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kottke.org posts about soccer

Every David Beckham hairstyle

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2015

In celebration of English footballer David Beckham's 40th birthday, ESPN commissioned Helen Green to take us on an animated voyage through Beck's many hairstyles.

Beckham's Hair

See also every David Bowie hairstyle (also by Green), every Prince hairstyle, and David, a piece of video art by Sam Taylor-Wood of Beckham sleeping for an hour and seven minutes.

The beautiful thinking game

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2015

Judging by interviews, neither Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi seems like the smartest tool in the shed, but they both possess a keen mind for football as Simon Kuper explains. Messi, who appears to listlessly sandbag his way through the early part of matches, is actually using the time to size up his opponent:

It was a puzzling sight. The little man was wandering around, apparently ignoring the ball. The official explained: "In the first few minutes he just walks across the field. He is looking at each opponent, where the guy positions himself, and how their defense fits together. Only after doing that does he start to play."

And Rooney uses visualization (or as Shaq would call it, dreamful attraction), just like Allen Iverson:

"Part of my preparation," he told the writer David Winner for ESPN The Magazine in 2012, "is I go and ask the kit man what colour we're wearing, if it's red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks. Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualize myself scoring goals or doing well. You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a 'memory' before the game. I don't know if you'd call it visualizing or dreaming but I've always done it, my whole life."

A footballer's exceptional visual memory was on display recently when FC Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez was quizzed about 5 particular goals he's scored out of 57 total across almost 500 matches for his club:

He gets them all correct, even what the scores were when they happened, the final scores, who else scored in each match, and even the team's position in La Liga.

A quick P.S. for Messi. On Feb 16, 2015, Zito Madu wrote an article titled Is Lionel Messi even good anymore?

Plainly put, Messi is a shadow of his former self. He's much more cynical, more selfish and power-hungry. How else can the departure of Martino and friction with Enrique be explained? It's a power play by a man who feels his powers waning. Consider: after Barcelona's 5-0 victory against Levante, Messi had only managed 37 goals and 18 assists in all competitions. A far cry from the player who once scored 82 goals in one season.

At 27 years old, we might be witnessing the twilight of Messi's career. It's a shame for a player who seemed to be on a tear just a few years ago.

It was a weirdly cynical take that contained a kernel of truth. A little over a month later on Mar 23, Jeff Himmelman wrote a piece called Lionel Messi Is Back On His Game.

But in the new year, Messi has finally started to look like himself again; he has been on fire, racking up hat tricks and leading the league in scoring. His legs and his extraordinary bursts of energy — the engine of his game — are back, and a move to the right flank from the congested middle has freed him to do what he does best: making slashing runs at defenders with speed, creating space and chances.

On the evidence of the last week, it has become possible to wonder whether Messi might actually be better than ever. The best reason to think so was the first half of Barcelona's game against Manchester City on Wednesday, in the round of 16 of the Champions League European club championships. From the start, Messi spun passes into tight spaces and flew up and down the field with a boyish abandon that was nowhere to be found last year.

In that Man City game, Messi nutmegged both Milner and Fernandinho:

In a recent study released by CIES Football Observatory, Messi was judged to be the best forward in the world over the first three months of 2015. Ronaldo? 29th place. Eep.

Update: Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas demonstrates his remarkable memory, recalling scores from matches from up to 15 years ago he didn't even play in. (via @adamcohen15)

Messi scores 64 goals at once

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2015

Here are 64 goals scored by FC Barcelona legend Lionel Messi, presented simultaneously in one frame.

Fusion's Cara Rose DeFabio has dubbed this type of video The Superfuse.

Diving champion of the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2014

This dive, by Leeds United midfielder Adryan in match against Derby County, might be the worst dive of all time.

He's flopping around like Sonny Corleone getting shot up at the toll booth in The Godfather. Hilarious.

Soccer match abandoned over drone antics

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2014

A Euro 2016 qualifying match between Albania and Serbia was abandoned today after a drone flying a banner with a map of Kosovo and the Albanian flag on it hovered over the pitch.

Tensions increased further when the flag was snared by Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic, who then pulled on the strings connecting it to the drone. He was immediately confronted by Albanian players, and a shoving match ensued.

The match was abandoned after a lengthy delay. At the recommendation of UEFA, no Albanian fans were allowed into the stadium for the match in Belgrade due to tensions between the two nations. Kosovo, where the population includes both ethnic Serbs and Albanians, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, a declaration that the Serbians dispute. Nick Ames wrote a soccer-centric take on the tensions between the two nations.

