PSG owner Nasser Al Khelaifi after Demba Ba’s late goal sent his team out of the Champions League.

PSG owner Nasser Al Khelaifi after Demba Ba’s late goal sent his team out of the Champions League.

A pin drops. The ball drops. Zizou catches it…mesmerizing everyone but himself, perhaps including himself. The planets align, the spin of the ball is countered by the position and gracefulness of the foot. And he’s off. 

The Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto (most known for Y-3) has built his name on clean, listless, dark, and technically superior designs. Many of his gliding works evoke a samurai aesthetic by incorporating form and flow into a single piece, a jacket with a trailing back, for instance. The wearer looks like he’s moving while he’s standing still. Motion is both perpetual and nil.

Adidas has recently announced that Yohji will be doing the newest special-edition Adizero f50 and the results are like nothing I’ve seen from the designer before. After seeing the name on the collaboration I was worried that we would get a boot that reflected what his Y-3 (also an Adidas collaboration) was built on: being aesthetically and technically sound, but a little boring for my taste. Luckily, and as you can probably gather from the images above, these boots are anything but clean and dull. 

Yamamoto, freed from the construct of a personal line or label, has elected to choose a bold Miyazaki-esque design to print on the boots and tell a brief story about their performance by pairing the animal and the technological. Like all f50s, these boots come with a micoach chip that monitors performance and distance to give feedback to the user and suggest ways to improve compared to teammates, but this inclusion comes at no expense to form as the boot is one of the lightest on the market at a sprightly 165 grams. 

2,000 pairs of the special-edition boot will be made available globally on Monday, October 28th. If you’re a collector or just someone looking to find some new and unique boots to wear on the pitch look out for a drop near you. 

Paul Lambert wanted to spruce up the old tunnel at Villa Park. This beautiful claret and blue carpet is the result. 

Paul Lambert wanted to spruce up the old tunnel at Villa Park. This beautiful claret and blue carpet is the result. 

Leaves are falling and seasons are changing here in the United States, but in Panama, closer to the equator, things rarely change. It either rains a lot or it doesn’t. Mexico was a country who had qualified for every World Cup they were eligible for and Panama had not qualified for a single World Cup they had entered. For roughly 8 minutes the change seemed like a possibility.

In the process I saw the happiness and ecstasy that sport can provide in a scope that I haven’t witnessed before. The crowd erupted into absolute rapture the second that Luis Tejada’s go-ahead goal entered the back of the net. Objects flew across the screen. Hats, debris, hands, and many unidentified objects entered the foreground of the image. The crowd became an amorphous object of emotion, no longer comprised of individual atoms. And I was happy too. With the United States having little to gain from a result, positive or negative, I was taken out of my traditional lens and able to fully empathize with the Panamanian people.

8 minutes later that empathy was taken to another level. When Graham Zusi decided to score because, what the hell right? “Always go for the win!”, as I have been told over and over in the past few hours. And I wish I could agree, but I see the look on the eyes of Tejada and Chen as they leave the pitch more than gutted, bereft of confidence and self-belief, and I feel more Panamanian than American. The way that the tenor of the Estadio Rommel Fernandez changed I could tell I was witnessing a national tragedy.

The Five: Matches Worth Your Time

“Can you do it? When the time comes? When the time comes there will be no time. Now is the time. Curse God and die.”

That line, from Cormac McCarthy’s work The Road has come to define this stage of World Cup Qualification. The time is nigh. Who can do it? Who will die? Everything is on the line as proper qualification is wrapping up and the pressure is at an all time high. The rain pours, the temperatures drop, and the season changes from Summer to Fall like their teams fortunes. Some will stave off demise for another week by earning a playoff bid, while some will not be so fortunate. Whatever happens, the end of the road is near. Here are the five matches that might dramatically shape the tenor of the world cup.

Ghana v. Egypt (First Leg, 12:00pm EST)

            Accra is a city booming at the prospect of their Black Stars back in the World Cup. Unlike other African countries like Senegal and South Africa that have competing pastimes (wrestling and rugby/cricket respectively), it is all about football in Ghana and they’ve got an excellent team to showcase that passion. In-form players Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah will look to dominate the flanks tomorrow, but the game will be won or lost in their energetic midfield’s ability to neutralize Egypt’s excellent counterattack. The counter is a feature of Egypt’s tactics that many United States supporters will remember fondly as Bob Bradley has installed his system as coach of the unsettled state. The Egyptians will be physical and compact in defense and wide and energetic on the break. This should be a good one and a result away from home would be massive for Egypt’s chances.

