06 July 2018

Stand up straight and tall like your back’s against the wall

So there he is, fed the ball in the right-hand channel by Mascherano. He's in enough space to allow the ball to run past him as he turns to face the Germany goal. Now thirty-five yards out, he meets Schweinsteiger. His first touch starts the engine; the second sets him on his way past his opponent. But just as it looks like he's about to reach that point of no return — the momentum that will commit him and the line of five defenders at the eighteen-yard line to whatever will be — Schweinsteiger slides in and brings him to the ground.

By the time Schweinsteiger has had his cramp/premature rigor mortis tended to, two more minutes have elapsed. The World Cup final is now well into stoppage time at the end of extra time. Argentina have a free kick thirty or so yards from goal, and there's only one man who can take it...
his entire World Cup reduced to him standing there, right in front of the penalty spot, head bowed, hands on hips, lame of hamstring, burdened of shoulder, stuck in the warmth of the SoCal sun (it won't ever diii-iiie) on what turned out to be a Copacabana teeming with a jubilating samba school led by — say it with feeling — Dunga
If there was justice in fiction, the film might end there. With no resolution offered, you would have to consider what was so important about a resolution anyway. Why should so much rest on this one round of what-happened-next? By now, he has done so much in football for so long that everyone has their minds made up about him anyway. Hangarfuls of evidence already exist for anyone to use to support or dismiss any theory or belief about him. This moment would merely be another exhibit in the case of whatever you want it to be.

The trouble is, the future can't be trusted with itself. It's a beautiful, pristine void. Leave it be? Really?
and then everything that had gone before: him (after a group phase in which he and Italy were muck or not much cleaner) bursting through the knockout rounds in fits of desperate elegance all those other chancers could only dream of: a breathtakingly nerveless first-timer to equalise with scant time remaining against Nigeria, topped off with an extra-time penalty to clinch the win
With someone else's talent, you can really go places. It's fuel for fantasy. You can make whole worlds from the stuff, and no-one can stop you. And you owe it nothing; you can do what you like with it. You are stealing something without guilt or fear of retribution. It practically begs you to steal it, and it sitting out there in the open: football is a public work, not the jottings of a shy poet. It invites wanton irresponsibility.

In such conditions, prudence is a bore. One trap, one finish, one drop of the shoulder can be enough to make you want to see more. Until then, you can imagine it. Once you've seen it in the stadium in your mind, you want to see still more. Until then, you can imagine it. People go mad this way.
cordially inviting Zubizarreta to allow the ball to be taken around him to set up the late winner against Spain (even making up for the subsequent touch that had taken him "too far" wide)
A player between games isn't really a player — just another human being, tragically like you and me. It's almost a duty to dream big on his behalf: it re-animates him; it allows him to be at his grandest even when he's fatigued.

It's a way of taming the terra incognita that is the future. You fantasise, or speculate, or guess. You wear lucky garments and follow hopefully beneficial routines. You create torrents of previews, predictions, tinpot precog. You turn the game into an exam in which you set the questions and mark the papers. You try to define 'legacy': to determine in advance what those in times to come will think about what hasn't happened yet. It's a strange kind of legacy: one that mixes up past and future, legator and legatee. It's as if, despite what Kierkegaard said (okay, it was the Manics), life can only be understood forwards but must be lived backwards.
that shimmy along the 18-yard line, good God, for the first against Bulgaria, then his blessing of Albertini's gift of a pass to make it two
It's some kind of compensation or revenge for always being a split second late to whatever happens on the field. A player does something, and you can only react. The demarcation is strict. You're a moth crashing into a window. You don't have the privilege of being able to write the chapter that starts like this—

