Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Barcelona Translation

I was just introduced this video, and it's changed my life... I cannot stop watching.  In this clip, Barcelona's newest signing Ibrahim Afellay hasn't quite acclimated to Spanish life and needs a little translation help.  Add in Gerárd Piqué's raging hormones and we have a YouTube clip for the ages.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The King Is Dead. Long Live the King

When I first began to play the game as an adolescent in North Carolina, I had no footballing background to speak of.  I had no experienced older brother from whom I gleaned all my knowledge, as he was on par with me with zero footballing experience.  My dad, although more than supportive of my sporting choice despite being a college track star, knew nothing of the sport either.  When I began, the only reference I had for the game was the Eurosport catalog, FourFourTwo magazine, and every VHS tape I could get my hands on.

Despite this, I fell fully in love with the game.  From the beginning, despite never having seen the man play live, I also fell head over heels for a goofy, light-skinned Brazilian named Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima.  From the first time I saw videos of this man steamrolling his way through defenders one minute, then dancing his way around them the next, I was hooked.  This was to be my favorite player of all-time.

Unlike those privileged enough to follow his career fully from nearly the beginning, I survived on video clips, magazine articles and word of mouth for years until the 1998 World Cup rolled around.  As Ronaldo smiled his way through the group stages alongside Rivaldo, Bebeto, Roberto Carlos and the like, I couldn't help but want to step into his boots and be the man himself.  Finally able to see the man play in real-time on  TV, I was forever a Ronaldo fan.  With the news of Ronaldo's fit before the France match and seeing the shell of a man that trotted around the pitch in the final, I was more than convinced that Ronaldo had been drugged by sinister forces just to keep him from being at his unstoppable best.  Despite his performance, my faith in him was unshaken and my love never wavered.

Living close to Eurosport's home, I was constantly in and out of the home office/warehouse, attempting to coerce my parents to buy me everything Ronaldo-related, including the newly introduced technological marvel, the Nike Air Mercurial.  While the boot itself was unattainable due to the extravagant price, the owner Mike Moylan was kind enough to allow me to try on the boot Ronaldo himself had tested for Nike.  I had long read that Ronaldo stuffed his feet into tiny boots to strike the ball better, but was completely taken aback and awestruck when I was handed a shoe barely bigger than a size 7 or 8.  Even more awe-inspiring was the fact that the great man himself had worn the same golden slipper I had on my foot.  Had I been a lesser boy, the experience would have made me cry.

Despite choosing to pledge my devotion to Juventus at a young age, I could never let my allegiance to Ronaldo be shaken despite his signing for Inter Merda Milan.  For me, Ronaldo was forever an entity, not bound by the jersey on his back.  When Ronaldo had his famous tandem knee injuries on November 21, 1999 and April 12, 2000, I was distraught.  The fact that knee problems had the potential to slow my hero down and even cut his career short was a sobering fact.  When the great man returned for the World Cup sporting a new haircut and looking as healthy (if a bit heavier) as ever, I couldn't help but wear the same goofy smile as O Fenomeno.  As Ronaldo tore through the opposition, I danced for a month straight, culminating in his famous brace in the final against Germany.  Watching as I dressed for church that morning, I jumped on my bed and did a lap around my house for each goal he netted.  Nothing could have made me happier.

With his move to Real Madrid and more access to international footballing coverage, I was better able to follow Ronaldo's exploits in Spain, especially in Champions League play.  Towards the latter end of his stint however, it was clear that he was in a regression.  As his waistline grew, he suffered a spattering of injuries here and there, his smile faded more and more.  Ruud Van Nistelrooy's acquisition in 2006 seemed to spell the end of his Real Madrid career, if not the end of his career, period.  The fact that times had changed and Google searches for "Ronaldo" yielded more hits for a whiny, temperamental Portuguese winger only served to exacerbate the feeling that Ronaldo's reign was to be short-lived.

It was bittersweet news to hear that Ronaldo had transferred to AC Milan for the 2007-2008 season.  I was more than happy to hear his retirement had been forestalled, but not as jubilant about his signing for another Milanese rival.  However, his struggles continued with Milan, despite a rare moment of joy against Napoli during which Ka-Po-Ro finally made an appearance in the form of Kaká, 17-year-old Pato and (now known as "Fat") Ronaldo.  Ronaldo's emotional double was overshadowed by his clear joy in playing with Kaká and Pato, as he lumbered bounded about the pitch attempting to link up with his younger Brazilian compatriots.  When Pato finally scored, Ronaldo's joy was so contagious it was impossible to smile and jump along with him.

When Ronaldo ruptured his ligaments yet again in a match against Livorno in February of 2008, I cried. I was sure that his career was done, and it was too much to bear.  I hoped against hope that he would return to the pitch, but in all honesty, I saw no reason for him to play again.  The man had nothing to prove, and for selfish reason, I couldn't bear to seem him break down yet again.

News of Ronaldo's recovery and training with Flamengo sparked a tiny flame of hope, but I refused to get ahead of myself.  When he announced his return, signing with Corinthians in December of 2009, I celebrated in a muted fashion; happy that his career wasn't over, but disappointed that he hadn't returned to the club he loved, Flamengo.  I followed his performances as he showed flashes of his previous brilliance, but it was painful to see the toll his injuries and (recently admitted) hypothyroidism affect his play.

