If Barca Were a Person…

…they’d be Jose Mourinho — “devastatingly handsome, hypocritical and deeply flawed.” The courting of sponsorship from China’s Olympic drive, the public molestation of Cesc Fabregas, even the Unicef logo — there’s a lack of dignity to Barca off the pitch that belies its saintly persona. “This isn’t a spiritual institution — it’s a shameless cartel.” (Alexander Netherton/ESPN.com)

Read of the Day: What Modern Soccer Celebs Need Now

It’s not enough to have a personal chiropractor, chef or chakra adjustertoday’s soccer star needs a much bigger team to help him “pull constantly on the heavily-weighted rowing machine of modern celebrity.” Ergo: The Baby Name Selector. The Tattoo Consultant. And the Headphone Trend Analyst (although maybe not so much these days). “A nightmare that he was seen wearing Bose sound-excluders, when everyone else had moved on to Wesc plug-ins, was said to have unsettled Didier Drogba so badly on the eve of Ivory Coast’s opening game in South Africa he was unable even to fall over theatrically during any of his nation’s matches.” (Harry Pearson/The Guardian)

Who’s Surprised By Polish Anti-Semitism?

Euro 2012 officials, that’s who: It’s likely that the rampant anti-Semitism and racism of Polish soccer fans will mar the tournament as it’s held in Poland and Ukraine — that is, if it’s not moved first. Since actual Jews are rare in Poland, teams that once might have had Jews on their squads — like Cracovia in Krakow — are special targets, although Poles also just hurl anti-Semitic vitriol at any rival of their hometown team. While a few organizations are fighting back, Polish clubs have until recently been largely quiescent. (Eldad Beck/Ynetnews.com)

Read of the Moment: The EPL as an American Sport

EPLmania in America — who can explain it? “Sometimes I wonder if the Premier League is more suited to American sensibilities than their present sports…The certainty is celebrated. Like people flocking to the cinema to watch Julia Roberts essentially play Julia Roberts again and again, it’s the actors, not the performances, we crave.” (Vieira’s Weary One)

The Campaign Turns Negative

The tactic of the lessers this season? Negativity — “a sacrifice of possession for the sake of having two spare men at the back.” Look for lower EPL sides to adopt the World Cup’s regnant 4-2-3-1…not for its attacking virtues, “but the solidity the two midfield holders offer.” (Jonathan Wilson/The Guardian)

The 1929 FA Cup Final, With Sound

We have 11 minutes left of a film of the 1929 FA Cup final between Bolton and Portsmouth — enough time for a skilled film reader to see echoes of 1860s and 1870s long dribbling amidst the effects of the 1925 offside law; the near mythic Sir Charles Clegg chaperoning the Prince of Wales; the “almighty preponderance of [spectator] trilbies…[in] a supposedly flat-capped sport”; and thousands of rattles, a kinder, gentler kind of vuvuzela. (James Hamilton/More Than Mind Games)

Read of the Day: Man-Sticker Love

Picture a grown man, an accomplished professional who also happens to be a hopeless World Cup sticker completist – railing against Panini and their artificial shortage of certain bizarrely random players, skulking around swap meets for a glimpse of the elusive Danny Shittu of Nigeria. “The truth is I am sad. And I am addicted. I can’t go a day without my fix of got-got-got-got-NEED! I’m not complete until North Korea is.”  (Sid Lowe/Sports Illustrated)

Read of the Day: The End of the Affair

Of all the intimacies of life, the intimacy of fanhood is perhaps the falsest, exposed for USMNT fans during this past World Cup by a single scene of authentic tenderness: Bob Bradley embracing Ricardo Clark after taking him out of the game that might define his career. “I allowed this game to be pressed to my face for a month, and this hug is finally something true and personal, the sweetest and realest glimpse into the lives of two people on my team. All those magazine interviews and Twitter feeds, the piles of second- and third-hand information, become suddenly foolish.” (Casey Wiley/This is American Soccer)

Put the World Cup on a Diet

Not that there’s much hope of this happening, but here’s how to add excitement back to the World Cup: Shrink it. Go back to a 16-team for the finals, preceded by a fascinating 60-team pre-qualification split into 4 groups of 15 who play each other home and away — meaning the world comes to Togo (and builds the game there). “But then Fifa wouldn’t make its billions, so instead we’re condemned to an exhausting leviathan in which we have to hunt ever harder for football greatness.” (Jonathan Wilson/The Guardian)

