The Magnetism of Walter Pandiani

What is it about Walter Pandiani?

I happened to catch the Espanyol vs. Getafe match, which turned out to be one of the more entertaining fixtures I watched over the weekend. And this was true before Walter Pandiani, the 76th minute substitute, scorer of the winner in aet, commandeered the match and its surroundings and tacked the message to every forehead.

Aka “El Rifle”—the nickname he tells us that was given to him very early in his career, back in Uruguay, by an assistant coach who said that when he, Walter, had the ball at his feet, he would “shoot” the goalkeeper. Even if something is lost in the translation, you get that his deadly explosiveness is a notable characteristic, a hint of which was discernible during his development.

Pandiani also confesses without a prompt that “many people” thought—and presumably still think— “El Rifle” meant he is well endowed, which he doesn’t exactly deny, “When I insisted that it was to do with scoring so many goals, people would just laugh – they didn’t believe me!”

If so, or just rumor, there is something more telling about this euphemism than there is in the analogy of the shooter. The young Uruguayan can set something in motion, he possesses the essential, if raw quality, of a catalyzer, measured by those who spot it, and then evaluate it with the properties of transience and resolution.

But Pandiani is much closer to being “El Bullet” or “El Bala”—he’s the thing in motion. On the pitch he is on a trajectory that rips through space, bends and pulls everything around it like speedy things in cartoons. He may even be the trajectory itself with the capacity to generate a ton of internal energy and occasionally unleash it into a match, the bullet’s sense of pure motion and direction. Here was a fifth week league match with the feel of a cup-tie.

*A simple search reveals countless jigsaw puzzles of Manchester United. Most feature a player, team photo, aerial shots of the stadium, or a classic squad from the past. There is one with David Gillis, before a Champions League match vs Porto FC, holding up one side of poster-sized Ford Foundation check, while a woman, presumably a Ford Foundation representative, is holding up the other end. In between and just behind the two stands what might be a Porto mascot who has, in a creepy way, put his puffy hand on the woman’s shoulder. There is also a puzzle of the pre-Glazer finance director Nick Humby posed at his desk. Hmmmm… Last, there is a puzzle of Manchester United vs Birmingham catching Walter Pandiani in action.

England Channel Stoke to Beat Spain at Wembley

Finally, Italian and English Minds Come Together.

Stoke is invoked again. In their fourth consecutive season since promotion to the Premier League, they can be cited as a success story and model for ambitious clubs in the Championship or recently promoted teams searching for the key to staying at the top. Not a pretty thought, but true. Blackpool is the dream, Stoke the gritty reality.  Not only has Stoke survived long enough to plant roots, but the strategy of survival has been replaced by ambition.

Survival—doing whatever is necessary to stay alive—lies in the back of most minds, but has hijacked the quotidian of the money-drenched world of football. The biological and financial realms of survival have merged in Stoke. There is Stoke the collection of brutes and dystopian thugs; Stoke the leg-breakers and molesters of opposing goalkeepers; Stoke the mid-table masters; Stoke and their simple-minded obedience to the Pavlovian ritual of towel-wiping and long-throwing—a summary of their unidirectional response to a ball bouncing in front of them;  Stoke the throwback to a provincial, working class, pre-global era of football that one would have thought extinct in today’s hostile international, middle-class game.

It is no coincidence that Stoke’s success can be attributed to calling the physical grinding, immobilizing, and eventual clubbing of their opponent a style of play. To be fair, Stoke’s mastery at times did elevate their style into something aesthetic; they played great direct football. It’s brutish, but even brutishness has its nuances or it wouldn’t be possible to see that Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn was a poor man’s Stoke. This slight difference has created stability and presented the opportunity for Stoke to become a more creative and technically proficient club and, as its wealth has grown, sign players who reflect this sophistication, i.e. Peter Crouch.

In football’s parallel world, there have been efforts over the last three seasons to measure the exceeding greatness of Barcelona under Pep Guardiola. Immeasurably better than any of the next best clubs, they have been distinguished out of comparison. With the game having significantly evolved over the years, great squads of the past don’t make good comparisons either.

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Cultural Difference and Ignorance Surrounding Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez’s alleged racial abuse case may prove that football is not completely ready to go global.

The slave trade out of Africa, 1500-1900.

Earlier this summer, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was on the radio show “Fresh Air” talking about his new book Black in Latin America. The host, Terry Gross, begins the interview by admitting how much she didn’t know about the slave trade outside the U.S. context. She is doubtless one of countless people (including myself) whose understanding of this global history is defined by the American experience of the slave trade, slavery, and emancipation. It is the narrative through which the discourse about race has been measured from subsequent liberation movements in the U.S. and abroad. Take for example the documentary Black Power Mix-Tape 1965-1975, a Swedish film by Goran Hugo Olsson, which is comprised of recently discovered footage shot by a small team of Swedish filmmakers running around America trying to make sense of it all.

Gates tosses out a few facts in support of this alternative history, which illustrates how little is known about the global history of race. One set of statistics is sufficient: the slave trade transported more than 11 million slave out of Africa. Of that number, less than 500, 000 went to the U.S. The rest were transported to the Caribbean and Latin America, with 4.8 million to Brazil alone.

There is a conservative assessment that 120 million Latin Americans are of African origin (conservative because this estimate is not measured by hypodescent, meaning having at least one drop of African blood in them, which would increase the number significantly). Today, Brazil has 134 categories of “blackness”, which of course have 134 linguistic descriptions, and as the Luis Suarez incident highlights, also numerous degrees of social acceptance. I’m not sure how many categories are used in Uruguay, but the slave trade and African Diaspora has played a significant role in the cultural development of Uruguay. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHRA), there are 190,000 Afro-Uruguayans in Uruguay, the majority living in Montevideo, where the seven-year old Luis Suarez and his family settled in 1998.

