Sunday, 24 July 2011

Form is T, Class is KP

The T20 format boasts big-hitting entertainment and big hand-outs. Its broadcasters have worked hard at throwing paint over the honest summary: that a game of just twenty overs a side, defined by sixes and low-full-toss bowlers, is usually just a game of chance; an optical illusion in its resemblance to cricket. Still, it can be good fun if there's enough beer on tap. Furthermore it  is far from superstitious nonsense to say that 20/20 has bolstered Test cricket as a dramatic spectacle. We are getting more results, far more value, as it were, for our time.

In many ways, Kevin Pietersen is made for 20/20. On his website he devotes a chapter to his sponsors, all six of them. And his body language is the give away. I've spoken to people who have noticed, as I have, that many a delivery in the field KP can be seen walking in close enough to the action so that he can look up and check himself out on the big screen, as though not yet bored of his own recurring photograph after almost a decade of fame. (However I am yet to meet a woman who finds him attractive.) As for the cricket, Pietersen's aggressive batting, with broad stance and enormous backlift to go, plus his drab off-spin, are ideal for the shortest form of the game. Anyway, the South African emigrant has a Test average of 48.16. He has scored eighteen Test centuries. He has represented England in three winning Ashes teams, having played only four Ashes series. These are the briefs that really matter.

His interviews may be ridiculous, his patriotism embarrassingly ornate, but he can bat (in fact, he can bat blindfolded) and he should by now have enough experience to make the most of his latest claim to a revival: an unbeaten 202 in the Lord's Test against India. It was a knock full of fight and patience, confirmed by a modest strike rate of 61.96.

At the Oval in 2005, a more dramatic Test century by Pietersen, and his first, culminated the greatest Ashes series in history. For this reason, it will remain his most popular among fans. The eventual dismissal by Glenn McGrath was as typical of Pietersen as the thunder-and-lightning innings itself, interrupting commentator Richie Benaud's dignified farwell to English cricket, before the camp bully took off his helmet, got out the yellow mohawk and waved his unorthodox cricket bat for the length of a Meat Loaf song. Fair enough.

Saturday, 23 July 2011


To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.
-Confucius, Analects

Lately I have been troubled by a cliché or misconception in anthropology. It is taken for granted, at least in middle class circles, washed through young minds and there retained for a lifetime: Successful individuals have either reaped the rewards of hard work, or are gifted with extraordinary ability, or both. The former assumption - the work-horse animal - is the label with which we prejudice, earnestly nodding our heads in a hurry. It is this former assumption and its discrepant narrative to which I think people should show more hostility. In spite of fortitude, is it not the case that hard work can, in many cases, exist as a euphemism for cock-sucking? Or, bearing in mind feminists, cunt-slurping?

In this desensitized, digitized (and so on) age, there are, of course, successful anonymous professionals, or students, who are brilliantly sycophantic, extraordinary at ‘networking’ (at convincing strangers of strangers), apolitical, nice, up to date (what does that even mean?), and robotic when they tick off items of landscape or culture as what they have ‘done’, not living for where taste leads. Vanity, the boring kind. Lots of saracsm. No irony.

Thus spake the moron: “It’s ok man, it’s postmodern, indie, surreal” etc. They take themselves (but never their words) seriously and, when in danger of being found out, resort to performing silences of pseudo wisdom - a romantic stare, eyebrows a curve, lips pursed. And when, eventually, they are found out, there is a wounded face currying apology, so that the whole masochistic thing can begin again, the object of Jarvis Cocker satire. Many young readers will know the kind of dick I am referring to.

These are morally and intellectually repulsive people we are talking about here. But because of the recycled first assumption - the hard work that implies courage - these people do, however, check into the popular conscious as morally and intellectually normal (or better). Probably the worst culprits are those who pretend to be gifted with extraordinary ability despite merely working hard on their digital-preoccupation existence. (By this I don’t mean someone who takes a calculator into an office or an exam.) This is the only stereotype of human being on whom I would ever cast the fragile, overused and hence fractured insult: pretentious. This sort, peddling illusion, could only be considered at the most quasi-religious. If a religious person pretends to know what can not possibly be known, then surely a pretentious person is someone who masquerades as knowing what is in truth understood by less superficial, rival primates. I think "pretentious" inferior to religious, since its essence defies either compassion or any system of ethics, prescribed or still evolving.

