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.

Legends of Florence: Ribéry Replaces Baggio – 29 years later.

He’s not as handsome as Baggio. But who is?

Like Baggio, Ribéry has the close dribbles. The unexpected changes in speed and direction.

Like Baggio, Ribéry chops the ball past hairy ankles and mud stained socks. And accelerates past hapless fullbacks.

They both play with 5-a-side joy.

They both leave memories for the fans.

But Ribéry has healthier knees.

We must close with Eduardo Galeano on Baggio:

In recent years no one has given Italians better soccer or more to talk about. Roberto Baggio’s game is mysterious: his legs have a mind of their own, his foot shoots by itself, his eyes see the goals before they happen.

Baggio is a big horsetail that flicks away opponents as he flows forward in an elegant wave. Opponents harass him, they bite, they punch him hard. Baggio has Buddhist sayings written under his captain’s armband. Buddha does not ward off the blows, but he does help suffer them. From his infinite serenity, he also helps Baggio discover the silence that lies beyond the din of cheers and whistles.

Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow , pg 226

Kicked Off: A new Eredivisie season begins

In celebration of the Eredivisie kicking off, a few passages on Dutch football:

First, from Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano recounts Cryuff’s origins:

This scrawny livewire earned a spot on the Ajax roster when he was only a child: while his mother waited tables at the club bar, he collected balls that went off the field, shined the players’ shoes, and placed flags in the corners. He did everything they asked of him and nothing they ordered him to do. He wanted to play and they would not let him because his body was too weak and his will too strong. When they finally gave him a chance, he took it and never let it go. Still a boy, he made his debut, played stupendously, scored a goal, and knocked out the referee with one punch.

Galeano’s Gullit piece reads like it’s speaking to 2019, not 1993…

In 1993 a tide of racism was rising. Its stench, like a recurring nightmare, already hung over Europe; several crimes were committed and laws to keep out ex-colonial immigrants were passed. Many young whites, unable to find work, began to blame their plight on people with dark skin.

Ruud Gullit, known as “The Black Tulip,” had always been a full-throated opponent of racism. Guitar in hand, he sang at anti-apartheid concerts between matches, and in 1987, when he was chosen Europe’s most valuable player, he dedicated his Ballon d’Or to Nelson Mandela, who spent many years in jail for the crime of believing that blacks are human.

I googled The Black Tulip to see if Ruud Gullit would hit my screen first.

Nope.

Instead, the search engine delivered another historical rebel – Alexander Dumas, and his novel titled: The Black Tulip.

Now, from David Winner‘s Brilliant Orange:

A dedication worth reading:

For:

Dad, who taught me to love football,

Mum, who taught me to love art

and Hanny, who taught me to love Holland.

It’s clear to me now, but back in 2004, Winner’s book introduced me to the Dutch mentality of controlling the game. Also, Winner taught me there’s more to Dutch football than Johann Cryuff.

‘It’s a thinking game. It’s not running around everywhere and just working hard, though of course you have to work hard too. Every Dutch player wants to control the game. We play the ball from man to man; we wait for openings. That’s how to play football: with your brains, not with your feet. You don’t have to be a chess player, but you must think ahead. Before I had the ball I knew exactly what I would do with it. I always knew two or three moves ahead. Before I get the ball I can already see someone moving in front of me, so when the ball arrives I don’t have to think about it. And I don’t have to watch the ball because I have the right technique.’ If ball control comes naturally to a player, he needs only one touch to get it where it needs to be.

Arnold Muhren

Lastly, two transfers to watch out for:

Jordy Clasie returns to AZ on a permanent. Could a return to the Eredivisie see him mount a national team comeback?

Former Johan Cruyff Trophy winner and Pochettino outcast Vincent Janssen has landed in Monterrey. Could the ketchup finally flow?

Copa America 2019: A Hypnotic Pass

James Rodriguez is a hypnotist. At this point in the match, he’s floating where ever he likes. He receives the ball a few yards from the touchline, just behind the midfield stripe. Argentina’s coach Lionel Scaloni, bends forward, shouting for someone to close him down.

Too late.

James already snapped the picture. Now his head is down. His left foot sweeps through the ball. There’s a pop. A thump of kangaroo leather and synthetic plastic colliding. The ball blazes across the pitch, wind wrapped, minimum back spin. The Nike swoosh smiles up at the Salvador sky.

In the end the diagonal ball takes out 8 Argentinian players within two, three seconds. Yes, Roger Martinez still needed to produce a tight outside of the foot dribble, followed by a golazo to complete the move. But James’ diagonal ball was the instigator.

The diagonal ball is a basic, but lethal tactic. It hypnotizes defenses, turning defenders into ball watchers. But then the ball snaps it’s it fingers. The spell is broken, and your goalkeeper is picking the ball out of his own net.

Heaven is in the details: The 2015-16 Vancouver Whitecaps shirt

It was on sale.

I’d imagined I ordered a simple, white jersey. Another they all-look-the-same MLS shirt, brought to you by Adidas since 2004.

But a closer look revealed a delicate design, quiet even.

And unless you’re pulling the shirt over your head for Saturday morning pick-up, the small details are easily missed.

The shirt is both modern and retro. Harking back to the Whitecap’s NASL days, the tag below the collar reading: Since 1974.

“No that’s not the year I was born.” I explain to my teammates. It’s when the Vancouver Whitecaps were foun…oh never mind.

No. That’s not my birth year.

The club motto – Our all. Our honour. hides below the nape on the inside collar.

A perfect mental lift when playing indoor 5-aside, and all oxygen has escaped your lungs, but your team has no subs.

Our honOUR

The slogan reappears on the navy strip near the waist. Helpful again, when stricken with side stitch.

At the hip

Across the upper chest are the fade-to-blue-to-white jagged edges of the North Shore mountains. An homage to the local landscape. And yes, I googled “Mountains in Vancouver”.

The majestic North Shore peaks.

True kit aficionados know a classic shirt sponsor can unify the entire design.

See D.C. United’s all black VW shirts. Or Fiorentina’s Nintendo kit.

The Bell logo knits all the design elements together, and isn’t a too obnoxious plea for market share.

Kit diversity is missed when one brand sponsors a whole league. The styles become repetitive, homogeneous, dull.

Somehow the Vancouver Whitecaps 2015-2016 shirt escaped this fate.

Further reading: Graham Ruthven on kit designs and the MLS adidas partnership.


What’s your number Scott McTominay?

It won’t be 39 next year.  Not after that Parc des Princes performance.

His PSG assignment? Take care of the boring stuff. The coffee orders. The midfield dish washing.

Partner with Fred in the center of midfield. Be his right sided wingman.

Jog east. Jog west. No ball watching.

Close PSG passing lanes to Mpappe and De Maria. Track Kehrer on corners.

Be a dart to cork on Veratti. Help Ashley Young double him up if he dawdles.

In possession, check to the ball between Di María in Mbappé. Turn and deliver the simple pass. You’re not Pirlo and you don’t have to be.

In transition, first time passes to Young or Dalot are required. Preferably, played into space, for them to run on to.

That’s the assignment. Humble midfield apprentice work.

But humble tasks completed with enthusiasm and excellence lift a team, and, individual reputations.

So what will your squad number be next year McTominay? The Spanish #4? The Argentine #5?

Because 39 no longer befits your stature.

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.