Category Archives: Football/Soccer

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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Filed under Football/Soccer, Living la vida española

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

San Iker

After one of the tensest finals in recent memory, Iker Casillas gives us the best play of the entire World Cup.

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Filed under Football/Soccer, Living la vida española