Diego Costa at 19. An old soul…and body

Diego Costa at 19. An old soul…and body

The pitch is being readied for the game. 

The players are at the training ground, weaving in between cones and catching balls punted at the goal. 

The club shop is quiet, for a tuesday.

Seats in the stadium are filled with the ghosts of Saturday’s supporters, whispering like the wind in the groundkeepers ear.

He is there. Every week. Painting the lines. Playing the unseen game between the spray of the tracer and the blades it covers. 

Where are you?

The pitch is being readied for the game. 

The players are at the training ground, weaving in between cones and catching balls punted at the goal. 

The club shop is quiet, for a tuesday.

Seats in the stadium are filled with the ghosts of Saturday’s supporters, whispering like the wind in the groundkeepers ear.

He is there. Every week. Painting the lines. Playing the unseen game between the spray of the tracer and the blades it covers. 

Where are you?

A Few Notes From Aston Villa’s Texas Tour:

- It’s the preseason so take this all with a grain of salt. The players are gelling, shedding the pounds of lager they put on in “ma-jor-ca”, and coming to terms with the existence of Alan Hutton. 

- I hate how the club web-stream commentators pronounce the “Philippe” in Philippe Senderos as though he were a little toy dog named Filipe.

- Some have been suggesting that bringing Senderos will “stunt the development” of Nathan Baker. It’s hard to stunt that which is already retarded and that, my friend, is the definition of Nathan Baker at the back. He plods around with heavy feet scything at everything a mere lunge away because his positioning is just that awful. He’s the worst center back I’ve ever watched week in and week out. It’s hard to maintain your dignity after being carved apart by MLS garbagemen.

- Lowton looks good again. He came off the burner a little bit last season, but he’s been a real bright spot in Texas. He’s regained that ball control in the attacking third and nice first touch that made him such a hassle going forward in the past. Looking forward to seeing him, Vlaar, and Okore. 

- Joe Cole is hurt. Water is wet. 

- It’s too soon to say whether Charles N’Zogbia will invest an ounce of real energy into the success of the team, but, if he does (and I somehow doubt it), the technique is still there. Brought it up and down over the wall perfectly to seal the win against Dallas. He also tried some dribbles and passes, but their results were as inconsistent as his performances. 

- Does Chris Herd have a future in the Premier League, at the Club? He’s never obnoxiously horrid, but he clearly just doesn’t have the technique to be a Premier League footballer. It’s a shame because I think he’s got the mentality and he’s a hard worker, but that only gets you so far. It’s a mystery why he’s still involved at all. 

- I have the same problem with Weimann as I do with Herd, although to a lesser degree. He can clearly contribute, but I can’t help but feel that the Championship is more his level. His dribbling and first touch are all to often loose and although he “goes and goes” that’s starting to become all that he does. I’m afraid he’s becoming Park Ji-Sung without the technique.

- Senderos hasn’t done anything glaringly bad, but it seems like he has trouble tracking multiple players and runs and got caught out of place a few times with smart runs from the Dynamo forwards. Not sure he’s going to fly as a long-term solution in the Premier League (as we recently saw at Fulham). I think I don’t hate him as a 3rd or 4th option at CB.  

- All-in-all, it was a productive tour and seemed like a fun experience bringing our shit brand of football to shit clubs in America. Villa somehow won both of these matches despite playing absolutely wretched stuff. Our mediocre, yet combative midfielders, launched into flying tackles in friendly matches, we had no fluency in the counter attack, and I’m pretty sure that both of the MLS teams created more chances. I guess that’s a sign that we’re on the up and up. As Sir Alex says, it’s winning when you play poorly that’s the mark of a champion, or something like that. It’s coming home. It’s coming home. All the trophies are en route to Villa Park.

Oh Samwise Allardyce, has the ogre met it’s death (has Jay Spearing come to rest)? 
The news of Andy Carroll’s injury will come as a blow to the Hammers and, principally, the Lord of “Out-Tacticing”, Big Sam. The tears of a man who has no pony-tailed behemoth to exploit. No knock downs for Kevin Nolan to run onto. No balls lumped from the back onto massive drunken domes. 
Route One is gone, in it’s wake the bodies of forlorn players: the Downings, the Coles, the Jarvises, and, of course, the O’Briens. Those who have nothing more to offer than a “good cross” or a “cultured left foot”. Without a Carroll their balls lumped into the box are mere leaves floating in the wind of a crisp London day, falling, falling, until the linesman draws his flag down.
Sure there a faint glimmer of hope in Enner Valencia and his plea for a work permit, he bounced some balls off his big noggin in Mexico and at the World Cup (hey, buying players based off a few good matches at the World Cup has never backfired before right?). But is that hope real? How can you trust a man that continues to field James Collins, a bald welshman who was past in 3 years ago? A man that has kicked out his most talented player, Ravel Morrisson, instead of mentoring and embracing him like he once had to do with Carroll?
The truth is that Big Sam and his cult of personality will never be a success because he’s more concerned with himself than his players or his team. He takes the plaudits when they win and they take the blame when they lose. This is no way to manage a club, or anything really. 
I can’t wait for the fat man to sing and his shit brand of football to be over. Back to the championship with you (we can hope). There’s only room for one team in Claret and Blue (you can fuck off too Burnley).