—or that starts like pretty much anything. All the intuition and science — continuously and vigorously refined though they may be — that are brought to bear on mapping the game must at kick-off take their proper place behind the players and fortune: together, the permanent advance guard, the prow of the ship. Eduardo Galeano said: "It definitely depends on fate, which like the wind blows every which way." If there's any poetry to be had, it will come from the earthbound reality of ball, boot and grass, which you have no direct access to.
and how it looked as if he was the one person capable of looking the World Cup in the eye and actually acting in concert with it. He was using its inexorable momentum, as it sheds half its pretenders at a time, in his favour, rather than allowing himself to get stampeded by it
Afterwards, though, you can lay claim to whatever has happened, and go to town.
True, World Player of the Year plays well at the World Cup makes a certain kind of sense. But sense has nothing on the World Cup. As the tournament progresses and the vice tightens, nerves prickle and wound even the best. With courage and panache, Baggio was both ennobling the World Cup by giving it something to contrast with and complement its reputation as an easy destroyer of men, and using it as an instrument to project and amplify his talent beyond even what the cathedrals of the almighty Serie A could do
Your conception of the future is constrained by your knowledge of the past, which tends to shed complexity. It seeks emblems on which to place a gross retrospective burden, which, via these emblems, becomes someone else's present-day burden. Hence the epithets given over the years to those blessed/cursed with potential: all those Cruijffs of the Carpathians, the Eusébios of the Steppes, the Drogbas of the far side of Drogheda, last month's Next Maradona. You know Maradona? The lad who won a World Cup all on his own?

Fantasy makes demands at once simplistic and grandiose.
Moreover, in both his style and the timing of some of its most exquisite expressions, he seemed to be displaying a deep sympathy with football's dramatic potential. He was playing in dreams, which involve a scabby early goal and an hour and a half of desperate clinging on only in the minds of specialists
'Dominant' is a word too ready to the tongue in sport. It evokes a bowling ball skittling skittles, and defences haven't been that obliging in centuries. If dominance was what this caper was really about, then LeBron James would have a hundred points a game and the other fella five hundred hat-tricks instead of a measly fifty-odd. But they don't: they have to pick their paths just like anyone else, and those paths are limited in number and by time. They're just better at picking them, and what's a path for them might be a dead end for others.

'Dominant' doesn't tell you how something happened so much as it describes the effect of having witnessed it. It refers to you on the floor, the blast having thrown you there; it doesn't describe what caused the explosion. You don't have to know every forensic detail, the thousand things that conspired to set it off. Someone does. But you don't, for your ears to be ringing and your face to be set in a stunned smile.
Or, you might say, he was playing in a World Cup, a dreamland all its own. The heightened and often preposterous tenor (howya) of a World Cup is built on big demands seldom met (starting with the demand that the football be any good, which is just plain unreasonable). Baggio matched that tenor and made it seem fair and unpreposterous. Or maybe righteously preposterous. Either way, he played that thing
An appreciation of a simple (or not so simple) act of beauty, a rational assessment of a player's body of work: they are pleasures in themselves, and only a maniac would be so unfair as to deny a player such consideration. (There are a lot of maniacs.) But you also yearn for symbols of that talent: moments that condense its truth into a form that will leave a permanent mark on anyone so much as passing by. You need to see that it's more than just another pretty evanescence. You need to see immensity in that talent, to be shown its life-affirming properties with graphic exaggeration.

In other words, you need it to see it as a story. Sport is stories on stories on stories — stories all the way down. Stories are selective, partial; they usually involve jeopardy. The simplest story is: will he or won't he?

Maybe there's some cruelty in that, something a tad sadistic in the wish to make someone play a role in such a production, and in the refusal not to simply accept every manifestation of their talent as uniformly valid currency.

Talent in sport is non-transferable. A player can't bank it and wait for it to mature and grow plump, or wear it round his neck as an accolade — it's only useful when it's being used. This must haunt him.

What does Lionel Messi make of it all? He has to play his football touch by touch, at one moment per moment. It’s a life where he’s all performance, but everyone else is the editor.
and although it would be nice, even generous — bearing in mind that we don't talk much about, say, yokeybuzzer who missed in the 1988 European Cup final shootout, or the player who cost Sweden a place in the Euro 2004 semi-final, who was it again, och, you know who I mean, I think his name had an e in it — to forget about the bleeding miss, which people only bang on about because before the crash, he soared
Perhaps he resents the fact that greater command over his game should yield greater freedom, but actually becomes an encumbrance. He has to live everyone else's lives for them before he can live his.

Or maybe he wants to make the story his alone. Maybe he sees it as a chance to allow the pride he surely has in his ability to shine like the sun, and to connect the pleasure he obviously feels from playing the game to the pleasure of others — to complete the circuit. Maybe — just maybe — he wants to be recognised as the greatest.

I fantasise, or speculate, or guess, that he feels both sides, alternately or even simultaneously. When things are going well for him, that slight hunch in his back looks like the source of his propulsion as he runs. When they are not, it looks like a symptom of having to drag the weight clinging to his left ankle. He probably welcomes the weight and curses it at the same time.

Not that I know. He doesn't tend to favour us with the confidence. Jorge Valdano says he is "one of the best-known men in the world but whose silences no one can interpret". He leaves a space for you to fill — a beautiful, pristine void.
to deny the ending would be to deny the excitement that led up to it — when each successive goal rippled back to those previous, and rippled forward again, spilling over boundaries, altering meanings, creating expectations — and to deny the act of letting go and submitting to what's happening is akin to undoing a chain reaction of chain reactions, which might just be possible to do afterwards in cold blood, but at the time only in a state of bloodlessness
The simplest story is: will he or won't he? The biggest story is the World Cup. In 2006, Messi wasn't trusted by Pékerman when it counted. In 2010, he got buried beneath Maradona's shockingly Maradona-like qualities. In 2014, he has hacked out of granite defences first place in their group for Argentina. But he's ghosted through much of the knockout phase, hobbled by injury. (Galeano saw in Maradona "the body as metaphor": "He was overwhelmed by the weight of his own shadow. From that day long ago when fans first chanted his name, his spinal column caused him grief [...] his legs ached, he couldn't sleep without pills.")

Even so, Argentina have had just enough about them to haul themselves inch by inch to the final; they got through the first three knockout rounds by an aggregate score of 2-0. Today, in the final, they've forced Germany to go the long way around. Germany finally went ahead in the one-hundred-and-thirteenth minute.

Now, well into stoppage time at the end of extra time, Argentina have a free kick thirty or so yards from goal. They are not a great team. Perhaps they shouldn't even be here. But here they are, with one last chance to keep themselves in the World Cup, and the German players on the sideline and fans in the stands are looking very happy for people who’ve seen the 2012 Champions League final.

and even though he was crocked from the semi-final, all that had happened had combined with fine timing to ensure that for a World Cup final, he was undroppable, then unsubbable, and when it came to the shootout, securely bound to be one of Italy's first five takers
When the legend becomes fact... Fact is ball, boot and grass; legend is how you lay claim (or he lays claim) to whatever has happened, or might yet happen. Fact moves constantly around the field; legend pursues it and tries to make it do its bidding.
(did Sacchi, even Baggiosceptic Sacchi, select him at number five because of that kick's importance, should it arrive, or was it because he wanted to protect Italy by pushing Baggio as far down the list as he could bear?)
So there's only one man who can take the free. In theory, he could dink it into the penalty box to one of the many blue jerseys waiting to pounce on it
(or even protect Baggio?)
but the fact of the legend is that there's only one thing he can do: he has to shoot. It's his job: God forgives; Messi answers prayers. He's meant to be the greatest, or one of the greatest, or potentially the greatest, of this time, or of that place, or of all times and places, or something. To try and set a teammate up instead would be an abdication of his duty — if it didn't result in a goal, anyway. He wasn't given his gift so he could pass it up, at this of all times.

and sport never promises what you will see, only that it will make you look

So even though the free is right at the limit of his range, perhaps slightly beyond it

even though he's injured

even though he's probably feeling some deep tiredness at the end of a long game, a long tournament and a long season

even though his muscles must be afflicted by the tension of the biggest match of all

even though all these factors will mean he'll have to try and strike the ball with considerable power, at the expense of a great deal of control

even though this will mean there's only one direction the ball's going to travel

he has to shoot.

and besides, he was hardly going to say no, was he?


Post a Comment



  ©Template by Dicas Blogger.