Category Archives: Football/Soccer

RIP Scooter Scaggs: There are 5 Fingers Pointing at You!

On Thursday, the incredibly loved and influential David Marshall “Scooter” Scaggs passed away after having suffered a rare form of early onset dementia that he had been diagnosed with in 2008. I don’t even know how to begin describing Scooter. He was a force of life. A husband, father, teacher, coach and mentor to so many of us young boys trying to become men.

He was never my coach per se, but was my first boss and champion. Scooter had been the coach of the very celebrated Woodward High School soccer team during the 80s. But more importantly for me, he developed and ran the Maryland Soccer School which was held for five weeks each summer at Bullis High School, just a short walk from my house.

How and exactly why Scooter hired me, I don’t remember. Most of the guys he picked were his Woodward players, went to Walter Johnson after Woodward closed, or were considered the county’s soccer All Stars. I was none of these. When my teammates Jim Geopfert (whose brother Rick was a counselor) and David Schwab were fourteen, Scooter tapped us to be gophers. Basically that meant we set up the fields for the day’s training sessions and games, but it also entitled us to hang with the older camp coaches and counselors.  These were people like Friedy, Devin, goalkeeper Tim, Steve K, Irv the Swerve and his brother Mike. For guys like Jim, David and I, they were our heroes and role models. We got to eat with them in the coaches’ room (basically the locker room), and play pick-up games during the lunch break with all of the kids cheering us on.

I was a very shy kid who always flew under the radar, so the fact that Scooter had somehow selected me to form part of his elite gang of youth soccer stars was an inexplicable honor. As mentioned, the vast majority of the coaches and counselors were not from my high school. That Jim, David and I were the only ones selected from our year was also very special, and we felt it. Furthermore, Scooter demanded a level of responsibility, enthusiasm and kindness from his counselors that was required to manage and motivate his campers. In other words, it wasn’t enough to be a great player, you needed to be someone who could handle kids from the ages of 6-14.

After two years as gophers, we finally graduated to full camp counselors, and I remained at the Maryland Soccer School every summer until my freshman year in college. When I look back at my formative high school years, those were the most memorable. It made my summers. I spent from 8:00am to 4:00pm with a soccer ball at my feet, and I started developing those first skills that have later defined me as a professional. I learned to be empathetic and use empathy as a key asset, to be part of team, to manage and motivate. And I learned that when you are the coach and you’ve been handed a team that you cannot fire or change, you need to find the best role for each member to make that team successful.

As mentioned, one of the biggest highlights of the day were the exhibition games played amongst the counselors. Another were the indoor sessions the kids would have twice a day to get out of the summer heat. In these, we watched films about Pele or the World Cup. Friedy would announce with great fanfare the first, second and third “stars” for each game, with the first stars winning the highly coveted blow-pops. This was usually followed by the entire camp chanting “Friedy eats quiche” (whatever that meant). Then Scooter would give us motivational talks, usually about the importance of team work. Here are some of his classic lines:

  • There is no “i” in team
  • When you point your finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you
  • Inch by inch, life’s a cinch, yard by yard it’s very hard
  • If you hoot with the owls at night you can’t soar with the eagles in the morning!

And then the silly ones like:

  • If the rain keeps up, it won’t come down
  • A buck two eighty

With Sam Debone at the Dr. Peppers Cup in Dallas

But Scooter didn’t do it all on his own. His family was always there, and he had Sam Debone. Back then Debone was the soccer coach of Whitman High School and the Wheaton Kickers club team, both of which were my high school and club team’s biggest rivals. Debone was another mentor. Knowing that I was loyal to my club team and couldn’t be poached, Debone nevertheless invited me to play for his team in tournaments where mine was not competing, including traveling with the Kickers.

In 1988, Scooter and Debone took a select team of Montgomery County soccer players to play exhibition games in London. I was asked to join them. It was my first ever trip to Europe. The following year I was again invited when they took a team to Nice and Cannes where I am pretty sure we played against Zinedine Zidane. You could say that those first trips to Europe had an incredible influence on my life. I ultimately moved to Europe where I have been living now for almost two decades.

Sadly some time in the early 90s, I lost contact with Scooter, his family and coach Debone. Nevertheless, I often thought about them. For example, I would go to a Real Madrid match in Madrid and think about the first professional match I went to with them in London (Chelsea vs. Arsenal). Or it would rain, and I would think, “if the rain keeps up …”, or I would see the word “team” written somewhere and immediately notice there was no “i”.

This past summer, I spent a few weeks at my parent’s house in Maryland with my wife and kids. I put my eldest son (then 6) in the Bullis Soccer Camp which is now run by Coach Andrés and the Bullis School. Coach Andrés does a fine job and my son loved it. But I couldn’t help to look around with a heavy heart full of nostalgia, searching for Scooter with his Soccer-topper hat, Coach Debone with his whistle, Anna and the kids, and all of us coaches wearing our yellow camp counselor jerseys. The camp no longer uses the old locker room where we’d negotiate which kids got which stars, play practical jokes on Scooter and Debone, or where those who played for Scooter would share their war stories. When I got home, I searched and searched for one of those old Maryland Soccer School jerseys. I used to have dozens and wore them all summer long. But there were none to be found. I also couldn’t find any decent photos of our trips to London or France.