Rumors swirled around his retirement the last few days, but yesterday, when Ronaldo officially announced he was hanging up the boots, I felt an intense sadness.  No rumor of tears stung my eyes, but to know that the player I grew up emulating has moved on is an indescribable feeling.  Gone are the days when I would practice every move he did in my backyard.  No longer can I tune in on a Tuesday, Wednesday or weekend to see him torment opposing defenders with a look of pure joy on his face.  Never again will I see his name on a World Cup squad list.  In my opinion, there will never be another Ronaldo.  No player will affect the game in the manner he did, with such a combination of skill, consistency and athleticism mixed with humility and joy.

Long live the King.  The King is dead retired.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I've come across this story a couple times and I feel it's worth passing on.  It made me think deeply about how we treat those around us, especially those we view as hopeless or marginalized.  I hope it impacts someone else in the same manner.


Jean Thompson stood in front of her fifth-grade class on the very first day of school in the fall and told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her pupils and said that she loved them all the same, that she would treat them all alike. And that was impossible because there in front of her, slumped in his seat on the third row, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.
Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed he didn't play well with the other children, that his clothes were unkempt and that he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy was unpleasant. It got to the point during the first few months that she would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X's and then marking the Fat F on the top of the paper biggest of all. Because Teddy was a sullen little boy, no one else seemed to enjoy him, either.
At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child's records and put Teddy's off until last. When she opened his file, she was in for a surprise.
His first-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is a bright, inquisitive child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners...he is a joy to be around."
His second-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is an excellent student well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle."
His third-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy continues to workhard but his mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn't show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken."
Teddy's fourth-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. He doesn't have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class. He is tardy and could become a problem."
By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem but Christmas was coming fast. It was all she could do, with the school play and all, until the day before the holidays began and she was suddenly forced to focus on Teddy Stoddard.
Her children brought her presents, all in beautiful ribbon and bright paper, except for Teddy's, which was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper of a scissored grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of cologne. She stifled the children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume behind the other wrist.
Teddy Stoddard stayed behind just long enough to say, "Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to." After the children left she cried for at least an hour.
On that very day, she quit teaching reading, and writing, and speaking. Instead, she began to teach children. Jean Thompson paid particular attention to one they all called "Teddy." As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. On days there would be an important test, Mrs. Thompson would remember that cologne. By the end of the year he had become one of the smartest children in the class and...well, he had also become the "pet" of the teacher who had once vowed to love all of her children exactly the same.
A year later she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that of all the teachers he'd had in elementary school, she was his favorite. Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still his favorite teacher of all time. Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he'd stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson she was still his favorite teacher.
Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor's degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still his favorite teacher but that now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.
The story doesn't end there. You see, there was yet another letter that Spring. Teddy said he'd met this girl and was to be married. He explainedthat his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering...well, if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the pew usually reserved for the mother of the groom. And guess what, she wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And I bet on that special day, Jean Thompson smelled just like...well, just like the way Teddy remembered his mother smelling on their last Christmas together.
THE MORAL: You never can tell what type of impact you may make on another's life by your actions or lack of action. Consider this fact.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Transfer Silly Season

Andy Carroll and Darren Bent. World class? Hardly, IMHO. However, between the two men, nearly £60m (close to $100m) was shelled out to obtain their services, notwithstanding the personal contracts they agreed.

As I am not a Liverpool or Aston Villa supporter, I honestly don't really care about the details of his transfer. However, if I was a Red or a Villan, I'd be incensed about the massive outlay to secure the signatures of the missing Geico caveman and the 5th member of Jagged Edge.

Let me first state that I understand the circumstances of the transfers. For both clubs, an immediate goalscoring boost was necessary in a short amount of time. In Villa's case, goals were coming less frequently than a music video on MTV, while Liverpool's Fernando Traitorres (Kregg Laundon™) put his faithful employers in a bind by requesting a transfer with just three days left in the January window. Both men are proven Premier League goalscorers, England internationals and fairly young (especially in Carroll's case).

However, I maintain that a much better deal could have been struck for the strikers, or at least other players of their ilk. Reports abounded that 30-year-old Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano was available for around £10m, almost a steal for the prolific Sevilla goalscorer. In addition, ready-made goalscorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was also reputedly available from floundering German club Schalke.

While this is all admittedly wild conjecture, my point is that with a bit of work, I feel a better deal could have been struck for both clubs. In this case, I believe that applies a bit more to Liverpool than Villa, as Darren Bent has an exemplary goalscoring record in the Premier League and was bought for the relatively "cheap" price of £24m compared to Andy Carroll's £35m for 11 Premier League goals.

Again, I admit that I do understand the circumstances surrounding the transfers. But as a casual observer I could not do anything but sit in front of my computer and say WTF. The valuation of these players is wildly inflated, especially for *braces for insults screamed through computer* English players. And lest I forgot to mention it, Andy Carroll has a ponytail!

All in all, my point is that the January transfer window always proves to be a ridiculous proposition with clubs scrambling to complete deals that often don't make sense in the long run, or even in the short term. I haven't even touched on the fact that Spaniard Fernando Torres, in the midst of perhaps the worst form of his life, was sold from Liverpool to Chelsea for nearly £50m. Foolishness.

Finally, as a bit of perspective, here are the top 11 most expensive transfers of all time...

1. Cristiano Ronaldo - £80m
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic - £61m
3. Kaka - £56m
4. Zinedine Zidane - £53m
5. Fernando Torres - £50m
6. Luis Figo - £46m
7. Hernan Crespo - £45m
8. Christian Vieri - £41m
9. Gianluigi Buffon - £40m
10. Pavel Nedved - £39m
Andrew Carroll - £35m