It comes down, really, to Kosovo — and that is a phrase that can be applied as shorthand for Serbian-Albanian relations as a whole. As Tim Judah writes in his seminal history, The Serbs: "So poisoned is the whole subject of Kosovo that when Albanian or Serbian academics come to discuss its history, especially its modern history, all pretence of impartiality is lost."

Kosovo, situated to the south of Serbia and the north-east of Albania, declared independence in 2008 having previously been part of Serbia. The Serbs still regard it as their own, but it is recognised by 56 percent of UN member states and its ethnic makeup is, depending on which side you refer to, overwhelmingly Albanian. (It's worth noting that figures vary wildly.)

The emotional significance goes as far back as 1389, when the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman army in the Battle of Kosovo, which took place near its modern-day capital, Pristina. It has been much-mythologised in Serbian history. Far more recently, memories of the 1998-99 Kosovo War — an appallingly brutal fight for the territory from which it has not really recovered — still run deep.

FYI: the YouTube embed above was recorded off of a TV...if you're in the US, the ESPN story has better video.

Club Soccer 101

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2014

Club Soccer 101

As I've written before, after the World Cup in 2010, I wanted to keep watching soccer but didn't quite know how club soccer worked or anything about the various teams. I wish I'd had this book then: Club Soccer 101. It's a guide to 101 of the most well-known teams from leagues all over the world.

The book covers the history of European powerhouses like Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid; historic South American clubs like Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Penarol, and Santos; and rising clubs from Africa, Asia, and America, including such leading MLS clubs as LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and Seattle Sounders. Writing with the passion and panache of a deeply knowledgeable and opinionated fan, Luke Dempsey explains what makes each club distinctive: their origins, fans, and style of play; their greatest (and most heartbreaking) seasons and historic victories and defeats; and their most famous players — from Pelé, Eusébio, and Maradona to Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Ronaldo.

Messi, ten years on

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2014

Lionel Messi made his debut for FC Barcelona 10 years ago. At Grantland, Brian Phillips assesses his career thus far.

The irony of that goal against Getafe, in retrospect, is that he's not the next Maradona; he's nothing like Maradona. Maradona was all energy, right on the surface; watching Messi is like watching someone run in a dream. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Maradona jumped up to challenge you; if you took the field against him, he wanted to humiliate you, to taunt you. Messi plays like he doesn't know you're there. His imagination is so perfectly fused with his technique that his assumptions can obliterate you before his skill does.

He has always seemed oddly nonthreatening for someone with a legitimate claim to being the best soccer player in history. He seems nice, and maybe he is. (He goes on trial for tax evasion soon; it is impossible to believe he defrauded authorities on purpose, because it is impossible to believe that he manages his finances at all.) On the pitch, though, this is deceptive. It's an artifact of his indifference to your attention. He doesn't notice whether or not you notice. His greatness is nonthreatening because it is so elusive, even though its elusiveness is what makes it a threat.

Messi is only 27, holds or is within striking distance of all sorts of all-time records, and I'm already sad about his career ending. This is big talk, perhaps nonsense, but Messi might be better at soccer than Michael Jordan was at basketball. I dunno, I was bummed when Jordan retired (well, the first two times anyway), but with Messi, thinking about his retirement, it seems to me like soccer will lose something special that it will never ever see again.

Incredible no-look backheel

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2014

This goal by AC Milan's Jeremy Menez against Parma over the weekend is just beyond:

No-look backheel. Jeebus.

The World Cup is over. Now what?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2014

If you enjoyed the World Cup but don't know how to proceed into the seemingly impenetrable world of soccer, with its overlapping leagues, cups, and tournaments, this guide from Grantland is for you.

Just because the World Cup is over doesn't mean soccer stops. Soccer never stops; that's one of its biggest appeals. There are so many different teams, leagues, club competitions, and international tournaments that, if you want to, you can always find someone to cheer for or some team to root against. It can also be a bit daunting to wade into without any experience. Luckily, you have me, your Russian Premier League-watching, tactics board-chalking, Opta Stats-devouring Gandalf, to help you tailor your soccer-watching habits. And now I will answer some completely made-up questions to guide you along your soccer path.

This was basically my situation after the 2010 World Cup, a soccer fan with nowhere to direct his fandom. What I did was:

1. Picked a player I enjoyed watching (Messi) and started following his club team (FC Barcelona) and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the league that team played in (La Liga). I know a lot more cities in Spain than I used to.

2. Watched as many Champions League matches as I could every year, again more or less following Barcelona.

3. Got into UEFA European Championship, which is basically the World Cup but just for Europe. It's held every four years on a two-year stagger from the WC and the next one is in 2016 in France, which, I'm realizing just now, I should try to attend.

I also watched a few Premier League matches here and there...it's a great league with good competition. What I didn't do is follow any MLS or the USMNT, although after this WC, I might give the Gold Cup and Copa America tournaments some more attention. And qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup start in mid-2015...soccer never ends.

Lionel Messi is impossible

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2014

An open-and-shut case from FiveThirtyEight: Lionel Messi is far and away the best player in football. Ronaldo is the only player who is close and he's not even all that close.

By now I've studied nearly every aspect of Messi's game, down to a touch-by-touch level: his shooting and scoring production; where he shoots from; how often he sets up his own shots; what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots; his ability to take on defenders; how accurate his passes are; the kind of passes he makes; how often he creates scoring chances; how often those chances lead to goals; even how his defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.

And that's just the stuff that made it into this article. I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn't really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.

It's not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It's not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It's not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It's not possible to lead the world's forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it's certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.

But Messi does all of this and more.

The piece is chock-full of evidential graphs of how much of an outlier Messi is among his talented peers:

Messi Thru Ball Graph

One of my favorite things that I've written about sports is how Lionel Messi rarely dives, which allows him to keep the advantage he has over the defense.

Eleven great books about soccer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2014

There haven't been many good books written about soccer, but here are eleven of them worth your time. Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization looks especially interesting.

A groundbreaking work — named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated — How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world's most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.

Foer is one of the contributors, alongside authors Aleksandar Hemon and Karl Ove Knausgaard, to the New Republic's excellent World Cup coverage.

Soccer: 55 vs. 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2014

Watch as two players from the Japanese national soccer team try to score against 55 kids.

The kids had two opportunities to stop the pro players, once with 33 players and the second time with 55 players. This didn't turn out how I expected, given how a similar stunt involving fencing ended.

This was posted on Marginal Revolution a few days ago and garnered several interesting comments about how much better professional athletes are than us regular folk. Here are a few:

Rugby: I played against an international player once. Watching him play, I'd seen a chap who ran in straight lines, a strong tackler with a weak kick. Playing against him revealed him to be skillful, agile and possessed of a howitzer kick.

Back in the 1980s a friend was watching a pickup basketball game in Boston and reported what happened when a player from the Celtics showed up. He was so much faster, more athletic, and more agile than the other players that it seemed like he was playing a different sport. The player turned out to be Scott Wedman, who by that time was old and slow by NBA standards, and mainly hung around the 3-point line to shoot outside shots after the defense had collapsed on Bird, McHale, et al. But compared to non-NBA players, he was Michael Jordan (or LeBron James).

My U-19 team (we were very good by local standards) had a practice with the New Zealand All Blacks, who were on some sort of tour. It was like they were from a different planet. I stood no chance of containing, or conversely getting past, the smallest of them under almost any circumstance.

Back in the olden thymes I was a pretty good baseball player. Early in my high school career I got the chance to catch a AAA pitcher. I went into thinking I would have no trouble. The first pitch was on top of me so fast I was knocked off balance. It took a bunch of pass balls before I got used to how to handle his breaking stuff.

The result in the video might also shed some light on the question of choosing to fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses.

Football and Peace

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2014

For a Visa commercial, Errol Morris gathers a number of Nobel Peace Prize winners and nominees (including Lech Walesa) to talk about how important it is for their countries to beat the crap out of the other countries in the World Cup.

Two quotes in the video caught my ear:

Sport is a continuation of war by other means.

Look, football isn't life or death. It's much more important than that.

The first is a riff on Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz's aphorism "War is the continuation of Politik by other means". Clausewitz also devised the concept of "the fog of war", which Morris used for the title of a film. The second is a paraphrase of a quote by legendary football coach Bill Shankly:

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.

World Cup balls, 1930-2014

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2014

The NY Times has an interactive look at the balls used in the World Cup from 1930 onward. Here's the ball from 1930:

1930 Football

Look at those laces! Just like the ol' American handegg.

How to nerd out about soccer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2014

From Grantland's Mike Goodman, a guide to nerding out about soccer, using the language already spoken by American sports nerds.

What exactly is a good shot in soccer? The nascent field of soccer analytics is hard at work trying to figure that out. It won't surprise anybody to learn that closer is better, and using your feet is much, much better than using your head. So, much like getting into the lane is of paramount importance in basketball, getting the ball at your feet in front of the goal is just about the best thing you can do in soccer. Getting to the byline (baseline) in the corner of the penalty areas (like where Maicon was in the above video) is a hot destination. That's where you can cut the ball back for a teammate to have one of those coveted close shots. Hey, look at that - it's like basketball again: Get to the goal or get to the corners.

Sex and soccer

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 06, 2014

For the World Cup, the managers of Mexico, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Spain, Germany, and Chile have all banned players from having sex for the duration of the tournament. France and Brazil's players have to slow down, too:

Usually normal sex is done in balanced way, but there are certain forms, certain ways and others who do acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players.
— Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari

Intriguing but creepy! (What does "survey" mean?)

Athletics and abstinence have gone together for seemingly forever, but scientific studies suggest that sex as such doesn't impair athletic performance.

The bigger worry might be the cultural connection between sex and sports, particularly soccer in Brazil: Adidas withdrew two purportedly World Cup-themed T-shirts with the slogans "Looking To Score" (with a woman in a bikini and a soccer ball for the O in "Score") and "I

There's a weird dehumanization that happens in sports and sports fandom. Athletes get reduced to their performance, which is usually understood in abstract terms: statistics, salaries, wins and losses. Everything around the game, from families to fans to the ordinary women and men whose lives intersect with the players, is measured in terms of how it affects competition. This in turn justifies all kinds of intrusions into people's lives, whether from coaches or fans or media, but never for its own sake.

It's almost as if when you start to think about sex as an act with ethical dimensions, it disrupts (in a good way) the shallow ways we usually consider people's bodies for the purposes of both work and commerce. When nobody is disposable, it throws the whole system off. That's a kind of acrobatics that sports just can't seem to handle.

("Normal Sex, No Acrobatics" via @webbmedia)

Barry Sanders, GOAT

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2014

A nice appreciation of Barry Sanders by Andrew Sharp at Grantland.

"Barry Sanders is my new idol," Bo Jackson said after a Raiders-Lions game in 1990. "I love the way the guy runs. When I grow up, I want to be just like him."

The Raiders won that game, and the Lions were 4-9 at the time, but it didn't even matter.

All anyone could talk about afterward was the "little water bug" who "might rewrite history."

This wasn't necessarily a metaphor for Barry's entire Lions career — he was on more playoff teams than people remember — but it definitely covers about half the years he spent in Detroit. Even when the Lions were awful, Barry would still have a few plays every game that would keep people gawking afterward.

Bo Jackson had a similar effect on people, which is part of what makes that old quote so cool. The Bo Jackson combination of speed and power is something we'd never seen before and haven't seen since. He was a cult hero then, and the legend has only grown over the years.

I've always been an atypical sports fan. I grew up in Wisconsin rooting for the Packers & Brewers but switched to being a Vikings & Cubs fan sometime in high school. But despite following the Vikings at the time, my favorite player in the NFL was Barry Sanders. For my money, Sanders was pure symphonic excellence in motion, the best running back (and perhaps player) the NFL had ever seen and maybe will ever see. I wonder if one of the reasons why I like Lionel Messi so much is because he reminds me of Sanders; in stature, in strength, in quickness, in skill. Compare and contrast some of their finest runs:

Diego Maradona's Goal of the Century

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2014

For Howler Magazine, Sam Markham writes about Diego Maradona's second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, aka Probably The Best Goal of All Time. Markham focuses on how a pair of radio commentators — one English, the other from South America — called the goal.

Morales's ecstatic commentary of Maradona's second goal is itself iconic in Argentina, and his lyrical expression "Barrilete cosmico!" (Cosmic kite!) is now shorthand in Argentina and much of South America for Maradona. His narration is a frenzied mix of poetry, yelling, and sobbing that ends with a prayer: "Thank you, God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears, for this-Argentina 2, England 0."

Even if you don't care about soccer, you should give this a listen...the dude absolutely loses his shit:

An alternate view of the spectacular goal has recently been found. Oh, and my favorite weird thing about this goal: Lionel Messi is considered by many to be Maradona's heir (both are small, Argentinian, and otherworldly talented) and in 2007, at the age of 19, he scored this goal against Getafe:

As you can see in the side-by-side comparison, it's extremely similar to Maradona's goal. Even the commentator loses it in a similar manner.

The non-World Cup all-stars

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2013

The teams for the 2014 World Cup are almost all set (one qualifying game remains) and there are a lot of world-class players who won't be playing in the tournament. ESPN FC has compiled a team of the best players who will miss out:

ESPN World Cup Missing All Stars

Bale, Lewandowski, and Ibrahimovic. That's an amazing front line. If not for his hat trick yesterday, Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the best player in the world right now, would have made the roster in Ibrahimovic's stead.

Football as Football

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2013

Football as Football is a collection of American football team logos in the style of European football club badges. Here are badges for the Detroit Lions (in the Italian style) and New England Patriots (in the Spanish style).

 
Football As Football 01

 
Football As Football 02

Wonderful Animated Soccer Vignettes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2013

Richard Swarbrick makes these great impressionist animations of sports events, mostly soccer but also cricket and basketball. Here's one to get you started...the 5-0 drubbing FC Barcelona handed to Real Madrid during a 2010 Clasico:

It's amazing how much Swarbrick's illustrations communicate with so few strokes...Mourinho's face is my favorite. Here's the actual match for comparison purposes. And here's Maradona's sublime goal against England in the 1986 World Cup (original video):

You can find many other examples of Swarbrick's work on his web site and on his YouTube channel. (via @dunstan)

Soccer's knuckleball

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2013

"Bend it like Beckham" has given way to "knuckle it like Ronaldo" in European football. During free kicks, players like Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Tottenham's Gareth Bale put little or no spin on the ball, which tends to give it the unpredictable movement of a knuckleball in baseball. Bale recently explained his technique:

So where does the 'knuckling' effect come in?

Well, as we've said, if the ball is struck without spin, it is more susceptible to movement as it flies through the air.

If there are imperfections on the ball, such as specks of mud or grass, then random movement is more likely. Bale would be well served to rub the ball around in the grass as he places it.

Even the seams of the ball's panels can generate a degree of unpredictable movement.

Bale is not the first exponent of 'knuckleball' in the game, of course. Ronaldo has a subtle variation that has wowed fans the world over, while the former Lyon player Juninho Pernambucano did much to perfect the style in the noughties.

YouTube is crap for finding good soccer highlights in HD (FIFA, the European leagues, and their broadcast partners are fanatic about yanking footage) so there's not a great view of Bale's technique, but you can kind of see it in this video of his two goals against Lyon earlier this year. The knuckler is also in evidence in this Ronaldo compilation, particularly with goals #7 and #3. Especially #7...Ronaldo hits it right at the keeper, who looks completely baffled by the speed and movement of the ball.

One Real Madrid fan's magical adventure

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2013

Abel Rodríguez waxes floors for a living in Los Angeles and takes two weeks of vacation a year to work gratis for Real Madrid when the European football club trains in Los Angeles every summer. He had always dreamed of seeing Real Madrid playing their Spanish rivals Barcelona in Madrid, so his family persuaded him to go. He went. With no hotel or ticket to the game, he sat outside the club's training complex for hours until manager José Mourinho spotted him as he was leaving..."Stop! It's the guy from Los Angeles." Thus began Abel Rodríguez's magical journey.

You never know when karma will come back and reward you for something. For seven summers Rodriguez worked for free for Real Madrid, even when the club was willing to pay him for his efforts in Los Angeles. Now he was about to experience the thrill of a lifetime.

Oh man, I've got something in my eye.

Lionel Messi vs. robot goalkeeper

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2013

Someone built a robotic goalkeeper and then someone else had the bright idea to pit reigning best player in the world Lionel Messi against it:

Iker Casillas, your job is in jeopardy. But maybe not quite yet...by the final attempt, Messi seems to have figured out how to send the goalie the wrong way, at least for an instant. (via digg)

Homemade Soccer Balls

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2012

Photographer Jessica Hilltout has documented the game of soccer/football/futbol around the world, from the secondhand footwear to the improvised goals to the makeshift balls:

Jessica Hilltout

A soccer ball for everyone

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2012

Frustrated by the lack of durability of traditional soccer balls and encouraged by an investment by Sting, Tim Jahnigen invented and is selling a more durable ball made out of hard foam.

Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.

The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.