The allegations of racial abuse against Suarez are unclear. An attempt to understand the incident has set off a discussion of the linguistic and cultural differences that define race and racism around the world, particularly Latin America, but also England and continental Europe

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Jordan Henderson: Golden Boy, Problem Child

Kenny Dalglish’s decision to feature Jordan Henderson has had unfortunate consequences.

Mashed peas and football—that’s what England does.

0-1 to Stoke, three down to Spurs, if this downward trend continues we might start thinking that ‘King Kenny’ is actually a cantankerous, milky-eyed old man with a penchant for selling talented foreign imports (Meireles) and buying in vastly inferior, twice-the-price British replacements (Henderson) and not, as Liverpool fans would have it, the Second Coming of Christ Our Saviour. -Tom Midlane.

On June 9th, Liverpool bit the bullet and paid the surcharge, known as the English premium, to sign Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson before other rival clubs stepped in and absconded with the talented young midfielder. But there was little need for worry, since no one is more seduced by this “asset” than Kenny Dalglish.

After failing in January, Liverpool finally rescued the eager Charlie Adam on July 7th from Blackpool. Adam was well aware that he was an addition to a central midfield already populated by the well established Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva. But for some reason, Adam included Henderson in this list, as if a month was sufficient time for Henderson to be considered a player Adam would have to unseat. It may have already been clear to him that Henderson was the manager’s “golden boy”, a status as embedded as proven experienced veteran.

The following week, Liverpool signed winger Stuart Downing, who would find less competition on the left with the right-sided utilitarian Dirk Kuyt, the shadow-of-former-self Joe Cole, substitute Maxi Rodriguez, and of course the golden boy who, if pushed from the center, would move to the right.

Add to this the return of Alberto Aquilani on July 4th from a season-long loan at Juventus, the undecided fate of Joe Cole, an eventually healthy—if fragile—Gerrard, the in-form Raul Meireles, and Liverpool have got themselves a glut of midfielders—ten including Kuyt or twelve if counting Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing. Kenny Dalglish—befitting a king—had the pleasure and privilege of abundant choice (as well as the attendant problems of those left out who think otherwise).

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Andre Villas-Boas: Philosopher and Crime Scene Investigator

Between smiles, the manager’s dark side slips through the crack.

Villas-Boas has closed the case on Fernando Torres with a smile.

Andre Villas-Boas joined José Mourinho’s Chelsea coaching staff as a scout in 2004. It was his job to analyze upcoming opponents and produce reports to be used in Chelsea’s strategic preparation. This report* on Newcastle in 2005, printed by the Times of London, is only one example (although the reports were likely put together and presented similarly from week to week), and offers insight into the development of the future manager. Newcastle’s strengths, weaknesses, patterns, and tendencies were interrogated and organized into categories: offense, defense, set plays, and a set of diagrams titled “Pattern Play and Offensive Combinations”.

Newcastle’s offensive organization is broken down into phases from back to front:

From 2nd to 3rd phase their build-up has also a pattern. Normally it involves a mixture of a direct approach, with short possession football. The fullbacks like to combine with the wingers in order to progress with the ball. If space is tight Owen will do shuffle movements to the wing (usually right side) to receive. Other pattern is when Emre and Parker come short to receive the ball and immediately release the strikers in depth…

The entire report unfolds in the same quantifiable objective manner, but the breakdown also contains qualitative descriptions. Newcastle is “attack-minded and aggressive”, “quick” going forward, “deadly”, and possesses “great vision.”

Also throughout, Villas-Boas makes psychological assessments. Newcastle has “motivation + great spirit”, an offensive transition with a “quick and aggressive change of attitude”, while on defense only a “medium change of attitude.” Psychology is already important him, its value determined by inclusion in the report. It is something for his manager to consider when calculating Chelsea’s game plan.

In addition, there are twenty-four diagrams that contribute to producing the most quantifiable and measurable picture from a set of collected data, yet the information includes descriptions and states of mind not easily reducible in this way.

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Arsenal’s Defensive Frailties Don’t Hold in loss to Blackburn

These guys are so new that they should be shaking hands with each other first.

Own goals are by nature accidental, unless it’s Serie A. Most of them are deflections, the goal scorer guilty of being the last object to make contact with the ball. In Arsenal’s loss to Blackburn, there were the two own goals, the first by Alex Song and the second by Laurent Koscielny. This says less about defensive frailty than about bad luck joining disastrous form simply for the sadistic pleasure of it.

Arsenal has had a history of giving up one-goal leads. Time and again, the defense can’t hold out because they have not been good enough either physically or mentally. But losing a one-goal lead early in the second half to Blackburn—the first of three unanswered goals—doesn’t follow suit. If it did, then the fact that two of the four starting defenders have played only one Premier League match between them and have never played together before at any point in their careers. Laurent Koscielny has one season behind him. The own goals are a misfortune of transition not pathology, which still doesn’t excuse the performance.


Sergio Agüero’s Umlaut

Sergio Agüero’s name on the back of his Athletico Madrid jersey had an umlaut. Unveiled at Manchester City in July, his baby blue jersey also had an umlaut.

His graphically rendered name on television broadcasts of Manchester City matches has no umlaut. When Google anticipates that his name is being typed into the search field, Sergio Agüero’s name has no umlaut, but his Wikipedia site spells his name with an umlaut. When the URL is bookmarked it will appear in its folder as, where an un-umlauted name looks like this:

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