Monday, July 26, 2010

To Guti… To Good Times & Bad



This weekend marks the end of an era for Real Madrid. 2 of the first team’s most senior players have now left the ‘White House’. Raul is the current Captain of the team while Guti is the most senior among the Vice Captains (the other ones being Casillas and Sergio Ramos – who took Michel Salgado’s place). Both are to enter the history books and will surely in the future sit in the Pantheon of Real Madrid’s football Gods. Both were geniuses in their own right… flawed geniuses that is. But I guess that’s how we come to love our geniuses: by understanding accepting and embracing them as part of the fabric of Madridisimo.
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Let me start this series of tributes to our Cantera and Madridista Heroes with the ‘Mad Genius’ – Guti.
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Jose Maria Gutierrez announced his departure from the club formally yesterday. He has spent the majority of his life (24 of his 33 years in existence) and the entirety of his career (where he spent 15 seasons with the first team) in Real Madrid. For all the criticisms that have been leveled at him (myself included): one can only look at his true capabilities as a footballer to conclude that he truly was good enough to wear the White Short for so long. He was as we loved to call him, the team’s misunderstood genius.
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I still remember my first reactions to seeing him play as a ‘novice-Madridista’: where I often found myself yelling at the TV ‘what is wrong with you!?!?! Why are you passing the ball THERE??? There’s NO ONE there!’… only for my jaw to drop upon seeing a Real Madrid Player appear out of nowhere to meet his pass and find himself in scoring position. Over and over again he did this: sending passes through the narrowest of gaps into spaces for his teammates to meet the ball to be in a position to score or assist for a goal. And just like millions and millions of Madridistas, I finished the game with the thinking to myself: why doesn’t he play EVERY time? Then I found out that Guti is also capable of doing incredibly accurate impersonations of ‘The Invisible Man’ as well play as if he was a member of the opposing team: to play with sheer indifference or worse, a rebellious irreverence that bordered on treachery.
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I once read: ‘If only Guti had the heart of Raul, he would’ve been the greatest footballer of all time’. It is to me a fairly accurate assessment.
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To this day, my strongest memory of Guti (a memory that for me embodies Guti) was over a scuffle during one match: his Captain Raul had been fouled really hard and fallen to the ground. Guti instantly came out of nowhere and shoved the opposing player and basically gave him a piece of his mind as if to say ‘Don’t F%ck around with my Captain. You’re Lucky to be on the same field has him.’ By then, Raul had gotten back up and was walking to Guti to hold him back. By the time he got to him however, a shoving match had already ensued. Guti was about to lose it completely, ready to jam his fist into his Captain’s assailant. And just as he cocked his arm back, ready to throw his punch… his elbow slams right into Raul’s nose, knocking the captain on the ground, wincing in pain.
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Guti’s journey from Madrid will likely take him to Turkey to play for Besiktas to play for his old mentor Bernd Schuster (who is said to have asked specifically for him) – an equally flawed genius during his days as a player. There are many anecdotes about that told stories of a young Guti being called ‘Little Schuster’… the resemblance is startling after all: blonde locks, a genius footballing brain, an unparalleled ‘court vision’ and a sweet left foot whose command of the ball made us all hold our breaths. How fitting it would be if Little Schuster met Big Bernd at Besiktas to make magic together again.
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Florentino Perez pulled a class act of a move by preparing a Press-Conference for Guti ala Salgado: displaying all the trophies that the Canterano had won in the White Shirt… and then congratulating and thanking the player for his years of service to the club and echoing the sentiments of many Madridistas worldwide.
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Guti’s biggest statement echoed across the Madrid Press (Real Madrid.com, AS, Marca, Defensa Central, etc.): ‘I will always have Real Madrid in my heart’ he said.
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To that I say: Madridisimo will always remember you.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some Late Post-World Cup Thoughts...

Well here we are, the World Cup season is finally over with European Champions Spain winning the biggest prize in the world’s biggest sport… and well-deservedly I must say.
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I’ve pondered for quite a while on whether I should blog about the World Cup in these past weeks. Unfortunately however, juggling work, life as a newly wed as well as the time difference between the tournament’s matches in South Africa (where the last match is shown at 2:30am here) proved to be quite a hurdle. I also pondered about continuing my writings about Real Madrid: but how was one to do that as the rest of the world (myself included) had nothing else in mind but on the happenings on the pitch at South Africa (apart from the eating habits of an octopus in an aquarium in Germany)? So I decided to give the blog a rest for the meantime and enjoy the tournament alongside my new life as a newly-wed (choosing to regard my life as an over-worked architect as the ‘dark-side’).
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But now that the tournament is over… I suppose that the time has come for me restart my blogging habit again. So let’s start with the events that has happened in the last few weeks.
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1.0 The Champions – Spain
Iker Lifts the World Cup: What a sight! I look forward to him doing the same to the trophy with big ears very, very soon.
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The image of Iker Casillas lifting the trophy for the European Championships has long stayed in my mind. I’ve long since imagined that Super Iker would do the same one day while hoisting up a trophy with big ears while wearing a jersey with a peculiar logo: Real Madrid’s. To see him lift the World Cup as captain of the best current Footballing Nation was a sight to see. To watch him grow out of the ‘bearded funk’ which characterized his past season with Real Madrid and become once again the best goalkeeper in the world made me swell with pride. Nevermind that the current Spanish side is actually Barcelona Lite (i.e. no Messi) or as some would argue Barcelona Plus (+ Iker + Sergio Ramos + Xabi Alonso).
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To watch a football team believe in themselves and in their methods with the uncompromising conviction by which they have played this tournament, regardless of the opportunistic opponents that they have, regardless of their opening match slip-up (to the Swiss) is something that really wins my respect and admiration… with most of the rest of the world concurring me I believe.
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To the doubters who criticize the Spanish as merely a bunch of passers whose aesthetic style of play is meaningless when they need to score off headers from deadball situations to score 1-0 wins, let me say to them: Spain play this way not merely for aesthetics, but for effectiveness. Mostly short of height and scrawny in build, how does a team play defense in the age of battering-ram strikers, brawny defenders and thuggish defensive midfielders? By keeping the ball. The thing is, when you keep the ball and you know how to do it well, you also tend to open your opponents up to score on them… and when you do that, it’s also fun to watch.
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Spain aren’t neither a team where functions follow form nor one where form follows function: They are a team where form IS function & Vice Versa. Kudos and Congratulations to La Furia Roja.
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2.0 The Feel -Good Teams
Besides Spain, there were a few teams that really shined in my eyes and had me watching optimistically though always with a whiff of realism.
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2.1 Germany
Mesut Ozil: My favorite player of the 2010 World Cup
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Tops on my list of Feel-Good Teams is Germany. Everybody loves to see a ‘positive revolution’ and Germany was just that. Not only did they symbolize the youth of this traditional foot-balling superpower, they also showcased the country’s new, racially-diverse culture. They showed off their new gems to the world: the part-Turkish/ part-Martian Mesut Ozil (who was my favorite player of the tournament), Sami Khedira and the 21st Century version of ‘Der Bomber’ Thomas Muller (who at age 20 looks 60). That they have club-chokers-but-international-stars (the opposite of England) Miroslav Klose & Lucas Podolski in their ranks is impressive too… then there’s the Bastian Schweinsteiger: the ex-bad-boy-winger-turned-central-midfield linchpin. Top that up with a 10 foot centerback who never fouls or gets carded (Mertesacker), a really cool uniform, a Giorgio Armani-esque endorser for a coach and of course, a string of 4-goal performances: you get a Love-fest for the tournament’s Feel-good team.
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2.2 Korea, Japan & the USA
The underdog teams that I supported the most are of course the Asian teams. Not only did they give a good account of themselves by getting past the group stages, they also left the tournament with everyone saying ‘They’re no longer the lightweights they use to be’. Japan now have a bonafide attacking star in Keisuke Honda and Korea showed us that Asian teams don’t necessarily have to play with 11 men behind the ball for 90 minutes to get results. My support for the Americans of course boils down to my wish to see the World’s game conquer it’s final frontier… and a big part of that is to show Uncle Sam’s supporters that this is a truly beautiful sport that just happens to have been derided too long by a bunch of idiot commentators.
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2.3 Uruguay & Ghana
Uruguay & Ghana are in the feel-good list after leaving their skin on the pitch while playing football with their hearts on their sleeves… and what pure and dignified hearts they had. My sympathies go to Asamoah Gyan for his heartache while I am truly happy to see Diego Forlan prove to those EPL pundits (many of whom so happily and repeatedly called him a failure) that about 75% of them are actually clinically retarded.
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2.4 Argentina

Say it with me: Higuain looks good with the '9'
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One word on the positive: Higuain. I’m sick and tired of reading about Argentina only being about Messi & Tevez and Real Madrid being only about CR9 & Kaka. Remember his name: Higuain! One word on the negative: Maradona. If Argentina wish to waste the talents of this generation’s players (namely Pipita, Messi, Tevez, Di Maria, etc.) then they should give Maradona a lifetime contract, pull out of FIFA and join a travelling circus. God knows they’d sell tickets and entertain us to no end. But if they wish to win trophies, they’ll need a real coach who won’t send their players out there on a tactical suicide mission like they did against Ze Germans.
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3.0 The Disappointing Teams
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3.1 England
One morning, as my wife browsed through Singapore’s extremely EPL-centric pages, she irritatingly shot out: ‘All this hype about Wayne Rooney! Hello? He’s over-rated… I’m pretty sure he’ll be a flop again this World Cup.’ Lo and behold, it seems like I married an oracle. She was later on stunned by the faith which I hand on England over one conversation. To which I told her: ‘It’s not England I have faith in… it’s on Fabio Capello. You have to be a Madrid fan to truly understand that.’ Maybe I didn’t. This is England we’re talking about here. All in all, my dissappointment was not out of their loss per se, but that it was in a big way due to tactical naïveté: who would have thought we’d find this term in the same sentence as Fabio Capello’s name?
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3.2 Brazil
Before the tournament started, I had told many non-football fans who were asking my opinion half-curiously ‘My heart wants Spain to win by my mind tells me Brazil would win.’ Brazil were very clear about who they were in this tournament: a no-nonsense, rock-solid, tactically-sophisticated team with the poise, intelligence and the skill to pick their opponents apart on the counter after capably absorbing a full-frontal assault. As the world marveled at what I felt were pedestrian attacking displays (by Brazil’s standards) that came in little bursts: I thought to myself how terrifyingly solid they are at the back. It turns out their weakness was not really on defense, midfield or in attack: but in their heads. I agree with a piece written on them stating that the air of anger and hostility that Dunga created for himself and the team during the Netherlands game caused the self-destruction. After spending 89 of the game’s 90 minutes scowling and spewing poison onto the referee, Dunga lost control of himself and his team… his players (Robinho in particular) followed his example too. Melo took it a step further: he must now send Nigel De Jong a Thank You card for making sure that the lasting image of this tournament’s iconic photo of viciousness and dirty play is not his stamp on Robben’s thigh.
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4.0 The Depressing Teams
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4.1 France
Raymond Domenech thinks hard... REALLY hard... trying to figure out why he's such an Ass Clown. He still can't figure it out.
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Tops on the list of this World Cup’s Depressing teams is of course France. It remains to be seen how it took them 4 years to realize that Raymond Domenech is not even capable of managing an Ice Cream booth, much less a dressing room that includes the Incredible Sulk (Anelka), Statutory Rapist Frank Ribery (where I come from that’s what you call those who sleep with underage girls) and crybaby loser William Gallas. Make no mistake about it: to lash out at your coach with expletives in front of your team is out of line. To Rat your teammates out by leaking out the dressing room dissent to the press is deplorable. To call a strike on training whilst your wear your country’s flag/badge on your chest is outright disgusting. It is an injustice that the North Korean team might have to face a life in the coal mines for getting hammered 7-0 in Portugal whilst this band of losers can go back into the loving arms of their underage prostitutes. But let’s all please say out loud then: the France Football Federation DESERVE this: when you get a clinically retarded moron with the Emotional intelligence of a brick to handle a Nuclear Submarine: you get a Chernobyl-like meltdown.
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4.2 Italy
In this World Cup, Italy woke up and found out that for the past 5 years (maybe more), they have failed to produce world-class footballing talent. With the core of the ‘best’ in their team in their 30s (Buffon, who succumbed to injury and Pirlo who never fully recovered from a pre-tournament injury)… they were left to count on players who they still believed were good enough to wear their famous blue shirts: Camoranesi, Gattuso & Cannavaro – all of whom failed miserably to hide their age. And with no Pirlo, they were exposed as a side bereft of ideas (their only options back home were Totti & Del Piero: both of whom are in the same age group as the names mentioned above). There are pieces to build on for the future of course: De Rossi & Montolivo’s partnership seems promising if they’re given a creative player to protect instead of forcing either man to be the team’s creative force/trequartista/’10’. And let me say this: I don’t fault Lippi for choosing not to pick Cassano & Balotelli at all (See France)… in fact, I’d have to state my admiration for him for standing in front of the firing squad for his players. He may no longer be the champion, but he still showed us he has the heart of one.
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4.3 Netherlands
This is what I think about how the Dutch played this World Cup
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I had really looked forward to watching the Dutch in this tournament after seeing them play in Euro 2008. Wesley Sneijder, Rafa Van Der Vaart, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, Robin Van Persie… heck, you might as well have throw Klass-Jan Huntelaar (to replace Ruud): and you had the core of that ’08 team of Flying Dutchmen. Back in ’08, they passed the ball around, zipped up and down the pitch at pace and created openings to score loads of goals: despite their ‘double pivot’ (the now en-vogue 4-2-3-1) formation. How or why they chose to spend the next 2 years to develop into a lethargic, ponderous pack of thugs is beyond me. I don’t buy the ‘we didn’t have the squad for that’ excuse…not with the players they have (which also include the un-used Affellay, the Electric Elia and the at times electric Babel). Instead they chose to showcase the embodiment of a ‘thug-in-football-jersey’: Mark Van Bommel – Cheapshot Artist Extraordinaire. Yuck.