Read of the Day: The Left Hand Takes Charge

Vicente Del Bosque — a nice guy, went the party line in Spain, but a caretaker with a soft, “left handed” approach to the easiest job in the world, nothing more than rolling out the balls and telling the Barça 7 to play like Barça. Wrong especially about his squad list, his lineups and substitutions, his use of Busquets and Torres (integral to Villa’s success) and Fabregas, holding him until the end, which liberated Iniesta to dominate in extra time. “Nice guys do not always come last…Vicente del Bosque is a good man. He is also a good manager.” (Sid Lowe/Sports Illustrated)

Read of the Day: Studies on Hysteria

You could go to World Cup 2010 and write about xenophobia, corruption, poverty and theft…and still think the tournament was a triumph for South Africa, lose your mind when Landon Donovan scored. ”The beauty and torture of soccer fandom, I came to appreciate during South Africa 2010, is the way the game simultaneously titillates very different parts of the mind. [W]hile Freud was not right about many things, he was right that the human mind is fundamentally conflicted…while it may not have across in my posts, I loved every single day of my trip to South Africa. Loved it.” (Andrew Guest/Pitch Invasion)

Well Struck: Jack Warner’s Noose, Thomas Hobbes’ Favorite Side & the Real Group of Death

If the sports section had stories as good as these, I’d start reading it again…or at least the couple of bits around Wilbon and Boswell. Click through for mighty reads.

Take David Beckham. Please.

People used to go away; now they don’t. Take David Beckham, back giving interviews last week, before England’s latest World Cup memory could even begin decomposing. In his vampirish semi-retirement, still England’s most famous footballer, this Vegas Beckham symbolizes the failure of English football, the machinery of craven celebrity that constructed him, and “above all, a sense of congealment, of a handsomely branded stasis…and these things, you feel, aren’t about to go away just yet either.” (Barney Ronay/The Guardian)

Read of the Day: The Jabulani as Capitalist Failure

Capitalism: Its strengths are its flexibility, dynamism, reliance on innovation and punishment of failures. But both the recent economic collapse and the Jabulani represent a new, unsettling reality: “There is no space in the system for change…Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t.” Everyone knew the ball was bad well before the World Cup began, and everyone seemed powerless to fix it. “It’s such a display of weakness it makes you feel an instinctive sort of unease.” (Vieira’s Weary One)

England and the Curse of Agincourt

Agincourt: The defining myth of England and its military triumphs…and the downfall of its football. What won at Agincourt or the Battle of Britain or against Greece in 2002 wasn’t heroism — it was superior firepower, strategy and Beckham’s dead-ball technique. The loss against Germany was England “once again framing the match in terms of heroics and last-ditches and a hundred clichés” and Terry and Gerrard out of position, trying to be heroes, as Germany flooded into the breach they left. (Paul Carpenter/It’s a Family Thing; HT: More Than Mind Games)

Reaction Formations

This World Cup was the death knell of the 4-4-2 as an attacking formation, says Jonathan Wilson at Sports Illustrated — unlike the regnant 4-2-3-1, it doesn’t easily create triangles, which are necessary to maintaining possession. But can anything beat the 4-2-3-1? A W-W (or 2-3-2-3) might be the reactive wave, says Dr. Ted at World Cup College, in which “the attacking midfielder can be shut-out by two defensive midfielders.”

Read of the Day: The Politics of Excellence

A “thick layer of moralizing” coated the World Cup final — which is one way the match fits the rest of the tournament, a “hallucinatory month, during which morality and politics seemed to lurk in every pass, shot and tackle.” Still, there is Spain’s triumph — not brilliant, but perhaps something more durable. “Working together, knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, disdaining excess, treating the ball as an object to be shared…they became collectively what none of them could be individually…The sight of an excellent team is its own reward, and maybe even its own political message.” (Harry Browne/Counterpunch)

‘Fick Fufa’: Was it Good for You, Sepp?

