And I'm back. Not that The Beautiful Game is much of a comfort to me lately, but hell if I’m going to spend my precious free moments on this chilly Thursday to talk about the garbage pail Buffalo Bills. Fire Chan. Draft a QB or two. Do what you will with Buddy. And give CJ the damn football.
As for that game of so much beauty, that sport of kings, my current joy with soccer only exists by way of emotional detachment since there hasn’t been a ton to cheer about these past few weeks. Yet in the midst of that detachment, much has happened. Liverpool’s form continues to elude them, both Chelsea and QPR have rid themselves of their managers, and a little league called the MLS broke my heart. Twice. I’m finally ready to talk/emotionally vomit/ramble incoherently about it.
In truth, I chose to follow Liverpool with the deepest contours of my heart when they won in Istanbul. I had followed them somewhat casually before then, at least after I returned to the U.S. from a semester abroad in Bath, and was always wowed by the club’s litany of achievements, but it took that improbable European title to get me truly hooked. For that reason, I’ve always felt a little distant from Liverpool’s successes, since they haven’t come at a time when my support was at full tilt.
The question remains, then, whether I can withstand the seemingly endless string of frustrating results and (but for a diminutive Carling Cup) recently empty trophy case. It takes its toll.
The positives: Liverpool was unbeaten, until yesterday, in eight straight premier league matches, dating back to the 2-1 loss to Manchester United in September. Their goalkeeper is rounding back into form, and their holding midfielder Lucas Leiva is almost ready to return from his own injury. They're a young team which should keep getting better.
Oh, and they sit in 12th place today. TWELFTH.
The story of every Liverpool match this season is points left on the pitch. Tying games they should have won. Losing games they should have tied. Every game seems to provide some new frustration which keeps the team from taking all three points. Last weekend against Swansea, putting aside a slightly questionable offside call, the majority of those frustrations were from the team itself. Joe Allen seemed a shell of his earlier season self, and Steven Gerrard was as mistake-prone as I’d ever seen him. Devoid of a strong midfield, the chances were few and far-between, and more importantly beyond the skill level of a team lacking finish. 21 shots, 9 on goal, and zero goals.
Yesterday at Tottenham, it was more of the same – largely controlling play, inability to finish, result determined by brief lapses on the back line and the opponent’s relatively superior skill in front of goal.
As if we needed another reason to proclaim ... Fuck. Boston.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the mess of Europa League which I just remembered and is maybe the worst of all of it. Losing to BSC Young Boys at Anfield? Needing a victory at Undies... I mean, Udinese? Sounds like a #WhiteVanAdventure gone wrong.
Let me first say, before I get into the meat of my sorrow about Chelsea’s new hiring, that Mark Hughes should not have lasted this long, but – by way of analogy – if he was employed by Ralph Wilson he would have been managing Queens Park Rangers for the next four to five years as the club slipped back into the lower divisions via relegation. As much fun as that would have been to watch, apparently it’s not against the rules for a sports team to be owned by someone with actual standards of performance. Weird.
In his place is Harry Redknapp, which was far from surprising and also hilarious because I love Harry Redknapp generally in a “I want to poke him in the stomach with a stick and giggle” sort of way.
I have no explanation for that feeling.
On the other side of the coin, Roberto di Matteo was fired at Chelsea and Rafa Benitez – beloved formed Liverpool manager – was hired. I’m at a loss for how to think about this. Mostly enraged at seeing Rafa manage a hated rival – much less a rival with an annoyingly bandwagoned base of supporters from an annoyingly posh area of London. Ugh. It’d be like watching Davey Johnson take over for the Yankees. ... What’s that? Davey manages Mets’ division rival and NL east winning Washington Nationals? Well, fuck me. So, yeah, it’s like watching that.
Frankly, even though Chelsea fans got a real gem here, Abramovich’s fickleness is still bizarre, perhaps due, as Yachtsman predicts, to the fact that Chelsea is just waiting for Pep Guardiola to take the job. That said, bizarre or not, this is a team that wins trophies nearly every year these days - failing to finish second or higher only once since ‘03-’04; eight major trophies since ’05, including three EPL championships, four FA Cups and one European title. Fuck me, they’re good.
So, have at it, Roman. Your squad is much better than mine and will be for years to come.
A few weeks back, members of the Deeg tried to forget Hurricane Sandy for a couple of hours and cheer on the New York Red Bulls. At first, our efforts were stymied, ironically, by harsh weather and the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal was postponed. This was the first time the MLS broke my heart - waiting in the cold, drinking too much overpriced beer, hoping for an epic game in the snow, disappointment running balls deep. The next night, still sad from the wasted evening the night before, we watched the Red Bulls get bounced from the playoffs with a last-minute DC goal which still haunts my memories. Add in a penalty kick which was called back about fifteen minutes earlier after a boneheaded encroachment by Thierry Henry. In the stadium, fans were furious... but the replay told the story.
Since that game, my interest in the MLS playoffs has predictably dipped, though I’m excited that (a) DC lost in the EC finals, and (b) Beckham gets a chance at a nice little swan song now that he’s announced his intention to leave the Galaxy after the final. I’m an unabashed fan of David Beckham, even though he’s always played on squads I hate. Much has been made of his impact on growing the game in America. While there’s certainly an argument that his presence in the MLS was of little consequence in comparison to the growing impact of new markets like Portland and Vancouver and Seattle, you can’t really argue that he didn’t have a profound impact on his club, particularly if they win their second straight title.
Interestingly, rumors are already buzzing – probably without much merit, knowing the English press – that Harry Redknapp is interested in bringing Beckham to QPR. The interest in such a move on Redknapp’s part would hardly be surprising since Harry tried to bring Beckham to play for Spurs last year, though it’s tough to imagine that QPR would be an attractive destination since they are, well, terrible.