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A Brief Appreciation


Watching last night’s Barcelona-Inter Milan draw reminded me, that for many people on this planet, the most frightening sight in the world is a 5’4″ Argentinian–born the year after the Mets won the ’86 World Series–charging right at them:

See how his eyes are already looking at your feet? They’re not. They’re really on their way up to your belly-button, meaning your center-of-gravity’s betrayed you and he knows what lies your feet have told. And that move he’s making? It’s calculated to humiliate you five seconds after you realize its purpose, so there’s only one alternative, and given that Italians are famous for the volumptuousness of their gravity, they chose it with gusto:

You would think this tactic successful: share the Jovian gravitational force of 2.58 g that yanks Italian players to the pitch every time the wind considers blowing, but it’s to no avail! The tiny Argentinian spits in the face of Italian-alien gravitational alliances, pauses to shoot a look of shame at his “competitors,” then continues moving toward goal as if he’s bounding over Martian fields. Having no resort, the Italians do what they can:

Which entails trying to rip his face off. Anyone who wants to complain about the dirtiness of Italian football is welcome to in this thread. Keep it clean, though, my friends, as some players know what best to do when there’s nothing to be done:

“Keep your distance, lads,” you can almost hear one of them say. “And hope an Italian shows up.”


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  • rea

    I’m no fan of this game, so I don’t understand why there seem to be players from three different teams on the field on the second picture.

    • PaulScholes

      The guy in black is either the referee, or the goalie. If it’s the goalie, I don’t understand why he is not inside the goal line. If it’s the referee, I don’t understand why he’s not old and fat, like referees usually are.

      • Goalie, covering his near post. SOP.

      • Definately a goalie — the referee never has a reason to get that close to play from that position near the goal-line — the ref may be seven yards from play but would be closer to the camera and slightly further up-field for optimal positioning —

        And at the European A-league levels, the refs are almost entirely FIFA/international panel referees so they can run like gazelles.

        The fat refs feast on low level games because as one assignor once told me — there is never a shortage of referees, but there is always a shortage of good referees. The good referees are working the high level games and the competent at best refs work the U-12 travel game between your town and a team from eleven miles away.

        • Katya

          No joke, the good refs are possibly in better shape than the players.

          • Anonymous

            Top refs are in better shape than many players. You don’t have the option of standing around when the ball is moving

            • Mrs Tilton

              Refs run a km or two more each match than the average player.

              • Yeah, a good FIFA level ref working the highest level of match, of which Barca v. Milan qualifies as such, will put in a good 6+ miles of sprint work in the first 90 minutes. The ARs will do between 4 and 5 miles depending on the flow of the game. A US D-1 mens college game will see the ref fo 5 to 6 miles worth of running and the ARs 4 to 5. A good U-17 boys game between two of the better teams in US Region 1 had me running 11,000 steps in 90 minutes of regulation and 6 minutes of added time.

                I would say that at the highest levels, the players are still in much better shape than the referees (they tend to be a decade or more younger on average). The players tend to have much better first steps and short area bursts/acceleration into and out of cuts. The referees don’t try to keep up, they try to keep close enough and well-enough angled to get to the foul and trouble within a second or two of it happening if neccessary. A player should handily beat any referee on the nightmare scenario — a big booming 50 yard cross to a 50 yard through ball counter-attack. We can’t beat a forward down.

                I would say in most games, the mid-fielders and the target forward run the most and will get between 3 to 5 miles of very hard sprinting in, and the central defenders run the least (depending on the system of course)

                • Leeds man

                  I would say in most games, the mid-fielders and the target forward run the most

                  I think Jan Mølby averaged about a hundred yards a game, and that was mostly to get water.

                • I was watching the Chelsea/Benfica game the other night, and around 75 minutes in, they posted a stat. Combined the teams had run over 170 kilometres. I tried to work out in my head…yea, I’m weird this way…the miles per hour they’d run. I figured it was about 4 mph per player.

          • SEK

            And then there’s Phil Dowd, fairst of them all.

      • Goalie. Refs don’t wear goalie gloves.

        • someBrad

          Or have numbers on their shorts

          • Or advertising on their chests

        • rea

          So, why isn’t he wearing the same uniform as the rest of his team? Is this just some inexplicable tradition?

          • Leeds man

            Well, it does require a modicum of thought to explain why a player who can handle the ball should be distinguishable from those who can’t.

          • avoidswork

            Wow. Rea, hon, daft questions on a thread about a modern God (Messi) in his sport is breaching some scary territory… ;)

            You’ve got your team kit (uniform)
            Goalie (gloves; maybe head-protection) – solid colors

            • rea

              Daft questions? Is there really such a thing as a daft question? How else can we ignorant ones obtain enlightenment?

              • Form Page 18 of The Laws of the Game (pdf file):

                Each goalkeeper must wear colours that distinguish him from the
                other players, the referee and the assistant referees.

        • steve


          It’s Christian Abbiati, Milan’s Goalkeeper. Goalies wear masks.

          • Steve, shhhh, you’ll confuse the Yanks…

            • Remember, they call it “soccer” and some lame game of homosexual tag “football”.

              • avoidswork

                I use “futbol”

              • rea

                The homoerotic aspect of the game is indeed its prime attraction.

          • …and Aussies like to abbreviate.

      • wengler

        Scholsie don’t care for referees.

  • SEK

    You’ll be schooled — politely – on the finer burdens of the insane sartorial declarations of the various leagues. I’ve no greater knowledge than you, but just look at that little man, look at his grace, half this side of divinity, and his intelligence, his artinstal understanding of the computational algorithms that’ll be required to politely you humiliate you … and all without malice. It’s like academia, only we can all agree we need one of him, sad though there we are we’ll never get one.

    • rea

      Like watching Justin Verlander pitch.

      • Like watching Willie Mays play center field.

        • Like watching Guy LaFleur streak down the boards.

          • Mrs Tilton

            Like watching Kevin Martin tick the guard.

      • Like watching Justin Verlander pitch

        You misspelled “Pedro Martinez.”

        • Western Dave

          Have you seen Pedro Martinez pitch recently?

    • Rarely Posts

      Yeah, only mild offense met, but the awesomeness of great soccer is better than anything in academia, at least aesthetically.

      Also, I only rarely follow soccer (though more than I follow other sports), but even I know about Italian dirtiness. I still love that Zidane headbutted that Italian player. I know, I know, it’s totally unacceptable for a wide number of reasons, but . . . (1) I watched that game, and Materazzi played really dirty and flopped around on the ground like a dying fish for half the game, and (2) headbutting an opponent in the chest is simultaneously so badass and so soccer that I have to give it props.

      • anonymo

        Oh, and the french players weren’t diving like crazy in that final?

        Zidane was an intensely graceful and skilled player, but also a bit of a thug and cheap shot artist. Wasn’t his first head butt either.

        • Rarely Posts

          I agree that the amount of diving in that game made the whole thing a lot less pleasant to watch than it should have been, but Materazzi really drove me crazy. I love Italy and Italians, and I wanted to back them in that game (I don’t follow soccer enough to have strong team allegiances, so I basically back the Country or City where I would most like to take a vacation). Still, by the end of that game, I was actually backing the French.

    • The only problem is, he plays for Barca.

      • Mrs Tilton

        You say that as though it were a bad thing.

        Blaugrana al vent,
        un crit valent!
        Tenem un nom,
        El sap tothom;
        BARÇA! BARÇA! BARÇA!!!

        • KadeKo

          As an American, Barca is by far the most successful team (overseas) I root for on the field, and the only one I see people in northeast wear jersies of.

          Is it considered sporting to have a “favorite” team in more than one country?

          • Dennis

            Seriously, I often joke that Barca is the second most popular team in DC. Their fan base here is amazing!

          • Mrs Tilton

            On the contrary, it’s not unusual, though I suspect that in many cases, unless the person in Country A with an attachment to the club in Country B is an expat or something, it’s more a sort of sentimental attachment than real hardcore support.

            Oh, and that reminds me. My club is Eintracht Frankfurt, but to that snippet from the Cant del Barça quoted above, allow me to add HER YERDE, HER ZAMAN, EN BÜYÜK KARTAL!

          • You ought to come to NY. I see more ManU & Chelsea jerseys, except on the 7 train, which as John Rocker so famously observed, runs through a neighborhood of just about every ethnicity you can imagine.

            Me? Arsenal. But then I’m a Mets and NY Rangers fan, so its to be expected.

            • In Jackson Heights you see a lot of Barça jerseys, but have to look carefully to make sure it’s not the Ecuadorian team with the same name and largely identical colors.

          • KadeKo

            Thanks to all. My lineage also brings me to root for Metz in France. But I’m open to persuasion for Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.

            I’ll be doing my regular radio volunteer stint at the Boston Marathon (which is a heck of a way to get a contact endorphin high) and among the fans I expect to see a passel of jerseys. Chelsea, ManU and Liverpool are the ones I remember most.

          • Thlayli

            In my observation, the most popular club in the US is Club América, of Mexico City.

            (Of course, that’s leaving aside Mexico’s national team, which can sell out any stadium in this country).

      • avoidswork

        Shut.Your.PieHole. ;)

        His grace would be stifled under Real Madrid. Especially under The Special One.

        • Dennis

          I don’t know if that was directed at me but I’m actually one of the co-writers of SB Nation’s Real Madrid blog.

          I’m a Mourinho guy, but I have to admit–I love watching Barca as well.

          • avoidswork

            Shut the Front Door! I listen to the MM Podcast. Had no clue re your love/affiliation with RM.

            Simply a Barca girl who has not enjoyed watching the drama Mou brings to RM. And can’t wait for next Clasico and CLFinal.

            • Dennis

              Awesome! Glad you like the podcast. I just starting writing for them in February and it has been a great experience so far.
              The Clasico is the best rivalry in world sports, in my humble opinion. Those Spanish Supercopa matches last summer were mind-blowing and I think showcased better skill, beauty and drama than many of the matches in the last World Cup.

  • Yet another former Navy SEAL on the internet

    The game was between AC Milan and Barcelona, not Inter Milan.

    • SEK

      Like anyone could tell the difference. Increased gravity? Check. Shirt chugging glue applied? Check. Inability to remain bipedal for more than six steps despite being a professional athlete? Check.

      AC, Inter, like it matters. It’s an ugly game, made great only when players like Messi decide to play it and “allow” the Italians the privilege of trying to cheat their team into a draw. Seriously, watch the video linked downthread. That’s the opposite of Italian football.

  • Leeds man

    Anyone who wants to complain about the dirtiness of Italian football is welcome to in this thread.

    Could be worse. Could be Portuguese or Argentinian football. And yes, AC Milan, not Inter.

  • Bart

    Amazing to me is how he can bull his way through defenders for such long runs. Most other players see the ball tackled or kicked aside.

    • Big Al

      But that’s the thing – he doesn’t bull around or through them – the best way I can describe it is that he flows around them like water.

      • Leeds man

        Low centre of gravity, amazing balance, and quickness of feet. Add an excellent temperament for a constantly marked man, and who couldn’t love him?

        • If they win a WC with him, I predict Argentineans will be saying someday, Diego who?

          At least as good as Maradona, if not better IMHO with so much less baggage and already Barcelona’s all time leading scorer – at 24.

          An Argentinean player so good, even Brazilians sing his praises.

          • Leeds man

            At least as good as Maradona, if not better…

            Agreed. Shit, even Englishmen sing his praises!

            • +1

              • SEK

                First person to publish The Wit and Wisdom of Ray Hudson is a millionaire. Never before have those metaphors been made, nor will they ever be uttered by human lips again.

  • dave

    This is the trouble with Continental footballers: the defenders are so used to them taking a dive, they’ve forgotten how to really clatter one when he needs it.

    Honestly, if he’d gone up against any English top-flight side from the 1960s, he’d have been off with a broken leg before half-time.

    What’s that you say? It’s a non-contact sport? Only if you’re not doing it right… ;-)

    • Bill

      That’s great and all, but it actually is a contact sport.

    • pete

      Ever watch George Best? He played against English top-flight sides from the 1960s, he humiliated the opposition, and no, he did not get taken off with a broken leg before half-time. He did, admittedly, get sent off for retaliation a few times, but temperament is just one of the reasons that Messi is (I hate to admit it) better than Best.

      • Bill Murray

        but Best lived the high life much more. He did after all spend most of his money on booze, birds and fast cars

        • pete

          Yup, and the rest he wasted.

  • anon

    Nice of you to include among italian players also a portuguese player that plays in Spain…

    • steve

      I was about to say the same thing, only Pepe can’t accurately be referred to as a “player.”
      Using the proper nomenclature for people like Pepe might see me banned from commenting.

      • avoidswork

        Is it Pepe or Mourinho?
        There’s something about Mourinho that thugifies his talented players.

        (Teh Ramos is an exception in the sense that Teh Ramos was a thug prior to Mou. Beautiful man with lovely hair, but give me Alves any day of the week)

        • scott

          Before Mourinho even arrived, Pepe famously got banned for a long stretch of games for pretty savagely raking his spikes over a guy’s back when he was prone and helpless on the ground. Pepe has always been prone to unexplainable acts of madness.

          • avoidswork

            But let us be reminded of WC Final and Nederlanders van Bommel (now with ACM) and de Jong’s (ManCity) airstrike to Xabi’s chest — red card free (glares for all time at Howard Webb)

    • Josh

      No kidding.

  • scott

    Why didn’t Cesc play? Was he hurt? I actually thought Barca started running out of ideas at a certain point (Iniesta kinda sucked, at least by his standards), and Cesc might have freshened things up.

    • Dennis

      I was wondering that too. I don’t think he’s hurt. He played well against Mallorca the previous Saturday. I read that Pep preferred Keita for his physicality because he knew Milan were going to be physical.

    • I think it comes down to a schedule thing. They play Bilbao this weekend, and they need all three points to keep the heat on Madrid. They probably figured Fabs wouldn’t be a whole lot of help at Milan with a tough and physical defense, but he can have a bit more room at the Siro.

  • Jonas

    I believe this is relevant to this thread:


    • watson

      That was briliant I can’t believe I’ve never seen that before.

    • I remember watching the famous Zidane incident and having to watch it a second time to realize, holy crap, he really DID head butt!

  • KMD

    Notice that “my” Real Betis is attempting to contain him from afar. :)

  • Snipers. I’ve always believed snipers to be the best defense against Messi.

    • Leeds man

      Nuke him from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  • Lee
    • That’s an incredible video. He just won’t go down.

    • Thlayli

      Asier del Horno might disagree.

      Also too, Messi is not above the occasional mano de Dios.

      Let’s not get carried away. He’s still human.

  • They’re really on their way up to your belly-button, meaning your center-of-gravity’s betrayed you and he knows what lies your feet have told.

    I meant to compliment you earlier on this, SEK. Most Americans, even those who play hoops at a high level, miss this point in learning defense in any sport.

    Feet lie, heads can fake, but the belt buckle never ever lies.

    Well, maybe Gale Sayers’ did.

    • SEK

      I meant to compliment you earlier on this, SEK. Most Americans, even those who play hoops at a high level, miss this point in learning defense in any sport.

      I played striker/sweeper in high school, so 60 percent of my time on the training field involved 1) clearing and 2) one-on-one drills with my team’s fastest forward. The second I tried to see in his eyes if he’d pass, we’d start over. The second I tried to see if he planned to chip it, we’d start over. The one and only thing I was allowed to look at was his midsection. It’s impossible for anything not to move through it, and if you learn to read it, you know where a player’s up to.

      My problem, then as now, is that I could recognize what he was going to do, but lacked the athleticism to do anything about it. I still, if I’m not mistaken, the league leader in the Louisiana State Champsionships for most reds in regionals, qualifiers, and states. Did my job though, it wasn’t my fault I wasn’t a physical specimen.

  • KLG

    As a former defensive back in the other kind of football I also appreciated the belly-button reference. It never lies and is your only hope in the open field. Never played Messi’s sport, but he is mesmerizing.

  • dc

    He’s 5’7″, does not change the validity of your point though.

    • SEK

      He’s 5’7″ the same way NBA centers are 7’1″ — in theory and theory alone. There are some fantastic photographs of him behind Tom Cruise at some charity even through AP Images — which is so slow from my home VPN I won’t even try to find it until next week — but he’s not just shorter than Cruise, he’s significantly shorter.

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