The ghastly strong-arming of a still grieving Nelson Mandela to attend the finale. The extra-constitutional courts and wildly disparate punishments for locals versus tourists. £2.5b in tax-free profit. Etc. “Fifa’s MO is to ensure the country’s statute book has been made comfortable for its arrival, take over almost entirely for the period of time needed to siphon out the money, before pulling up anchor and moving on to the next host organism. Naturally, we all wish Brazil the best of luck – but the time has surely come to ask who regulates the regulator. Perhaps it’s one for the UN, assuming Fifa isn’t about to take its first seat on the security council.” (Marina Hyde/The Guardian)

Give Us Klinsmann…But Not Yet

Jürgen Klinsmann will be a great USMNT coach — but U.S. soccer won’t be ready to take full advantage of him until after the next World Cup cycle. There aren’t yet enough technically adept players (or players in the MLS to Euro-second-tier-league pipeline) to take advantage of Klinsmann’s abilities to mold a “technically cunning squad” — four more years would improve both those situations, and put him in a better position to gut and remold the USSF. With an eye toward forming a title contender by 2022, hire Klinsmann…but not until 2014. (Jason Kuenle/Match Fit USA)

Read of the Day: Is the Champions League Killing Small-Nation Soccer?

European small-nation champions like Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade are being boxed in by the Champions League — way too good for their respective national leagues, not good enough for the big Euro tourneys, where their lack of mental toughness and domestic challengers shows. But the CL money ensures these teams’ edges at home, while the non-competitiveness of their leagues is killing attendance at live matches. “Can [a guy] be bothered to walk 20 minutes down the road to watch Red Star beat some village team? Of course not, not when he has 10 better live games on his TV in his living-room.” (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated)

Read of the Day: The Goalkeeper as Dante

The goalie as tragic, existential figure — a cliché. Literature from Nabokov to Camus, from Handke to Evelyn Waugh teaches us instead that keepers are seekers, constantly making choices, committing to gambles, wrestling with demons and conflicts, “polyvalent figures” who stand in liminal space, “at the threshold between two realities, goal or no goal, desolation or new life.” Like Dante’s journey from hell to paradise, the goalie stands apart but strives to transcend that isolation — to her teammates, her culture, even the divine. (John Turnbull/The Global Game)

Sierra Leone: An Arm and a Leg

Sierra Leone — the land, infamously, of the “short-sleeve or long-sleeve?” option that victims of that country’s civil war were given as soldiers prepared to cut off their arms. There are 1,600 amputees still in Sierra Leone, and some have formed amputee soccer teams — with not just war victims, but also with perpetrators. The national team is off to the 2010 amputee World Cup in Argentina — after playing a team with Villa, Xavi and Alonso to a 0-0 draw. (Louise Taylor/The Guardian)

Read of the Day: Sport *is* a TV Show

Here comes “soccer puritanism” — the meme that “‘entertaining football’ is a crass Americanization” of the sport, “a romantic revision born in Mexico 1970,” and that real fans revel in officiating howlers, negative tactics and the “soccer mirrors life” theory of connoisseurship as masochism. Soccer should be entertaining — to argue otherwise is delusional. “I just wish sometimes we could do away with this canned romanticism that insists we should be grateful for whatever the game gives us.” (Richard Whittall/A More Splendid Life)

What if Bob Bradley Had Never Been Born?

Resolved: That Bob Bradley shaved at least two years off the timeline for the United States to become legitimate World Cup title contenders. Consider the case of Ricardo Clark…and how advanced his career would be had Bradley been applying his philosophy of youth cultivation and instigating player movement for eight years instead of four. Bradley’s legacy seems humdrum, but he actually “moved the US from being a regional power…to the cusp of an international power helping scatter players throughout the world.” (Jason Kuenle/Match Fit USA)

Brazil 2014: Let Them Eat Bolo

If Brazil 2014 is already in trouble — and it’s already “amazingly” behind schedule — it’s because Brazil’s old “semi-feudal” cadre is in charge. Tim Vickery at The Independent adds that crumbling stadia, inadequate travel infrastructure, and wildly varying weather could spell catastrophe; Pitch Invasion’s Tom Dunmore casts a wary eye at Ricardo Teixeria, the new World Cup’s reflexively corrupt overlord.

