Young Man Tadić

With Ajax you assume the entire team is constructed with 18 to 20 somethings. Maybe a few aging swans tucked in there, but mainly a prospects squad.

I curled my eyebrows and stroked my beard when I read in Nick Ames’s Guardian piece that Ajax’s number 10, Tadić, was 30. Hmmmm. 30? Really?

Funny. I curled my eyebrows and stroked my peach fuzz when I learned World Cup hero Zidane was only 26 when he lifted the golden football idol.

“Dude must be in his mid 30s” my buddies and I agreed.

At 30 though, Tadić is the ideal age to have witnessed Zidane’s finest pirouettes.

30 is the perfect age to have memorized Zidane’s signature and forge it over and over in the kitchen, and through to the backyard.

It’s the perfect age to have mastered it in 5-aside football courts in his native Serbia.

And the perfect age to have rehearsed it even more in Southampton training sessions.

30 is also the perfect age to muster the composure to pirouette past Casmiero and into Ajax legendom.

Zidane’s shadow looms eternal over the Beranbue, but Tadić left Madrid last night casting his own.

Tadic did admit Zidane was his idol and he watches clips of him constantly.

Futsal – The Adaptation Game

I have futsal on the mind.

A few passages from Alex Bellos’ book – Futebol The Brazilian Way of Life reminded me how futsal is a game of adaptation.

It’s manner of play certainly – the constant dribbles with the sole. Toe pokes to shoot, all marks of players adapting to futsal’s confined space. But this thread of adaptation exists in futsal’s origins too.

Alex Bellos explains how the challenges of nature and infrastructure created “drawing room” football:

The difficulty of maintaining full-sized grass football pitches in a tropical, developing country – the cost, the climate and the lack of urban space – has led to the sport being adapted to whichever terrain is available. The incessant modification of football is also the result of a society which is not hung up about changing rules.

Futsal also went through some peculiar rule experiments:

In some games, futsal players were not allowed to speak. Any utterance would result in a foul. Fans too, for a short period, were not allowed to make any noise. But the silliest rule stipulated that players were not allowed to play the ball while a hand was touching the floor. This meant that if someone was knocked over, or tripped up, he would avoid using his hand for support – since this would rule him out of play.

Futsal of yesteryear resembles backyard games you’d make up with your boys on a boring summer afternoon. A football version of Calvinball.

Even the most successful futsal region can be seen as an adaptive response to its circumstances.

The northern Brazilian state Ceará, dominated the Brazilian futsal scene for years, based on a lack of top flight, 11-a-side football:

A peculiarity of Brazilian futsal is the dominance of Ceará, a state in the northeast better known for untouched beaches, cowboys, Catholic pilgrims and droughts. It’s capital, Fortaleza, is the only one of Brazil’s eight largest cities that does not have at least two football teams that regularly play in the top division. Perhaps because of this, Ceará has put its energies into Futsal. Ceará is the state with the largest number of victories in futsal’s Brazil Cup. ‘I think futsal fitted us like a glove. The Cearenese is irreverent, he’s not interested in tactical systems, he likes messing about,’ adds Vicente Figueiredo. ‘Here people are more interested in futsal than football. All the big futsal clubs in Brazil always have a Cearenese in the team.’

Reading these few passages, it almost feels like futsal, not football, is Brazil’s national sport. The root elite Brazilian footballers grow from.

We’re Fans: Our Favorite Online Football Writing from 2018

Sure, you normally hit publish on this type of post in December. But I wanted to be sure no piece snuck in before 2018’s final seconds. Also, I procrastinated.

All three pieces are well written, but more so, they warped my football mind with new perspectives.

I hope they warp yours too.

Wright Thompson, The Greatest Game Never Played

Remember as a little kid, when adults would say read! It will take you to new worlds! Wright Thompson’s detailed descriptions make that true. He drops you off in Buenos Aires where the chaos of an eternal rivalry consumed the city.

You’ll hear rubber slugs whizz past, and smell the baking pizza from El Cuartito. But Wright also points out that Boca Juniors, caught up in the madness, missed one of the rarest opportunities in sport – a win-win.

Wright argues had Boca played and lost, they’d have a legitimate excuse to fall back on. Had they played and won? Legends. Forever legends.

Eusebio Di Francesco, The Smell of the Grass

I’m intrigued by professionals who are excellent in their work, but never wanted their jobs in the first place.

Through The Coaches Voice Di Francesco shares a first hand account of running from his calling, and how the smell of the pitch lured him into coaching.

Brian Phillips, World Cup 2018: France Advances Past a Cavani-less Uruguay

Never has a match report made me slam both fists on the dining room table and yell “Yeaaaahhhhhhhh.”

Then el profesor Alan Jacobs posted a snippet from Brian Phillips’ World Cup quarter-final match report.

The opening paragraph, which Alan dubbed “soccer and the impediments to success” is the most obvious, yet insightful explanation of soccer I’ve read.