, filling the passing lanes and winning back the ball, and Lamm and Boateng overlapping.

After the match the English commentators trotted out the old stereotypes, as if it were the aftermath of some battle in World War II. It was true the Germans worked as a team and the Argentines did not, but they were not some kind of super-organized panzer unit. The Germans were simply a better football team. How many generations must pass before the myth of the unified German mind disappears?

July 4, 2010   1 Comment

The Agony and the Ecstasy

This is my favorite shot from the World Cup so far. Júlio César lining up his defenders for a Dutch free kick, resting against the post, looking as if he’s playing in a Sunday pick-up game in the park.

Perhaps he was too relaxed. Or, more precisely, perhaps his defenders lost concentration at two critical moments. Then the red card for Filipe Melo, who put Robben on the ground, the writhing human snake. And then Melo lost his head and pressed his cleats into Robben’s thigh. Sad, really. Robben, who exemplifies the skillful Dutch at their best, but is a disgrace, playing for every foul.

The most intelligent person on the field, I thought, was the Japanese referee, who never lost his cool, and got almost every call spot on. Still, it was hard watching Brazil crash out.

As my son said, “What a tournament. Each country gets its own agonizing exit, one after another.”

Come on Germany!

July 2, 2010   Comments Off on The Agony and the Ecstasy

Robo What?

Dunga’s Brazil are not human, but are, in fact, indestructable robotic creatures with intelligent programs—Robofootballers—acting with a single indomitable mind. Who designed the technology? Where were the bionic parts manufactured? Who did the surgery?

This is the most frightening bunch of footballers I have ever seen.

The midfielders’ primary command is to hunt down the ball, leave the opponent on the ground, and pass to Kaká, who seems to have been modified in a different way from the others. Kaká’s program tells him to slip the ball to a runner in front of goal, though he does shoot now and then to throw off the defense. Maicon is the most frightening of the bunch (a former assassin?), and Lucio the most amusing, whose program goes haywire at times, causing him to run about and shout in absurd ways at imagined slights and injustices.

Did you see the strapping across Júlio César’s back the other night? Think it was really for a back problem? Not at all. It’s there to hold his components in place. It’s not easy constructing a bionic keeper.

Be afraid, Holland. Be very, very afraid. This lot are not going to lose to anyone for the simple fact that they are not human.

July 1, 2010   Comments Off on Robo What?

“I’ve not heard you say, sorry…”

When the wheels start wobbling on the green and white Mexican bus, they generally fall off, one by one, sooner rather than later. This was the case in the match against Argentina.

The first Argentine goal, created from Messi to a clearly off-side Carlos Tévez, set the wobble in motion. Immediately afterward, Rafa Márquez took matters into his own hands and delivered nasty fouls to both Messi and Tevez. Then, Osorio lost his bearings and offered the ball to Higuaín, who scored, and the match was over. The thing the Mexicans had going for them in this World Cup was their verve and composure, and they lost both within the space of a minute.

It was a disappointment. Yet another match, and probably another after that, of having to watch Diego act like a juvenile Gary Coleman. It’s teeth-gnashing stuff. The hugs, the kisses, the gestures from the touchline unworthy of a coach, flinging himself into the arms of assistents, taunting FIFA officials, and the vile comments to the media. Uffa. The whole concept of dignity seems lost on the little man.

June 28, 2010   Comments Off on “I’ve not heard you say, sorry…”

A Reckoning

Perhaps the myth of Italian managerial nous has finally been shattered, though I somehow doubt it. When it really mattered against Germany, it was clear that Fabio Capello had done nothing to improve England. Unlike Germany, he included no young players in his squad, did not change the defense, and seemed unable to get the English professionals to play at a high tempo. In truth, despite the goal that wasn’t, Germany ripped England to shreds.

The inquest in England will last for months. The players will be denigrated for not giving their all, but Capello’s reputation will emerge only slightly tarnished. This is wrong. The proof is in the results. England are a ponderous, static, predictable lot. They were not unlucky in this tournament. No coach, regardless of reputation, can make them into something they’re not.

I’m not gloating about this. Just sad. In the end, Capello was worse than either Steve McClaren or Sven-Göran Eriksson, whom the English press still trash as soft, incompetent bumblers. What’s the answer? There is no answer, except to give English citizenship to as many Premier League players from other countries as possible.

June 27, 2010   Comments Off on A Reckoning

Last act of a bitter defeat

Unfortunately, Bradley got it wrong in the first half, as he did against Slovenia. He had to bring on Edu after 30 minutes and added Feilhaber in the second half to create shape and add numbers in midfield. However, Bradley does learn from what he sees on the field, which is a distinct improvement in American coaching. Moreover, he has the good sense (and players) to make positive adjustments.

I thought it was a deserved result for Ghana. Our central defense, while good, is not world class. We overachieved in this tournament, as is our wont, but over achievement can only take you so far. Still, it was a gutsy and classy performance on the part of the U.S. team, of which we can be justly proud.

June 27, 2010   1 Comment


It was disappointing to hear that Bastian Schweinsteiger might miss the England game. In the previous matches, he was better than Ballack at running the team, making key stops and intelligent passes, and adding coherence to the German attack. Literally, everything went through him. I don’t think Germany can beat England without him.

The statistician Nate Silver is giving even odds in the Ghana-U.S. match. I think the edge should go to Ghana who have better players and are better organized. It will depend on how well Bradley prepares the United States team for its African opponents. They were not ready for Slovenia and went down two goals. If Bradley does his job, it should be a very close match.

My only regret so far is that Chile did not eliminate Spain. Cooler heads might have prevailed. Still, the South Americans have done wonderfully well as a whole. Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Brasil have all come through. If you include Mexico, it makes six of sixteen teams. The United States’ style of play is more Latin than European, so one might actually say seven teams. By the way, I agree with Dunga’s critics. Without Kaká, Brasil “park the bus” as well as any European team playing at their most cynical. It is a disgusting spectacle from such a talented team.

June 26, 2010   Comments Off on Jottings


France, Italy, and now Denmark are out of the tourament. Is there a new generation of French, Italian, or Danish players who can achieve the skill, polish, and resiliance of previous teams? I sincerely hope so. Of the three, Italy were the most hopeless and Denmark the most respectable. Still, they were teams selected on the basis of hope and a belief that the past would magically recreate itself, rather than good sense. Sometimes tradition is a good thing. Mostly, it’s not. The results were all too predictable.

June 25, 2010   1 Comment