Well Struck: Deceptive Correlations, Card Waving and a Ball Tom Friedman Would Love

Did England’s early World Cup exit boost English tourism? Did the Jabulani make shots less accurate? Can a soccer ball boost business productivity? Click the headline for some great…click-throughs.

Reads of the Day: There is No Methadone for This

The party’s over, and we’re already forgetting what she looked like. Futfanatico says reality has already been digested by the Spanish metanarrative, while David Gendelman at Fair Play says we’re all already losers. At True/Slant, Zach Dundas argued before the match that the two squads embodied the two sides of soccer: control versus incident, era versus accident. Fake Sigi says it wasn’t the worst World Cup ever, just “crap soccer masquerad[ing] as the pinnacle of the sport.” And The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle enjoyed watching the upending of North American notions of sport as a series of Hallmark moments.

Stop Defending Tony Meola’s Haircut

On the one hand, Americans are still faced with the “Soccer is Gay and Foreign and Makes My Shriveling Mind Hurt” genre of xenophobic sports journalism — which hasn’t evolved in two decades. But the counter-genre — “Will Soccer Now Make It in America?” as exemplified by Hendrik Hertzberg’s recent piece in The New Yorkerhas grown equally tiresome and obsolete. The argument is over, and the TV ratings for the World Cup prove it. “It’s not 1990 any more; we don’t have to defend Tony Meola’s haircut.” (Zach Dundas/True/Slant)

Why You Can’t Truly See Bastian Schweinsteiger

The milky refractions of history: Brian Phillips at Slate argues all soccer romantics (i.e., lovers of Dutch soccer history) should be rooting for Holland’s true heirs Spain Sunday, saying that “great teams in other sports beat their opponents. Great teams in soccer beat both their opponents and the game.” Stefan Fatsis at The Goal Post wonders for whom Papa Cruyff will be rooting. And Charles Holland (!) at Minus the Shooting says such “myths of the near past” obscure our clarity of vision for national teams — we can’t see how boring Spain really is, or Bastian Schweinsteiger as subtle and sophisticated.

Read of the Day: The Great Man Theory of Soccer History

How does anything structural — like a culture, a paradigm, or a philosophy of soccer — change? Pace Marx, mostly from individuals innovating — risk-taking entrepreneurship through the feet of a genius, with “no lag between idea and implementation.” For this reason, soccer is the most innovative of sports: As Ronaldinho once said: “You always look to surprise, with dribbling, a new move, a new pass. (…) If you don’t innovate, they all take the ball away from you.” (Tim Leberecht/GOOD; HT Aquarium Drinker)

Read of the Day: Is the World Cup a Grave?

The World Cup embodies time’s arrow and life’s implacable drama: survival for another day; a ritualized “series of survivals and demises,” on a scale like no other save a world war, with all of us watching and assenting. A winner emerges into immortality, sort of, only to become “a burden, an anxiety” in the next round. This is why the failure of Hungary 1954 is “the perfect World Cup story” — the failure of the most nearly perfect team, like the greatest king falling on the battlefield. “It brought up the tyranny of the irreversible moment like a new scar.” (Fredorrarci/Sport is a TV Show)

‘An American Story, Not a Soccer One’

The debate about whether the World Cup turned Americans on to soccer completely misses how U.S. culture transmogrifies everything into something it can easily digest — “Team USA…was appropriated and fed back to us not as soccer, but as Americans kicking ass.” It was a simplification, a mistranslation, the difference between “an adolescent crush…and the rhythms of foreplay…Maybe we didn’t learn a damn thing about soccer. We did learn, though, that under the right circumstances, we could pretend that didn’t matter in the least.” (Bethlehem Shoals/The Atlantic)

Clear and Hold

Yes, they’re all European — but the other thing all three teams left in the World Cup share are shapes featuring two deep but complimentary midfielders…one creative, one holding. “[I]t is very difficult to establish control of a game without a composed player operating in central areas who is capable of picking a pass and either slowing or raising the tempo when necessary. Deploying two destroyers leaves a team bereft of that control in the middle of the pitch and unheathily dependent on their forwards for inspiration.” (Tom Williams/Football Further)

Reads of the Day: Mythbusters

How many more historical narratives can this World Cup overturn? The Dutch and the Germans have switched shirts, says David Winner at Fair Play — “Germans are teaching the Dutch to win, the Dutch [like Van Gaal and van Marwijk] are teaching the Germans to play spatially-sophisticated attacking football.” Maybe the narratives of all four semifinalists were never true to being with, argues Tom Dunmore at Pitch Invasion. But beware the voodoo death, warns Minus the Shooting — the physiology of belief, “belief instantiated in the autonomic nervous system,” that underpins why opponents collapse when a German midfielder simply appears organized.

