An appreciation of Lionel Messi, from the Paris Review?


You’re standing in one place, one patch of grass on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Seville, playing a game, which is to say doing your job, which is playing a game. A ball floats in the air toward you. You’re in one place and you’re in all possible places. Your name is stamped between your shoulder blades. You turn your back away from the ball. We all know who you are. You balance yourself and focus. What you’re about to do has no name.

From: They Think They Know You, Lionel Messi. By: Rowan Ricardo Phillips. The Paris Review, February 26 2019

I love finding pieces on footballers from outside of traditional football journalism. Especially when a masterful writer can share a new vision.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips accomplishes a rare feat with his Paris Review piece: They Think They Know You, Lionel Messi. He helps us relish, treasure again, this moment where we still have the opportunity to watch Lionel Messi at the peak of his powers.

Rowan reminds us not to take it for granted.

Blaise Matuidi's surprising admirer


Blaise Matuidi has many admirers. Us and Carlo Ancelloti among them.

But he also has a surprising fan boy.

Pep Guardiola.

At first glance, Blaise doesn’t possess the ideal qualities of a Pep Guardiola player. His technique on the ball can be clumsy. His passing range is limited. Yet Blaise still managed to leave an impression on Pep.

Former Clairefontaine youth coach Francisco Filho shares the story:

We had just finished a tournament in Las Palmas. We won. Pep Guardiola was there, on holiday. Alongside his brother, who was organising the tournament, we dined together. He saw our match and he said to me: ‘When I will be manager (he was still playing in Qatar at the time), I want a player like your #6.’ Who was it? Blaise Matuidi.”

Shout out to Get French Football News for originally sharing the story.

Positioning is Paramount. Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich


This one is for all you tactics geeks. A list of the six tactical changes Pep Guardiola made during his first 6 months at Bayern Munich.

Pep’s longtime assistant coach, Domènec Torrent explains:

He’s full of re-invention – in six months here Pep has tried more thing than in four years at Barca.

The list highlights how Pep adapted to the counter-attaching style of the Bundesliga. And how he tailored his possession system for his two dominant wingers – Robben and Ribery

For a coach so steadfast in his principles, Pep is open to adapting to the circumstances presented to him.


1: THE DEFENSIVE LINE

Pep has moved it forward from a starting point of 45 metres in front of the keeper. If Bayern are fully on the attack high up the pitch then he wants the two center-halves to take up positions 56 metres ahead of Neuer – in the opposition half.

2: PLAYING AND MOVING FORWARD FROM THE BACK, IN TOTAL UNISON

The team has got this: it’s a journey they must take together. How they play out from the back is of absolute importance to how things then develop in the attacking phase.

3: ORDER IN THE PLAY

The passing sequences need to balance the team’s positioning. If properly effected, from beginning to end it means their attack will be ordered and if the ball is lost it can be won back quickly, with little wasted effort.

4: SUPERIORITY IN MIDFIELD

This is the essence of Pep’s playing philosophy. He always wants his team to have midfield superiority, whether numerical or positional. Achieving this guarantees his team will dominate the game.

5: FALSE ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS

This is the big tactical innovation within Pep’s first season. Given the powerful wing play of Robben and Ribery and also the need to immediately cut off the counter-attacks of opponents high up the pitch, Pep has decided to position his full-backs almost as old-fashioned inside-forwards, right alongside the other attacking midfielders, high up the pitch.

6: PLAYING WITHOUT A FALSE 9

From being the absolute key figure at Barcelona, the false 9 is now just one more potential tactic for Bayern. It will be used sporadically, depending on the specific needs of a particular match or phase within a game.

Football Culture Matters

My ears perked.

I was in the checkout line when I overheard the fellas behind me chatting about Sunday’s Liverpool/Man United match.

They casually discussed why Liverpool would beat Manchester United. One explained to the other how Liverpool could go on to win the Premier League.

