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