Oh Samwise Allardyce, has the ogre met it’s death (has Jay Spearing come to rest)

The news of Andy Carroll’s injury will come as a blow to the Hammers and, principally, the Lord of “Out-Tacticing”, Big Sam. The tears of a man who has no pony-tailed behemoth to exploit. No knock downs for Kevin Nolan to run onto. No balls lumped from the back onto massive drunken domes. 

Route One is gone, in it’s wake the bodies of forlorn players: the Downings, the Coles, the Jarvises, and, of course, the O’Briens. Those who have nothing more to offer than a “good cross” or a “cultured left foot”. Without a Carroll their balls lumped into the box are mere leaves floating in the wind of a crisp London day, falling, falling, until the linesman draws his flag down.

Sure there a faint glimmer of hope in Enner Valencia and his plea for a work permit, he bounced some balls off his big noggin in Mexico and at the World Cup (hey, buying players based off a few good matches at the World Cup has never backfired before right?). But is that hope real? How can you trust a man that continues to field James Collins, a bald welshman who was past in 3 years ago? A man that has kicked out his most talented player, Ravel Morrisson, instead of mentoring and embracing him like he once had to do with Carroll?

The truth is that Big Sam and his cult of personality will never be a success because he’s more concerned with himself than his players or his team. He takes the plaudits when they win and they take the blame when they lose. This is no way to manage a club, or anything really. 

I can’t wait for the fat man to sing and his shit brand of football to be over. Back to the championship with you (we can hope). There’s only room for one team in Claret and Blue (you can fuck off too Burnley).

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is over, but it has left a series of indelible images on the tapestry of the game. Van Persie’s diving header. The sad passing of Alfredo di Stefano. Tim Cahill’s wonder goal. The death of tiki taka. Suarez’s bite. The coronation of James Rodriguez. Germany 7 - 1 Brazil. Götze’s goal. Lahm receiving and lifting the trophy. These words read like snapshots brought out of memory in flipbook form: hearing them unfurls a reel of memories and associations. 

This was the game at its peak. An orgy of goalscoring in the group stages provided a nice precursor to the tension and suspense of the knockout rounds. France 98’s goalscoring record barely stands, but, as Müller noted in Bavarian last night “who cares about that bullshit” (his comment was re: Golden Boot). 

It was a counter-example to the constant eulogization of “true football”. The purity of the game is certainly tarnished to a degree when it comes to the modernization, money, and inequality of club football, but when one sees the tears in the eyes of David Luiz and James Rodriguez, the pride of Keylor Navas, and the ecstasy of the Germans, it’s easy to see why football continues to be the most popular sport in the world: the funny old game means more to the people that play and watch it than anything else. 

The tournament was also a celebration of unity. “The Team” won the trophy in the end and succeeded throughout the rounds. Costa Rica, Netherlands, Germany, and Colombia played the most cohesive football and that’s why they impressed so much. Understanding and organization, at any level of the game, are the building blocks of success. The Germans pressed and passed magnificently. They operated as a unit, moving forward and backwards in unison and occupying the pitch like a fortress. It wasn’t merely controlled possession, sitting in a defensive shell, counter-attacking, or high-pressing liquid football, it was a little bit them all. And the players always seemed to be on the same page as to the best time to exercise a particular element of the gameplan. This served as a sharp contrast to the Brazilians, who, in the tournaments seminal 7-1 drubbing, seemed to be divided into little groups of autonomous selecao members doing whatever they thought best. Those that play together, stay together (or something like that). The Germans won for a reason.

June 12th to July 13th also represented an important month in my life. I underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum on the 18th. I suffered the injury while playing basketball and dislocated and fractured my shoulder in the process. The cup, the love of family and friends, a few painkillers, and a lot of beer, has me back at a point where the sling is off and I can write again. The recovery will be slow and the physical therapy is like a medieval torture rack, but I’m on my way and I couldn’t have picked a better or worse time. It sucked to not have been able to provide content to the readers of A Football Report, FIFA, or The Unseen Game in the most important month of the new decade, but I’ll be posting more often now and hope that you’ll find something interesting to read. It’s the low points where you need content to occupy the holes of boredom anyway.

Much love,

John

days away. 

this world cup will be bigger than we know. 

it’s hard to take a moral stance, considering that I love both the game in brazil and the country’s people. these two ideas are becoming increasingly irreconcilable as extreme poverty and a lack of beneficial government structure has made the country one of the prime examples of “haves and have-nots”. 

lets see what happens. 

Great illustration from Grantland

Great illustration from Grantland

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.