Read of the Day: The Inner Side of History’s Wind

“The sheer scale of the World Cup as an event probably smooths out our perceptions, and that’s also part of the memory problem: one game turns over onto the next so relentlessly that there’s no time to process it all, and even elevated moments start to feel like they’re part of an undifferentiated routine. One way or the other, these games sneaked up on me like an assassin who wanted a kiss…I hate this game, I love this game, I live only to forget.” (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Why You Should Be Rooting for Uruguay, Parts 4-7

That goal line handball and stabbing-the-last-hope-of-Africa-in-the-aorta unpleasantness aside, here are a number of reasons to pull for Uruguay: They have a long history of playing with joy (Eduardo Kaplan/The Wall Street Journal); they have a long history of playing with garra, or grit (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated); they have a long history of making the most of what they have (Tim Vickery/Sports Illustrated); and…they have this long, great history and enough with the Dutch, already (John Doyle/Globe and Mail).

The Best World Cup Referees: The Aura of Pig-Pen

Some World Cup referees are bad, as we know — while some work on their game presence and prepare as meticulously as Mourinho. “You should know in advance what could happen,” says Pierluigi Collina, once considered the best in the game. “You should be informed about the tactics by the teams and the characteristics of the single player, which part they normally play, which part of the field they normally cover, which kind of foot they normally prefer.” (David Gendelman/Fair Play)

Maradona, All and Nothing

The genius/nut dichotomy surrounding Maradona over this last month crystallizes the lack of shades of gray in Argentina, says Vinod Sreeharsha on The Goal Post: “[I]t’s a country and society…incapable of, or at least unwilling to engage in nuanced thought.” Meanwhile, Rabih Alameddine fumes over Diego’s hysterical denials that he is gay and their fueling of football’s homophobia — Diego the “habitual cocaine user, drug dealer, tax evader, a man who shoots at reporters; here we have a man who isn’t embarrassed about keeping the company of murderers and Mafiosi, but is horrified at the thought that someone could think of him as gay.”

Uruguay: No Wet Dreams

Let us now praise Uruguay, although they — stolid, historical losers, unloved — resist it mightily. Santiago Roncagliolo of Fair Play says Uruguayans are the Swiss of Latin America, comfortable with ties, fearful of more disappointment. The Goal Post’s Luke Dempsey shudders at the thought of Diego Forlan, World Cup MVP. And that blog’s Michael Young says he — sick of the symbolism the world heaped upon Ghana — secretly rooted for Uruguay. “Uruguay is not a team that makes people dream,” he writes, “but perhaps that’s why it has slipped through each stage unnoticed.”

Greed is Good

Individual greatness in soccer often equals selfishness; but how do World Cup squads full of selfish stars determine who gets to be selfish now? The Dutch example is worrisome — Robin van Persie usually plays as “selfishly” as Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, but it’s Sneijder and Robben who are given license now, even though Robben is ignoring pass targets and Sneijder is firing 40-yard free kicks into the stands (well, but not always). (John O’Brien/Goal-The New York Times)

The Game of Taboo

The strong reaction to Luis Suárez’s World Cup handball indicates Suárez broke not just a rule but committed a social transgressive act, violating the fundamental taboo that makes soccer soccer. “All that said, I don’t get all the wrath directed at Suárez himself…You can’t expect moral heroism at moments like that; you really can’t ever expect moral heroism from mere human beings. The rules can be changed, and perhaps should be, but not human nature.” (Alan Jacobs/The Run of Play)

