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.

Bald Hero

Episode #3

Journal,

First French football hero? You guessed it. Fabien Barthez.

Goalkeeper was the first position I was attracted to. It’s natural when you grow up playing basketball and you can’t do five keepie-uppies.

Goalkeepers seemed so heroic, living knights of the round table. Diving hands first into danger to save the entire team. They even wore superhero costumes, kits unlike anyone else on the field. Draped in jerseys colored in Broccoli green, Sunflower yellow, even 80s pop star pink was an option.

Keepers though, were demi-gods. Peter Schmeichel, Ollie Kahn (did anyone call him Ollie to his face?), with their sculpted shoulders and grizzly bear paws were BC Olympians. Out of reach of us eighty-six-pound mortals.

Then there was Fabian Barthez.

He scraped in at six feet. And closer resembled a grocer, filling the bins with vine fresh tomatoes early Saturday morning, rather than a top-level goalkeeper.

But Barthez, with his Copa Mundials and number 16 shirt won the Champions League with Marseille. Lifted the World and European cup with France. He even won the league with Manchester United.

Zidane treasures him. When asked which player from the 98′ team he’d add to the current French side, he replied “Barthez”.

I don’t remember any spectacular saves Barthez made. I can’t recall a press conference where he charmed anyone. I’ve never saw him lift a trophy.

None of these things made Barthez my hero. He was my hero because I could see a little of myself in him.

I’m out,

Jack

I’m Not A Player I Just Crush A lot

Episode #1

Dear Journal,

I’m trying to remember when I started crushing on French football.
Was it World Cup 98? Zidane’s double headers in Paris?

No, that was my first exposure to the French team, but I was supporting the Seleção. The Nike commercials, the Canary Yellow kits. El Phenomenon.

Zidane who?

I had no clue. I couldn’t comprehend Zidane’s composure on the ball. I didn’t appreciate the roulettes or dragbacks. All I saw was a balding forty-four-year-old midfielder head two bullets past a cardboard cut-out of Taffarel.

 
Yeah, those blue Adidas kits were dope as hell but our relationship was still years away.
Oh, I remember now. London. It all began in North London.

 
Monaco takes on Amiens tonight. Another Ligue 1 team I’ll have to google. Friday night football is like chicken fried steak, weekend comfort food.

I’m out,

Jack

 

P.S. I learned later that summer Zidane was only 26 years old. His early male pattern baldness brought me great comfort later in life.

With Love, Copa Mundial

copamundials

Dear Jack,

How long has it been since you left? Since we split? I still remember you pulling me out of that box. You picked me up at Sports Authority, remember that place? You didn’t point, click or shopping cart me into your life, you went to the store and chose me.

The beginning was all love. You didn’t even try me on. At first sight I was the one. You couldn’t resist my supple kangaroo leather or fold-over tongue. Much game, I had much game then.

I dangled from your fingertips as you strutted up to training. Your teammates noticed you for the first time. “Dang! J copped some Copa’s?!” You still sucked at football, but with me on your feet you were part of the group at last.

From then on we went everywhere together. Pick-up games, backyard duels, Wednesday night 6v6 and tournaments in far away counties. Inseparable.

I thought we’d be a pair forever. I was naïve. The internet intruded. New boots were everywhere – F50s, Predators, Vapors. I went from the choice boot of your hero –
Zidane, to the official boot of u9 referees. Suddenly, I was overweight and busted at the seams.

I began spending more time in your trunk than on the pitch. Twice a week pick-up dropped to once week, to once a month, to nada. I managed the loneliness, but when you cut off my fold-over tongue, I knew I was a goner. You were trying to change me. Sculpt me into a sleeker, younger model. Vintage wasn’t in fashion then. This wasn’t a personal touch; this was an act of betrayal.

We went out one last time. And then it happened. Someone called you out, said I was too old. “J why are you wearing Maradona’s Boots?“ they snickered. When did wearing Maradona’s boots become an insult? But you blushed. You were embarrassed of me. After five years you wore me in and wore me out.

I was a relic. Time had left me behind. Soon your mother got a hold of me. Stashing me away in a cobweb infested corner of the garage. Every now and then she’d ask “Do you still want these?” you’d reply yes, out of guilt. But I knew you didn’t mean it. You never returned.

I hope you’re happy. I hope you’re still scoring goals and hitting no look passes with the outside of whatever boots you’re wearing. I hope now that you have a daughter and it’s her turn to play, you remember me.

Remember I was there for you when you couldn’t do 6 keepie uppies. Remember I was there when you couldn’t strike a long ball. Remember I was there when your first touch was crap.

I’m still bitter and haven’t forgiven you. But whenever you’re ready, I’ll take you back.

With Love,

Copa Mundial