But even without any good physical remnant of that time, on those rare occasions when I meet up with Jim, Rick or David, we almost always immediately go into rambling off our favorite Scooter Scaggs catch phrases.

So Scooter, if you can see me now, I am pointing at you with all five of my fingers. Thanks for believing in me.

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The Undeniable Political Pressure to Keep Benzema off the French Team

Karim

 

UPDATES BELOW:

In declarations yesterday to the Spanish football newspaper Marca, Real Madrid footballer, Karim Benzema, said that the French national team coach, Didier Deschamps, caved into political pressure from racist portions of French society to exclude him from the team at the European Soccer Championship taking place this month in France. As you can imagine, the French political class has been quick to condemn his statements.

But is Benzema wrong? The president of the French Football Association (FFA), Noël Le Graët, has just responded saying that Benzema’s comments were “unjustifiable and inappropriate”, and Thierry Braillard, the French Secretary of State for Sports, says there is no racism in the FFA. But Benzema never said the FFA or Deschamps were racist. He said that the political pressure to make the decision had racist origins, and that is very hard to deny.

The controversy stems from a formal investigation earlier this year into whether Benzema had aided in a scheme to blackmail fellow footballer Valbuena in relation to a sex-tape. Benzema was never formally charged, let alone found guilty. The most damaging evidence against Benzema were telephone recordings with his ex-convict friend (all leaked to the press) making fun of Valbuena and his predicament.

Nonetheless, as a result of the Valbuena affair, Deschamps made the decision (together with AFF president, Noël Le Graët) to exclude Benzema from the national team and this summer’s European tournament, citing team unity and cohesiveness as the reason. France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls was adamant in his public statements that Benzema should be barred from the team. It should be noted that Benzema is currently France’s most talented player and just came off his best year at Real Madrid.

So was Deschamps acting under pressure relating to the current political landscape in France? That there has been political pressure is undeniable. Continue reading

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Is Football the Gayest Sport in America?

Football

It was fifteen years ago when I was in my mid-to-late twenties that one of my best friends came out to me. It was the first time – and not the last – that a close friend of mine told me he was gay. And to be honest, I felt quite honored (I later learned that although he had already told all of our female friends months earlier, I was the first male friend he had been so candid with). Even back in the Washington, DC of the late 90s, coming out was not an easy thing to do, so I responded to my friend’s trust by making a conscious effort to prove to myself that I was above petty homophobia.

Eventually it became normal for me to meet up with him for drinks at one of his gay hang-outs, where I learned that a man (even one’s with an exaggerated sense of his own self-worth) can survive perfectly well in the close vicinity of gay men without being harassed, molested, or otherwise turning into a sissy. But on my first outing (no pun intended), I had agreed to go to dinner with my friend, the guy he was now crazy about, and another gay friend.

Once again, this was the late 90s in the nation’s capital and while we were not living in completely intolerant times, the idea of sitting for dinner in public at a table with all gay guys was something I had to prep myself for.  You see, as open as I thought I was (or even still think I am), I still had to get over the initial discomfort, fear, or whatever you want to call that stigma men get when their masculinity may be put into question.

And so before going to the dinner, I played out in my mind what the evening would be like; basically, me with three well dressed, savvy guys talking about interior decorating, fashion, and movie stars. Believe it or not, that sounded kind of fun.

As these things always go, the evening was not what I had expected. I showed up to meet two Republican lobbyists, sporting flannel shirts and baseball caps who spent the whole evening talking about college football. I hate college football and I despise the wearing of baseball caps indoors. It turned out that I was the gayest of the group, and the suspicions I have always had about college football were correct …

So when I read the story this week about the openly gay NFL prospect, I immediately recalled that night and couldn’t quite understand the scandal. Isn’t it obvious that football is the gayest sport in America?

Ultimately, straight men need to face the fact that there is something inherently homoerotic in spectator sports and the amount of time we – segregating ourselves from the women, hunched amongst our brethren – dedicate to worshiping the male anatomy in its communal, athletic splendor. And football is the worst of all. Unlike soccer (European football), where physical size does not determine success, professional football by definition is a sport limited only to supermen. Basketball would be just as bad if it weren’t for the fact that football requires ten times the number of male specimen to play, a wide assortment of equipment and accessories, and involves much more bending and huddling.

