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The Run of Play

The Run of Play — soccer blogging’s chalice of ambrosia, or a site where “far too many wasted words populate posts that go nowhere,” the WordPress equivalent a Yngwie Malmsteen wankfest“? “I’ve built my own site on rage, heartbreak and transcendence. Nick Hornby sat utterly depressed at dozens of soccer games and so have I. Sometimes the purpose of sport is to mark time, feel miserable about something, get close to someone of the same gender, or a hundred other things that don’t involve enjoyment of the sport, and that’s totally fine.” (Fake Sigi)

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Out of Sheer Rage

Anger is now our default response to sports: at referees, at unseen hands and secret handshakes against our club, at youth who decide not to play for our national teams…a hyperpartisanship that fills but never satisfies because, while “your club itself becomes the index of all meaning in the game,” the game often disappoints. Rage has replaced enjoyment of sport; rage is killing sport. (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Urban Outfitters

Portland has laid claim to the title “Soccer City USA” — an overreach that highlights that football in the United States has become a game of cities, a confederation of weird Austins and sweet home Chicagos that is the true Red State. “Football, the most global sport, has ironically become the vessel for the most fervent and eccentric localist impulses. In a world of unacknowledged city-states, our clubs allow us to rally to the flags that matter.” (Zach Dundas/The Run of Play)

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)

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: Within the Context of No Context

How do we know if a player is great? If Messi’s greatness depends on his winning a World Cup, how much of that quality relies on him playing for a team with a chance to win the Cup? How much of his greatness is contextual? How much what we’re told about him? “I want there to be great players, and I think I’ve seen them play. If nothing else, though, it’s scary how flimsy some of the narratives we build on the game (and care about, and invest hopes in) turn out to look when you think about them for a second.” (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Reads of the Day: Upon Further Review, England Lose

As clear as Frankie’s goal was yesterday, so too is England’s breakdown: Luke Dempsey at The Goal Post says the squad is 45 years behind other countries in terms of technical ability; The Run of Play’s Alan Jacobs argues England is plagued by “backshadowing,” the belief that one’s cause is always being betrayed by imperfect decision-making; Sid Lowe writes at the CBC’s World Cup blog that England’s tournament play has been “eye-bleedingly awful”; The Guardian editorializes that it might be time for the country to try a new national sport. (Oh, right: And Zonal Marking says Germany was pretty good, too.)

Read of the Day: US Soccer & the Course of Human Events

For the rest of the world, the World Cup is “a chance to flex their jingoistic love-muscle like never before.” Not so in the United States, where fans are often ashamed of their country and love soccer because it represents “liberated fandom…an anti-essentialist essentialism, a nationalism open to international possibilities.” That way lies snobbery, “expat fantasies and Third World exoticism” — but it also proposes a new path for the world. As long as we can avoid being all George Will about it… (Bethlehem Shoals/The Atlantic; scroll down a bit. HT: The Run of Play.)

France: No Exit

The hall (hell) of mirrors that is the French men’s national team becomes more funhouse by the day — at least from the outside. John Harpham at Soccer Politics says it’s an exercise in national self-disgust — that “[everyone], for once, is Domenech.” Jennifer Doyle at From a Left Wing translates So Foot’s Simone Capelli-Welter‘s take that the team is at last performing — as “the parody of itself, finally, that it should be.” And The Run of Play’s Brian Phillips says we are watching the death of World Cups past and the birth of the future: “It’s like watching a ruin explode.”

Read of the Day: The Thriller

Switzerland temporarily saved the World Cup by writing a narrative that captured an atomic particle of soccer: “the thrill-in-prospect.” Unlike American sports, soccer rewards the near-miss, the great run that doesn’t pay off, the favorite being denied time and again by a hot goalie. To string these particles together, to watch an underdog thwart and thwart and finally steal a result through heart is the kind of theater the Cup had been missing. “I’ll take players scrambling to overcome their own shortcomings or improvising on a dime in a heartbeat over a game of exact adjustments and no drama.” (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Read of the Day: The Spectacular Happiness of the World Cup?

We fans not at the World Cup watch fans at the World Cup, who more than ever seem to be aware that they are being watched and revel in that happy objectification. Is this Debord’s society of the spectacle, “the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity…covering the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory”? Or should we all just relax because the World Cup is supposed to turn “frenzied nationalism into a form of global unity, and people watching people could be the best, even the only, way to make that happen“? (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

If Soccer Were Dungeons and Dragons

Rumor is abroad throughout the Western Kingdoms. Men whisper of trouble in the East, of death upon the great roads, of armies massing for war. It is even said that the worm Drakorath, the dragon of the Rivening, has awakened in the Valley of Bal-Sharom and been seen in the skies over the villages to the south. But fear not, brave warden of the flame. Hope yet survives in the Kingdoms. Wayne Rooney has a 20-sided die.” (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Read of the Day: The Coup

The actual Champions League final has evaporated from our memories — a inconvenient puddle destroyed by sunshine, “a kind of valedictory footnote to one manager’s triumphant career move.” What Mourinho has done to football this week is probably historic — his defiant, high-wire media acts have made him not only “a Houdini of his own rhetoric, an absolutely compelling personality,” but have supplanted style, risk and flair on the pitch. Or rather: The game is now an extension of Mourinho’s heedless public persona. Football with The Special One seems at once more charged and more distant than it really is. (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Read of the Day: Can Football Be Art? Really?

Arsène Wenger intones softly (for once) about “football as art” — and whether we care for him or not, most of us genuflect at the idea. But as with most sports, superior technique is built in early childhood, or not at all, while technique for a visual artist can keep on improving well past 70. So can the “art” of football ever be what we understand art to be — a transcendent expression of emotion forced through intelligence? Or is it just the stuff of young freaks? (Brian Blickenstaff/The Run of Play)

Read of the Day: The Coin Has Two Sides

Mourinho vs. Guardiola: “The contrast between these two managers is so deep and abiding that I think we’ve been slow to recognize it, almost as if it requires a leap of imagination to recognize that they exist in the same world at the same time…If Mourinho offers completely original responses in a way that suggests elaborate improvisation and contrivance, Guardiola offers canned responses in a way that serenely suggests something like lasting truth.” (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Read of the Weekend: Game-Time Decisions

Is fairness really the most important consideration in sports? Stop before you answer; because in America’s most popular sports, the fetishization of fairness has led to the incessant intrusion of technology, into the pauses for which advertising flows like leeches to blood. “This must not happen…the timescale of soccer, where there’s only one clock stoppage and only one cut away from the action during the entire game, generally feels like the timescale of paradise.” (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Run the Real Madrid Offense

For a Kansas University men’s college basketball fan, Real Madrid plays the style of the coach (Roy Williams) you loved to hate but still pine for — fast breaks, pressure, sharks massing at the scent of blood. “Barcelona is a crossword puzzle: you patiently peruse the questions and tips, constructing your answers word by word; Real Madrid is Sudoku on meth.” (Elliott/The Run of Play)

Read of the Day: Thesis 2-0 Antithesis

Saturday’s Real-Barça clásico wasn’t just a contest between the two best clubs in football – it was an (anti-)Hegelian clash of narratives, each defining itself in opposition to the other, but also reifying the other in a fecund embrace. “The truth is that we’re lucky to have both sides of this rivalry, if for no other reason than that the extreme contrast between them tells us more about each side than we could tell from that side alone. The more they lock in on each other, the more they explain themselves.” (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)

Read of the Day: The Beautiful and the Damned (United)

British football used to be mud, blood, studs and a genetic propensity to kick any ball as far as it could be booted. But even today, most British analysts of beautiful stylists such as Barcelona and Arsenal — however admiring — come to wish these teams would give it up and break out the brass knuckles. It’s an expression of the “vexed identity of British football,” a murmuring nostalgia for masculinity that comes through in “sudden unwarranted military metaphors or exaggerated depictions of violence.” (Brian Phillips/The Run of Play)