Read of the Day: Africa, Written by the Victors

Did most of Africa crash out of the World Cup (as The New York Times‘ Roger Cohen argues) because its teams relied on post-colonialesque “big men” like Eto’o and Drogba, not the starless teamwork exemplified by Ghana and Germany (who happen to be lacking Michael Ballack, their own big man)? Or is the multicultural German squad a final victory over Hitler’s vision? Isn’t it just like the elite Western press to use developing world histories to define and condemn while not recognizing their complicity in those tragedies? (Treasons, Stratagems & Spoils)

The World Cup and the Wrong End of the Telescope

The World Cup imposes tunnel vision on uswe unblinkingly view our respective national soccer cultures through its tiny, four-week-wide lens, hopeful and fretful, mistaking the iris for the whole, especially if the side seems to underachieve. Then the whole apparatus appears defective; and then the telescope swings to the pipeline of talent that is or isn’t in place for the next Cup, poring over careers in their pupae stage for markers of future success. The madness of the nearly blind. (Jason Davis/Match Fit USA)

Could Yugoslavia 1990 Have Prevented Yugoslavia’s Breakup?

Ivica Osim regrets two things: Turning down Real Madrid’s top job (twice), and not winning the 1990 World Cup with a Yugoslavian side that embodied Tito’s federalist ideal — five Bosnians, two Serbians, a Croatian, a Montenegrin, a Slovenian and a Macedonian. “In my private illusion I wonder what would have happened if Yugoslavia had played in the semifinal or the final, what would happen to the country. Maybe there would have been no war if we’d won the World Cup. I don’t think really things would have changed in that way, but sometimes you dream about what might have happened.” (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated)

Read of the Day: England, Written on the Wind

Is “England” anything more than its football team? The question isn’t automatically a cynical one: The team’s symbol, the St. George’s Cross, a flag “long tied to nastier currents of racism, nationalism and violence” (especially the right-wing English Defense League), is being appropriated by both marketers and activists toward a new, multicultural English patriotism. “The vast whiteness present on the flag of St George now ever-present at England games is perhaps, then, a space in which English identity is being partially written: one anything but simply white, whatever it exactly is.” (Tom Dunmore/Pitch Invasion)

Quarterfinal Previews: The Sign(s) of Eight

Like the classic joke “The Aristocrats,” most of the eight World Cup quarterfinalists play the 4-2-3-1 — but each put a different spin on the formation that distinguishes it, says Tom Williams at Football Further. (Watch out especially for “the role of the right-sided midfield carillero” in Brazil’s play today.) Meanwhile, Elliot at Futfanatico inhabits Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as he examines the cases of and for each side: “This Brazil wears gloves, a mask, dusts its own prints, and leaves no trace of impressive success in its wake. Not wanting to leave behind a shell, a bullet, or any other clue, the Brazilians prefer a much simpler, less noisy, and less messy manner of murder: asphyxiation.”

FIFA. Ethics. Matter. Antimatter.

Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid team gave tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry to wives of FIFA executives…along with boomerangs, Drizabone jackets, Australian wines, scarves, beanies, RMWilliams belts, wallets, Paspaley cufflinks and pendants to the executives themselves. It should surprise no one that such gifts — as expressions of the prospective host’s national culture — are OK within FIFA’s code of ethics. Wait — FIFA has a code of ethics? (Tom Dunmore/Pitch Invasion)

An #Englandfail Compendium

When it comes to stylish self-laceration, the French have nothing on the English. England crashed out of World Cup 2010 because its players are soccer-stupid (Martin Samuel/Daily Mail), because it’s an island nation with insular thinking (The Ball is Round), because of the creaky old 4-4-2 (Glenn Moore/Telegraph), because they play with too much passion (Musa Okwonga/New York Times-Goal), because they’re basically Everton (World Cup College), because Capello got 10 things wrong (Richard Williams/Guardian), because of so many things (Left Back in the Changing Room). It needs to take a step backwards and play youth for a cycle or two (twofootedtackle). It even needs to get off the plane better (Barney Ronay/The Guardian).

Africa: Every Man for Himself

Africa is no closer to producing a World Cup winner than it was 20 years ago, when Cameroon’s quarterfinal appearance raised everyone’s expectations to utopian. Political interference, corruption, a lack of coaching infrastructure, a culture of give-me-mine, and the dominance of academies (which develop athleticism at the expense of creativeness) are to blame. “African football is not progressing, but more worrying is that it is not even progressing toward progress.” (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated)