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World Cup Diary, Day 30
Full disclosure: I do not know enough about football to write a real World Cup final preview.
Play some cool '70s music, fly in some Aaron Spelling-style graphics and edit it all together to feel like "Once In A Lifetime," the remarkable story of the New York Cosmos that opened last night in New York and expands around the country next weekend. Here is what I am for and against this World Cup final weekend:
For: Web chats, The World Series of Darts, "Once In A Lifetime," shameless plugs, Torsten Frings.
Against: Misconceptions about my football knowledge, post-modern anti-soccerism, penalty shootouts, diving, Sepp Blatter, having to do my regular job at the expense of writing more posts.
Did a Web chat yesterday. It was absolutely exhausting. As I started scrolling down the hundreds of questions from people who seem to know way more about World Cup football than I do, I realized that I had to clear up
Nine Major Misconceptions About the Davies World Cup Diary (cleverly concealing a World Cup final preview)
(1) That I actually know what I'm talking about.
Let's be clear. I'm a television producer who has leveraged my mostly favorable standing within the Disney/ABC/ESPN empire, and willingness to work for nothing, into writing a mostly pointless and rambling diary for Page 2. I'm delighted to do it. But when you start asking me about the effect on Japanese football of Hidetoshi Nakata's retirement, how Italy can stop Zidane by readjusting their midfield alignment and whether or not France should replace Malouda with Trezeguet, I'm far from qualified to answer. Let's stick to sausage, beer, Chelsea, England and why I think that the success of football in America is inevitable. I'm a fan. Just like you. I have opinions, but that's all they are.
(2) That I am in any way capable of objectivity.
I love football. I believe I can appreciate all the great players from all the great nations. But I have little ability to be fair and balanced when England, Chelsea or, increasingly, the U.S. are involved. Having said that, I do support Gerrard over Terry as the next England captain, I think Christiano Ronaldo is a wanker but probably deserved the best young player at the tournament award, Rooney should not be that surprised he was sent off for the nutstamp or the push (I trust he'd watched other games), Torsten Frings is my third-favorite player (behind Joe Cole and Owen Hargreaves), Michael Ballack was the best all-around player I saw live, and Zidane has been simply beyond compare from what I've seen on television. Despite my massive cultural and historical prejudices against Germany, I think they have played the best football throughout the whole tournament. France have played best since the knockout stages. Argentina played the best single game against Serbia.
(3) That I know how to fully explain my "pants ratings system" (TM).
It is instinctive. It is whimsical. It is, in and of itself, pants. But does it make any less sense than the out of 10 system employed by most newspapers and Web sites? Am I wrong that Hargreaves, with a certain swagger, sensationally stormed around the pitch against Portugal wearing absolutely no pants?
(4) That I know the origin of the expression "pants."
In England, we call pants "trousers" and pants are actually underwear. Men's underwear tend to be called "underpants," perhaps the creepiest word in the English language. Women's underwear tend to be "knickers" or "panties" when they're sexy, or "pants" when they're just "pants." But pants can also be boys' or men's underwear. The word has this certain unisex, drab and yellow-stained connotation which doesn't take much of a leap to see how it could end up becoming a synonym for "quite crap." However, I have no idea of the etymology. This would be a good question for an English William Safire.
(5) That I have any idea what to do about penalty shootouts.
All I can tell you is that I hate them. And not just because England are crap at them. I can't think of another sport that decides any of its games, let alone its biggest ones, with something akin to a free-throw shooting or putting contest. Could you imagine? The Super Bowl coming down to field goals? You guys would riot. Some former junior hockey players have suggested removing a player from each team for every minute during overtime. I prefer playing overtime with all substitutes and making it last until there's a result. Screw TV schedules. This is the World Cup.
(6) That I have any solution to all the simulating, diving and flopping.
I think I support FIFA testing, perhaps at a future U-21 championships or Confederations Cup, a second or even third on-field referee but worry that that will lead to even more fouls and cards. I definitely support a test of retrospective suspensions (based on video evidence) for players who simulate, encourage the ref to give cards to other players, or who fake career-ending injury only to jump up two minutes later and sprint 50 yards to receive a pass. This is all, certainly, bringing the game into disrepute. But you have to test this stuff before you implement it at the World Cup. I know, as a game show producer, that the smallest changes have unforeseen consequences.
My guess is that a lot of the diving has to do with refs not calling fouls unless a player hits the deck. Or waiting for advantage. Rooney certainly paid a price for that against Portugal. You have to remember that association football is a 143-or-so-year-old format that has changed very slowly and withstood superbly the tests of time. It's interesting to remember, when considering the diving issue, that the penalty area is a relatively modern, early 20th century innovation. English players found the idea scandalous when it was introduced -- why would any gentleman deliberately cheat, foul or hurt another gentleman? Why was such an idea necessary? My sense is that the players might have changed. One thing I do know, however, is that Jabba the Blatter will screw it all up.
(7) That I have any inside knowledge of who the USSF are talking to about being the new coach.
Yeah, Klinsmann would be good and he lives in California. Sven might be available but you don't need that baggage. Both men, though, have skills in identifying international-caliber players in the lower age levels and bringing them through. That is essential for the next U.S. coach. But I also wouldn't be surprised if Arena stayed. If the federation can't attract a name, not sure they'd jettison him too easily if he wanted to stay. My out of left field, and yet, realistic choice? Eric Wynalda. Or Larry Brown.
Also, I have no idea who will inherit the captaincy from Claudio Reyna. But I think that the Gooch would be a popular choice. He's vocal. And has class. The fans love him. But perhaps Donovan needs the captaincy to become the player he has the potential to be.
(8) That I have any insight into who's going to win the World Cup final.
I am no expert, and let's face it, half the experts will be wrong. It's a great story with Zidane, a footballer who really seems to have captured the imagination of the casual American sports fan, playing his last World Cup game against Italy, a younger team rocked by enormous scandals in their domestic league. World Cup games can be decided by defensive lapses, refereeing decisions or wonder goals. However, more often than not, in my experience, World Cup games are decided in defensive midfield. Will Makelele and Zidane control the game? Or Gattuso and Pirlo? I have no idea, but Gattuso and Pirlo seem to thrive when the play is quick. Makelele and Zidane will benefit from a slightly slower game. I hate to pick a winner, but Lowell in North Carolina, just because of the genius of this question:
You are given this choice: France or Italy for World Cup champions? If you pick correctly, Chelsea wins the Champions League and the Premiership next season; if you pick incorrectly, the assembled star-power doesn't mesh properly. Leading to relegation, which in turn leads to a lack of viewing opportunities here in the States, and thus a full year of having to watch Andrea Bocelli on "Sesame Street." Who do you choose?
I'm going to back Zidane and my Chelsea boys, Gallas and Makelele, to slow down the game and prevail. There is also the small issue of karmic payback for Fabio Grosso's dive against Australia which still needs to be settled.
(9) That I am able to give up everything in my life to write this crap.
Many readers wish that I could post more often. A few, that I would stick to game shows, sports movies and the forthcoming World Series of Darts on ESPN starting in a couple of weeks! There was, I agree, no excuse for not writing about the sublime Argentina vs. Mexico game other than I watched the game at a bar with some of my friends from London, stayed up until about 3 in the morning and had to leave first thing the next day to see England play Ecuador. I couldn't stay in Germany for the whole World Cup because of commitments at my other job -- and back in New York I spend most of the day and night in the studio (where we're shooting a game show called "Chain Reaction" for GSN, launching a new interactive morning show on Monday for Yahoo, the 9, and getting ready for a new season of "Millionaire") and in an edit (preparing the "World Series of Pop Culture" for air on VH1 next week and the World Series of Darts for ESPN the week after -- definitely look out for the World Series of Pants!). I also wanted to be here for the release of "Once In A Lifetime." Finding time to write is difficult. But I love it. I am going to pitch a regular column to ESPN next week -- based on my observations on the massive amounts of football and other sports (darts anyone?) I watch from my woman-and-child-free den/sports library/home bar: The Man Cave.
They might go for it. If not, I'll play more golf.
On Monday, though, I promise, we'll talk about a memorable FIFA 2006 World Cup final, and the new American postmodern anti-soccerism (yeah, well, OK, the World Cup is good and stuff but that's about it) and how to defeat it.
And woopdidoo, Germany wins 3-1 in the third-place playoff.
Michael Davies is a British-born television producer whose forthcoming projects for ESPN include the World Series of Darts and the documentary film "Once In A Lifetime" about the New York Cosmos, which will air on ESPN in October after being released theatrically by Miramax in July.