Holland v. Turkey (2:00pm EST)

            The score line read Holland 8 – Hungary 1. The football match was recontextualized from a linear event into a patchwork collage of sublime moments, a touch, a sculpted ball, an incisive pass, a brutal tackle. The images melted together into a Platonic form of domination. Robin van Persie was the man of the hour that night, bagging a hat trick and breaking Patrick Kluivert’s scoring record, but the entire team put in a performance for the ages. Tuesday’s fixture against Turkey, a team hanging onto their playoff spot with white knuckles, will not be so easy. Turkey are more or less safe if they can win, but a draw or loss will almost certainly spell their demise as Romania are level with them on points and playing a thoroughly mediocre Estonia side. Fortunately for the Turk’s, they are at home, where they are excellent, and the Dutch have little other than greatness to play for. Burak Yilmaz, Arda Turan, and Gokhan Tore will need to perform up to their abilities for their country to progress.

Bulgaria v. Czech Republic (2:15pm EST)

            Anything could happen in Group B. Four teams sit within a point of each other. Denmark, at home to group punching bag Malta, are the favorites, but if Bulgaria win at home against the Czech’s they will secure the playoff spot. These are two evenly matched sides that have had a lot of turnover in the past couple years and now bring fairly young and inexperienced sides into the final match-day. Will Bulgaria’s home advantage, where they are undefeated in qualifying, make the difference? Or will their young guns crack up under pressure? This should prove to be a spectacle. Watch for the performances of Aston Villa’s Aleksandar Tonev (Bulgaria) and Chelsea’s Petr Cech (Czech Republic).

England v. Poland (3:00pm EST)

            I’m sure the English tabloids have told you that this has happened before. If you need a brief reminder here’s a fact sheet

  • The Year: 1973
  • The Teams: England v. Poland
  • The Stadium: Wembley
  • What happened: Sir Alf Ramsay’s England improbably denied a spot in the 1974 World Cup by Poland on the last day of qualification.
  • Who did it: Jan Tomaszewski

            To be honest, there aren’t many similarities this time around: Poland have already been eliminated, an English manager neglected to call a Polish player a clown, it’s not do or die for England, but Poland could still play spoiler to England’s World Cup hopes and force them to qualify through the playoff round. England is a team that is still reliant on its aging and fragile legs in midfield putting in a workman like performance. If they put in a good shift this should be relatively comfortable, but the likes of Błaszczykowski and Lewandowski will pose a problem if England cannot get a good grip on the match. I’ve seen weirder things than a Joe Hart howler proving the difference.

CONCACAF: The embargo of Mexico (all matches 9:30 EST)

            In a case of international espionage and sabotage could the other CONCACAF nations have colluded to keep Mexico out of the playoff? I’ve heard from a good source down in Costa Rica that their manager is expected to pick a full strength side at home and really go for it despite having already qualified. The alleged reasoning for this is that they’ve been in poor form and want to get a final win in order to boost their form and confidence in their last competitive match before the tournament, but it all smells a bit fishy to me. Especially when you consider that the United States has withdrawn most of its best players and look to play a B-Team in Panama despite rolling out a full strength squad against Jamaica just four days prior. I’m not issuing indictments here, I’m just asking questions….

The reality of the situation is that Mexico controls their own fate, but won’t be getting any favors from their greatest rival and teams that they have leapfrogged and patronized over the years to get to the tournament. A 1-0 victory for both Costa Rica and Panama sends the Panamanians to play New Zealand. That’s not a preposterous outcome and these matches should be fascinating for the fan and the neutral alike.

In honor of Holland’s 8-1 thrashing of Hungary yesterday, I present these photographs from Hans van der Meer’s fantastic work “Dutch Fields”. That collection, while often paling in notoriety to the scope he accomplished with his later work “European Fields”, is more representative of what van der Meer knows and a more honest retelling of the game at its most basic state. 

The horizon lines and the pastoral scenes that van der Meer creates are quintessentially Dutch and evoke the “golden-age” works of Peter van Ruisdael and Esaias van der Meer from the late 17th century. It is a reminder that while Holland has certainly changed dramatically as a society, more often than not, things stay the same. The Dutch look out to the same horizon and occupy the same spaces that they did so many years ago. Just like the lower league players, depicted here, are not so different than the van Persies of today and the Cruyffs of the past. The Dutch game is predicated on this shared history of space and the country’s best players have always been the ones most adept at manipulating it. 

For more of van der Meer’s work visit his website or purchase European FieldsIf you have more interest in Dutch culture, and football in particular, I highly recommend David Winner’s work Brilliant Orange, which, although nominally about football, describes the intersection of the sport with the Dutch lifestyle, their art, and culture as a whole. 

Allardyce’s 4-6-0 and the End of Days

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I’ve seen things today, the Sixth of October, Two-Thousand and Thirteen. Dangerous things; ideas and shapes which have left an imprint in my cornea that only slowly burns away, like the bright morning sun upon first wake. I’ve double-taked in stupor, wondering “Am I really seeing this?” and “why now, I’m still young?” Who knew that Sam Allardyce would be the harbinger of the apocalypse after-all?

But before we get to today, I suppose I should delineate what set the events of today in motion. The end of days began in 2010, in the mind of a 46 year-old from Dunfermline, Scotland. The man’s name was, and still is, Craig Levein. He stayed close to home and, in a Candide-like way, preferred to cultivate his own garden in Scotland than to venture into England or the continent. He only left once and that was to go to Leicester; no wonder he came back. This confidence in self and country bred results and led him straight to the top of the list of Scottish manager’s and, in 2009, he, Craig Levein, the guy who once punched a teammate really hard in the nose and who would later pick seven English-born players for the Scotland-side, was chosen as the next Scotland manager.

On September 29th 2010 we can only assume that, because of coming events, Levein was sitting in a chair watching a rather turgid Rubin Kazan side take a 1-1 draw from a home tie with Barcelona and thinking “there’s something in this innit?”. Nine days later, on October 8th, he rolled out the first British 4-6-0 away to the Czech’s in Prague. The defensive 4-6-0, like all great footballing inventions, came from Russia and then was claimed as someone else’s years later.

Everything could have been different if Levein had not lost 1-0, failed to qualify for Euro 2012, and eventually been sacked, but all those things did happen, the British press said things to the effect of “that’s not the English way you mentalist” and the anti-football 4-6-0 was presumed dead upon arrival. It’s funny how objects and ideas we thought were dead turn out to merely sink to the floor of the Thames or the Anduin, waiting to be resurrected by a creature slimy enough to harness their power. Today that man was Sam Allardyce. The 4-6-0 is back and its limitless power, in the hands of evil, may result in the destruction of football as we know it.

Today Sam Allardyce picked a team with Ricardo Vaz Te in it and played him as a wingback for significant chunks of the match. If I’m being honest, it was pretty cool. Sam’s particular application of the formation was interesting in that it combined some good attacking concepts with the typical defensive shell you would associate with Sam Allardyce and 4-6-0. The way that the 6 in midfield lined up was with one nominally holding player (Mark Noble), two wing-backs/wingers (Vaz Te and Stewart Downing), and a rotating front three (Mohamed Diame, Kevin Nolan, and Ravel Morrison).

In attack, West Ham were, like I said before, surprisingly ambitious. The team opened up like an accordion from their defensive shape and sent their fullbacks, attacking midfielders, and wingers forward in packs of 4. What constantly took Spurs by surprise, however, was the almost random use of these 4 man units and the areas that they would come from. It was not an uncommon sight to see a fullback, a winger, and two midfielders forward. The fluidity that this allowed for really undid Spurs on the break as the defenders genuinely looked like they had been hit by a train.

In defense, the side sank deeper into their assigned positions. The defense ostensibly added four players as the two wingers became wingbacks and the two attacking midfielders became defensive midfielders. Leaving the side with one player to clear the ball to.  This is obviously a hard shape to break down, but the addition of the two wingbacks really did well to neutralize Tottenham’s fantastic wide players for much of the match by removing the effectiveness of overlap play, a hallmark of the 4-2-3-1.

The majority of the plaudits should, and will, go to Sam Allardyce and the West Ham players, but Andre Villas-Boas’s unwillingness to waver from his preferred 4-2-3-1 has been his Achilles heel in the Premier League since he came over. I like AVB and want him to succeed, but you really can’t be so naïve as to only have one tactic and think that you won’t be found out, especially by teams content to defend and break. As Allardyce exemplified today, tactics are as much about surprise as anything in the modern game and there is little mystery in the Portuguese manager’s game plan. Will this be the last we see of the 4-6-0? I’d wager not, but hopefully it falls back to the river floor for a while. In such a small dose it was actually rather nice, but once recognized as a legitimate option would result in a game that resembled a stalemate rather than the ebbing and flowing affairs that have made the Premier League the most popular league in the world. 

While Kasey Keller was appealing for there to be a (ridiculous) 10 match ban without pay for “divers”, the tension created by the elephant in the room became too much. I knew I had to say something, because what I saw could not be ignored or unseen: the bright glint of the future being emitted from the yellowish tint of his eye glasses. What is he doing wearing those?
Is Keller a terminator, sent from the future to destroy a now-infantile U.S. goalkeeper who’s sheer skill would fundamentally alter the sport? Is this fashion-forward or a faux-pas? Did he coordinate the frame to match his collared shirt or did it just coalesce together? Is this merely an allusion to Nuno Capucho? Why didn’t Nuno get a shout-out? Is this fashion robbery?
Hopefully I’ll be able to provide you with the answer to all these questions and more as information becomes available. 

While Kasey Keller was appealing for there to be a (ridiculous) 10 match ban without pay for “divers”, the tension created by the elephant in the room became too much. I knew I had to say something, because what I saw could not be ignored or unseen: the bright glint of the future being emitted from the yellowish tint of his eye glasses. What is he doing wearing those?

Is Keller a terminator, sent from the future to destroy a now-infantile U.S. goalkeeper who’s sheer skill would fundamentally alter the sport? Is this fashion-forward or a faux-pas? Did he coordinate the frame to match his collared shirt or did it just coalesce together? Is this merely an allusion to Nuno Capucho? Why didn’t Nuno get a shout-out? Is this fashion robbery?

Hopefully I’ll be able to provide you with the answer to all these questions and more as information becomes available.