I clenched an invisible fist in excitement.

You see, it’s been 23 years since the Premier League was first broadcast in the US. And yet I’m still surprised when I overhear strangers talking football.

Football has made progress here.

World class matches are available in an instant.

Scores float by on ESPN’s sports ticker.

All of my friends could pick out Cristiano Ronaldo in a crowd.

But football is still not part of mainstream US culture.

Women’s World Cups aside – it’s still not relevant.

So conversations like last night’s give me a shot of hope. The hope that one day the US will become a world footballing power.

Why?

Because conversations like these reveal a deeper possibility. A possibility the game is growing beyond rec leagues and ODP programs. Growing above Soccer Hall of Fames and Decision Days. It reveals the possibility the game could be growing where it matters most – culture.

Countries with strong football cultures dominate football.

For the average citizen in Brazil, Italy, or Germany, football is an inescapable part of life. The game is everywhere.

It’s painted on city walls.

It’s played on the beaches.

It’s sung from terraces every week.

To the rest of the world football is a blood soaked love affair. In the United States it’s a hobby.

Until that changes, the US national team will remain a program of average Joes.

Bonus: Alan Jacobs wrote a concise summary of the current state of the US soccer program. Read it here.

Just Blaise

Matchstick legs ignite

a Parisian son. Midfield

light illuminates.


Blaise Matuidi is my favorite midfielder to watch right now.

He doesn’t pirouette, or flash a thousand step-overs. You won’t see a croqueta, or metronome passing.

But his tackles, endless running, headers, and enthusasim for football gives an aging amateur midfielder an example to aspire to.

News eyes to see

I wanted to snap a compelling picture. Bring an old football boot to life.

This picture had hope, so I showed my boo. She gave it the iphone thumbs up, but her text message that followed made me pause.

“It looks like a heart.” she said.

Suddenly, I was no longer looking at a football boot.

Instead of studs, I saw aortas. Instead of stitching I saw capillaries. Instead of fake leather I saw flesh and muscle.

This is the power of sharing your work. The person you share it with, can let you see through their eyes.

Street football spawns legends. Arnold Muhren is proof.

The Muhrens – like all the Dutch greats of their era – learned their football in the streets. Arnold: ‘My brother played with his friends, and when I was five or six I started joining in. I started off in goal but I could never stay there; I was always running all over the place and eventually they said I could play with them. We weren’t exceptional. Everybody could play football at a very high level. At the time there was little else to do but play football. If you couldn’t play football, bad luck: you had to go in goal. We played everyday. If it was raining, we played in the bedroom. At school we played football between lessons. When school finished, we played on the street again; there was no traffic. We played with anything as long as it was round – rolled-up papers tied with string, anything. Some people’s parents had money and could get hold of a proper ball, but mostly it was tennis balls. You develop great technique like that. The ground was so hard, so you didn’t want to fall because it hurt; so you have good balance. And the game was very quick because the hard ground makes the game quicker. No one ever told us how to play. It was all natural.

Arnold Muhren as quoted in David Winners book: Brilliant Orange.

The streets made us…

The street football environment Muhren describes, reminds me of the pick-up basketball games of my childhood.

We’d play all day long in the summers, adapting the standard game of full court 5 on 5, into various micro-games.

If there was three of us, we’d play 21. An every man/woman for themselves, winner takes all mini tournament. The goal being to score 21 points, without going over, through a combination of three pointers, two pointers and free throws.

It’s basketball blackjack.

If there was only two of us we’d play HORSE.

HORSE is a shot matching game. The first player calls his shot and the opponent has to match it exactly – off the backboard, nothing but net, left hand only, etc.

If your opponent misses the shot you call, they receive a letter. The first player to receive enough letters to spell out HORSE is the loser.

And if we got bored of all of that…we’d lower the hoop to 6 feet and have a dunk contest.

Not sure it made us better players, but it was fun as hell.