"The only thing that sustained these kids is play," said Mr. Jahnigen of Berkeley, Calif. "Yet the millions of balls that are donated go flat within 24 hours."

You can buy one online and for every ball that you buy, one will be donated to a community in need.

The arrested development of Lionel Messi

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2012

This long ESPN piece about Lionel Messi and his hometown of Rosario, Argentina made me sad.

The next time people in Rosario heard his name, he was a star. "It is difficult to be a hero in your own city," explained Marcelo Ramirez, a family friend and radio host who showed us text messages from Messi. "He didn't grow up here. It's like he lost contact with the people. He is more an international figure than a Rosarino."

The Argentine national team coaches found out about him through a videotape, and the first time they sent him an invitation to join the squad, they addressed it to "Leonel Mecci." In the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, playing outside the familiar Barcelona system, he struggled, at least in the expectant eyes of his countrymen. His coaches and teammates didn't understand the aloof Messi, who once went to a team-building barbecue and never said a word, not even to ask for meat. The people from Argentina thought he was Spanish, and in the cafes and pool halls, they wondered why he always won championships for Barcelona but never for his own country. They raged when he didn't sing the national anthem before games. In Barcelona, Messi inspired the same reaction. People noticed he didn't speak Catalan and protected his Rosarino accent. He bought meat from an Argentine butcher and ate in Argentine restaurants. "Barcelona is not his place in the world," influential Spanish soccer editor Aitor Lagunas wrote in an e-mail. "It's a kind of a laboral emigrant with an undisguised homesick feeling."

In many ways, he is a man without a country.

Zidane head-butting statue unveiled in Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2012

A 15-foot-tall statue of Zinedine Zidane head-butting Marco Materazzi by sculptor Adel Abdessemed has been placed in the courtyard of the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Zidane Statue

The statue, entitled "Headbutt," is by the Algerian sculptor Adel Abdessemed, and coincides with an exhibition of his work in the museum. "This statue goes against the tradition of making statues to honor victories," said Phillipe Alain Michaud, who directed the exhibition. "It is an ode to defeat... Zidane's downward glance recalls that of Adam, chased from paradise."

But as Michaud knows, and surely as Abdessemed intends, it is both not so simple and much simpler. It is an ode to more than defeat; but it's also a representation of very basic feelings complicated by literary analogy. The Headbutt was full of anger, stupidity, and recklessness, but beneath them lay a damaged sense of honor. This makes it hard for even the calmest football fan to wholly begrudge Zidane his actions.

The soccer in Iran...is explosive

posted by Aaron Cohen   Sep 20, 2012

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this video of a soccer player picking up a piece of garbage and casually throwing it off the field COME TO FIND OUT IT IS SOME SORT OF EXPLOSIVE DEVICE THAT EXPLODES WHEN HE THROWS IT is crazy. I didn't want to bury the lede on that one. The game was an AFC Champions League match between Iran's Sepahan and Saudi Arabia's Al-Ahli at Foolad Shahr Stadium, and the lucky player was Sepahan midfielder Adel Kolahkaj.

Here's another version with some more detail/slow mo. I'm not wrong, right? That was totally crazy and not something you would expect during a soccer match? And it's not fake, is it? (via cosby sweaters)

European soccer disappears from American TV

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2012

Perplexed and irritated that I couldn't find any Barcelona FC matches on TV for the past few weeks, I finally did some research and it turns out that's because Qatar-based Al Jazeera bought up the TV rights to several European leagues but doesn't actually have a channel to show the games to most American viewers.

Lionel Messi's and Cristiano Ronaldo's league matches will disappear from the television sets of many American soccer fans, starting this weekend.

That's because the U.S. television rights to Spain's La Liga have switched from GolTV to the new beIN Sport USA network, launched this week by the Al-Jazeera Sport Media Network and available in only about 8 million homes to viewers of DirecTV and DISH Network.

And it's not just Spain's soccer that is affected.

Italy's Serie A, France's Ligue 1, England's second-tier League Championship and England's League Cup also have moved to high-spending beIN Sport, which is taking over all of them from News Corp.'s Fox Soccer.

"The ratings are going to be so low that they will be almost unmeasurable," said Marc Ganis of the Chicago-based Sports Corp. Ltd., consulting firm. "Considering the push that European soccer is making in the United States, taking additional money and losing exposure becomes fools' gold. They need to have a long-term strategy, not short-term."

What. In. The. Actual. Fuck!?