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I have patience

There’s a great song by Mark Mulcahy called “I have patience.” It’s full of rage and wit and stubborn love. This is the chorus:

The things I love don’t bring me joy
What I want, I want to destroy
I have patience, I have patience

How much distress is ok following a nightmare result? How do you straighten out what is of your life, and therefor worthy of pain, and what isn’t? I feel like I’ve made some big mistakes in this department. I’ve invited troublesome foreigners into my life, I’ve invited phantoms. I get upset (very upset) by the mistakes of the millionaire children of another continent. Worst of all, their mistakes are played out at dawn on Saturday morning.

But I have patience, ridiculous patience.


The Problem Bear

Picture 3Zlatan has struck again! He called Pep Guardiola a coward and etc, etc, etc: exactly the sort of thing we expect from Zlatan, not really news, just how Zlatan relates. It was enough, however, for Bayern Munich’s president Uli Hoeness to come to the defense of Pep, calling Zlatan a “Problembär.”

A fucking Problem Bear.

A Problem Bear! How dare Uli?!? And also, what is a Problem Bear? It sounds like quite a euphemism. However, it’s simply German and almost transcendently literal: a problem bear is a bear that creates problems. Specifically, Bear JJ1, aka Bruno, aka Beppo, aka Petzi. Yes, all this info is from wikipedia. The first brown bear on German soil in 170 years (this was 2006), and the killer of a guinea pig among other contemporary German beasts, like sheep. The Problem Bear was eventually shot dead after wrecking meek havoc, which is really more indicative of a German Bear Problem (ie they really should have more bears, as bears are wonderful, and would make Germany tougher) rather than the existence of a true Problem Bear.

Since Bruno’s demise, the word “Problembär” has apparently become something Germans call troublemakers of multiple stripes. Stirrers of the pot. Guinea pig slayers. Folks that flit from one situation to another, causing strife in each. Unnecessary rufflers of feathers. Zlatans.

This made me think: is Jose Mourinho a Problembär? I would say yes, but I’ve just decided to withhold personal usage of the term from anyone or anything I find consistently obnoxious. I’ve decided that the Problembär, in my sphere, isn’t so unbearably bitchy.  Here is Mourinho storming out of a pregame press conference because he was annoyed by a “why isn’t x on your team sheet” question. If the situation were taken totally seriously, one would have to ask some basic questions, like why do we have these press conferences? what on earth does anyone really hope to learn from this? isn’t this just about one game, plans for which the coach will reveal as little as possible? and the game doesn’t even happen today, but tomorrow? how bored, exactly, are these poor reporters? why doesn’t everyone storm out? why do we watch television?

But let’s skip the real questions, and continue on with the inane and the whimsical. The hubbub over team selection is of course related to Mourinho’s shunning of Juan Mata. For those of you that don’t obsessively follow the EPL, Mourinho has used Mata as a sub in league games and omitted him entirely from the squad against the derby game with Fulham. Mata has been Chelsea’s best player for the past two years, and is a fan favorite. Here‘s Michael Cox’s take, written before the Tottenham match.

It’s a situation that’s been brewing since Mourinho was announced as Chelsea’s next coach- I recall Mata was asked how he felt about his new coach, and in stark contrast to the enthusiasm of his team mates, he said that he’d wait and see. That was at the end of last season. The summer passed, Mata was not sold, the new season began, and he’s now second string. While there’s nothing wrong with a coach having preferences contrary to public opinion, or being ruthless with egos, I think the scenario illustrates the ludicrous misbalance in finances in the sport. Here’s a guy Chelsea could have sold to a another team, in another league, for at least £35M. A guy the coach doesn’t rate. Instead, they keep him because they can, and because it weakens potential competitors- foreign competitors who they most likely will not play. The situation is the same with David Luiz, also omitted from the Fulham game, also in demand, and also worth an incredible amount of money. Similar is true with Lukaku, an incredible player who they’ve sent out on loan again, because they won’t make room for him in their squad, but can’t be moved to make what would be a necessary economic choice at most other clubs. Demba Ba isn’t a superstar, but he isn’t playing, and could’ve been sold as well.

Chelsea sits on these players because they can. It’s no good for the players, it’s no good for spectators, it’s economically nuts, but the financial rules are so weak coaches like Mourinho can make strategic decisions at tremendous cost that only marginally add value to their team. He does that, and then he can spend £30M on Willian (possibly just so Tottenham couldn’t have him), and then bench him, too. There’s no real genius in any of this, only mega-luxurious spite. The game would be more interesting, and managers like Mourinho less vaunted, if this sort of business wasn’t allowed.

Zlatan is a Problembär. Mourinho is just a headache.

Three man defense, four man defense. Higuain, Jovetic, Llorente. Tevez? And finally…. Hypercolor.

-1The beginning of a long goodbye?

My friend V and I recently discussed what was going on with Juventus this summer: they appear to have feelers out for at least two offensive players in addition to Llorente, who they’ve already signed on a free transfer from Bilbao. They’re all high-profile players- the team seems to be serious about overcoming their current shortcomings in finishing. But it’s a bit strange to see such a front-heavy wishlist, and they’re apparently also tinkering with the defense. Conte might be contemplating switching from a quintessentially Italian back-3 to a 4-2-3-1, the current tactical trend across Europe.

V isn’t entirely happy with how it’s unfolding, and  I thought his insight was interesting:

“My sense is that because tactical trends change over time, it’s not usually wise to chase the pack.  There’s an analogy to financial markets.  When everyone else is hot on gold, you want to be selling.  When enthusiasm dampens, it’s time to buy.  It’s called being counter-cyclical.  There are a select number of people out there who fit really well in a 4-2-3-1 system; they’ll be highly valued if a lot of sides are trying to play that formation.  That means there are people you can get at value who fit better in another system.  For this to work full-stop, you have to believe that trends in formation are cyclical; but I think they are.”

I was thinking that a simple (probably simplistic) way of looking at soccer tactics is that it’s the art of deciding where to overload the pitch. You decide where your players need the maximum number of choices available to play the ball. Because you’re dealing with a finite number of players in a finite space, this comes down to where you try to produce one temporarily unmarked man. Since the opposing team is equipped to deal with you man-to-man it’s a kind of sleight of hand: momentarily one team has one more man than the other.

When a tactical trend becomes pervasive, the easiest or maybe just most conservative way to combat it is to buy in. This way, very roughly, your players will inhabit similar parts of the pitch as your opponents, and will be faced with similar challenges and choices. You win, then, by small tweaks: not via revolution or daring strategy or idiosyncrasy. A team as domestically dominant as Juventus might find the tactical traditions of its league burdensome when playing other continental teams: they don’t want their genius to have a big Italian asterisk. Maybe their current system, built around the aging Pirlo, is going to have be changed anyhow, and as it would be impossible to find a like-for-like replacement for magisterial Andrea, it’s come time to transition to what has recently worked tactically for other big teams.

I think the most interesting question here, however, is whether tactics are cyclical. It would be difficult to argue that they have been historically, at least in any macro way: there have been massive and irreversible changes in how the sport is played in the past century. But much of the difference between the modern game and the not-so-distant past is due to sports medicine, and before that, changes in the offside rule. I don’t think we’ll see any holistic shifts as large  as these, and it doesn’t seem crazy to say that the game as a whole has stabilized. In “Inverting the Pyramid,” Jonathan Wilson says the sport has reached a “mature” stage, and that tactical innovation will likely be incremental from now on out. Maybe it will be cyclical. Maybe Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan will be like Hypercolor shirts.

Hypercolor is coming back, right?


Goodnight, fantasy team. You have slid into happy oblivion.


Christian Benteke’s hat trick has turned out the lights on my fantasy team. It’s been a long downward slide the past few months, and while at first my mistakes really pissed me off, I have to say it’s good to be finally losing definitively. I was first place in my mini-league for a year and a half, week after week, and it wasn’t due to any particular genius beyond paying attention to the details and playing conservatively. I wasn’t going to participate this year, but then my colleague Ivancho created a league with the stated purpose of beating me, and I couldn’t say no. Congratulations, Ivancho: while you may not have personally defeated me, your trap of a league has.

It began with overthinking the January transfers. I played a wildcard to maximize a gameweek in which some teams played twice as many games as others. This gave me short-term points, but was shaky long-term. Walcott’s form fell apart while Cazorla’s stayed steady; Bale came into the equation shortly thereafter and I didn’t pick him quickly enough.

Then I traded out Lambert and ignored Benteke, instead hedging on Lukaku. The rookie second-place team kept them; I wanted someone different. It was the wrong decision.

When I first started losing, it became awfully clear that my fantasy team’s performance was the secret receptacle of a large amount of dark emotion. The first weekend when it became clear that I’d lost my grasp I was genuinely, absurdly upset. Then Luis Suarez scored a bunch against Swansea and a temporary midweek flutter in the league rankings fell back my way. Number one again. But it wasn’t the same; I no longer cared nearly as much. I’d seen a glimpse of myself being very crazy, and really wanted no part of that anymore. I mean, my team wasn’t even that good: for that much agony, I should definitely have ranked in the top 1000 in the world. Or maybe I just shouldn’t deal with it at all.

Time went on, I was tired of being crazy, there were some familial catastrophes, and I neglected my fantasy team. Benteke wasn’t bought, and he wasn’t bought, and he wasn’t bought. Now I spend two or three fewer hours a week obsessing over the fantasy game, and I won’t win. It’s definitely for the best… (ugh I hate losing)… besides I’m in another league not specifically built to beat me and I’ll win that one, I think. Unfortunately I don’t particularly care about that one, although it does include one guy I’ve never beaten before.

I think this year he was just unlucky.