The apologists could argue that it is no coincidence that the most homophobic institutions are the ones where there is a perceived need for male togetherness free of sexual tension: the military, large sports teams, the Catholic clergy, and even congress.  But if we can acknowledge that there are in fact gay men in the priesthood, the military or in congress — all high testosterone, male-centric institutions — then why is a gay football player so newsworthy or disturbing? Now, I don’t mean to be making any generalizations here. It’s just in my own limited personal experience, the only time I have ever had a dinner conversation about college football it was with gay Republican lobbyists. That doesn’t mean that all Republican lobbyists are gay.

It just means that football might be.

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El Fracaso de Mourinho

MouSo I think it is a pretty simple analysis: Mourinho has been a failure at Real Madrid.

In three years, Mourinho was able to dismantle the club’s entire organizational structure to be given complete control over all sports-related matters. Mourinho became the team’s Manager in all senses. The only thing he didn’t have control over was the club’s finances, even though now it seems that he wants to claim credit for that as a consolation prize.

So, he was given total control over the wealthiest football club in the world and had his pick at the planet’s greatest players. But still what did Real Madrid achieve?

One League and one Copa del Rey. Let’s be honest with ourselves. No one in Madrid cares about either one. Madrid has a one track mind: Champions League. The Liga is what you want when you don’t win Champions, and La Copa is what you cling onto when you didn’t win the league.

Now some diehard Madridistas will say, look, we have had a tough few years because we were facing the greatest Barcelona in history, arguably the greatest team ever. And look, we were able to drastically cut the distance between us and them under Mourinho’s reign. Furthermore, we dominated Barça in our face-to-face matches all year long.

To that, the answer is easy: Barcelona was just manhandled by Bayern Munich 7-0 in the aggregate. No matter how well Real Madrid played against Barça this year, it never came close to destroying Barcelona the way Bayern did. Thus, we can only conclude two possibilities: either Barça is just that much worse than it used to be – meaning that Real Madrid didn’t improve, rather Barça has imploded – or both Real Madrid and Barcelona are child’s play compared to Bayern.

But more importantly, if Mourinho and Real Madrid’s huge impediment to triumph these last few years was the out-of-this-world Barça, then why was Madrid eliminated two years in a row – not by Barça but – by German teams? That’s because Barça has had nothing to do with Real Madrid these past two years in Champions.

The fact is that, especially evident this season, Mourinho simply has not been up to the task. He had everything that he asked for, yet he couldn’t beat Borussia Dortmund. How is it that the world’s greatest coach at the world’s most successful and wealthiest team, haven been given total control of the helm, cannot eliminate a team where not a single player would have started for Real Madrid. With all due respect, but there wasn’t a single internationally recognizable player on the whole of the Borussia squad.

Look, I admit that I like Mourinho. I think he is a special coach. But let’s be objective. Real Madrid had an amazing showing last year in La Liga, but if you are a real Real Madrid fan and honest with yourself, then who cares? No Champions in three seasons, and you’re a failure. Plain and simple.

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The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns, Habituation, and Mourinho

MouMourinho is an interesting character, to say the least. On paper, he is an amazing and talented coach, renowned for his ability to read the game and above all to motivate his players. At the same time, he has a tendency to generate unneeded controversy — often prejudicial to his team’s interests — and to commit acts of true immaturity as when he stuck is finger in Tito Vilanova’s eye during a Real Madrid vs. Barca match.

That said, egged on by the press, it is quite unique how Barca players (and even coaching staff and officials) constantly comment on Mou’s shortcomings every chance they get. So why does Piqué have to criticize Mourinho whenever he has a chance? It seems equally infantile.

But back to my story. Since joining Real Madrid over two seasons ago, Mourinho has consistently made the following two claims: Continue reading

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Just How Bad is the Spanish Football Press?

As is BadIn Spain, you have a number of daily newspapers that are dedicated to sports alone, and as expected, mainly focusing on football and generally of very poor quality. One of my pet peeves about Spanish football journalism is how these papers will use quotes in headlines that, plain and simple, are not exact quotes, and thus, by definition, not quotes.

As anyone with a minimal level of education should have learned, when words are placed within quotation marks and attributed to a person, those words must be the exact words of the person they are being attributed to, and they should not merely reflect or summarize the meaning of what was said or written. Continue reading

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A Decade and a Half

Today Raul Gonzalez announced that he was leaving Real Madrid after sixteen years with the first team. I have never been a big Raul fan, mainly because during the last decade (since I have lived in Madrid), Raul’s performance was consistently discrete, having lost his unique spark of the 90s. Nevertheless, I fully recognize that his lack of protagonism on the field was made up for by his stellar leadership role. Without a doubt, Raul — as far back as I can remember — has been the local emblem of his team.

What struck me most today when I read the news was not that Raul was leaving (I have been waiting for that for a few years) but the date in which he first debuted with Real Madrid: October 29, 1994. At first glance, 1994 doesn’t seem so far in the past, but sixteen years is in fact a long time. Just looks at the second video to see how much Raul as changed since his debut. It is a good measuring stick of how much time has changed in the past decade and a half.

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Filed under Digressions, Football/Soccer, Living la vida española