In other words, this well-rehearsed saga, reducing the human being to either a technically or mentally strong footballer in an early console game, has nothing to do with merit. It makes for a far easier life, outside of the brain, to push beyond the point of extinction the meaning of real narcissism and of ‘real’ fraudulence so that we might avoid the reversal of such accusations.

This is vulgar, hardly revelatory, thinking on my part. Perhaps it invites suspicion of lazy or traumatised writing. Or, that it is not on my part, and that I have borrowed, non-specifically and without a great deal of disguise, from authors I especially admire: namely Sigmund Freud, George Orwell, Milan Kundera, Bret Easton Ellis and Christopher Hitchens. Really what it comes down to is the word nice: another prepubescent infection, determined to stay. Nice, as distinguished from loving, generous or courageous. But in order to break off entirely, I have to stop weighing everything as carrots at the self-checkout in Sainsburys, and, for now at least, work harder.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Neymar to Ganso, Modric et al, through the Window

                           Jonathan Wilson: 'And then sign Ganso (above) as well'

      Rarely is an individual player the privileged subject of a one-line, Jonathan Wilson paragraph. There are few football writers in the English language as widely syndicated in separate chunks of the globe, or as envied by bibliophobic peers in their hundreds, as Wilson, author of Inverting the Pyramid. His pen is renowned for drawing tactical systems, or at least for committing these traces in history to crisp prose on the page. The privileged individual is Ganso, 21 years of age and - at over six feet tall - a potentially powerful (remember a skinny [Cristiano] Ronaldo?) advanced playmaker. The article in mention was a report on the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final: Ganso and Pele's club, Santos, winning (2-0 on aggregate) for the first time since 1963. There to see this, an 'emotional' Pele was looking down not only at a new chapter of history, but also at the promise shown by striker Neymar. His match winning performance is the latest trailer for yet another national abreaction on the grandest stage: of the prodigy in movie gold, ready to lift the World Cup.

The video is now a year out of date (...more have been added since); it is a sloppily assembled best-of package from the 09/10 season, in other words before Ganso earned his first cap for Brazil and fulfilled a best-supporting-actor role in the South American Champions League final. Zonal Marking describes Ganso's performance as at once intelligent and mobile:

impressive, escaping the attention of Peñarol’s midfield duo by coming deep and turning, then running at the ball with speed, also encouraging Elano forward to the right – his comparative width forced Aguiar and Freitas to adjust their positions and move towards their left.

The title of the video clip, "The New Zidane" - watch it for yourself, and I shall edit out all superlatives - is ludicrous; certainly it is unsurprising given its bogus youtube gift wrap. Then again, Zizou never scored more than ten goals in any league campaign. For an advanced playmaker (or a #10 regista: if pointless, at least a welcome break from the "false nine" trope which has dominated recent tactical discourse), Ganso's young CV - 26 goals in 110 professional games (0.24) - matters before and after the seduction of the scout. It is an especially impressive beginning if one considers the recent increase in the number of highly capped South American defenders choosing to return home, with plenty of seasons still left in the tank, to where they began their careers. This may have as much to do with the decline of Serie A as with the persisting and understandable fear of, or resentment towards, the Premiership imbued in these players. And now they go back to a Latin culture which remains gilded with an eccentricity and liberty (translated, tactically, in Italian: libero / sweeper / free role in defence) incongruous with the current footballscape of Central and Western Europe. Furthermore, it's a Latin culture that pays more nowadays. Dario Rodriguez, the Uruguayan international for instance, faced Ganso in last month's final.

Common sense, or a Wiki-moment's fact-checking, would vindicate any assertion that goalscoring midfielders are essential to successful teams. I have no doubt that although Harry Redknapp recently dismissed Chelsea's £23 million bid for Luka Modric as derisory (Redknapp rightly pointed out that footballers going for similar amounts of money - presumably he means the mediocre England Under 21 player, Jordan Henderson - "aren't fit to lace Luka's boots"), clubs interested in Modric are bound to use the ball-carrier's woeful goalscoring record as a self-deprecating bargaining chip. Abysmally, the Croat netted only three times last season, squandering chances throughout Tottenham's defence of 4th place. These will not be heard described as guilt-edged chances, since it is inconceivable for Modric to attract bad press, what with him being such a gifted little player. (Of course he's a fine technician and most people reading this would agree that his passing vision is as far-reaching as his coveted ability. But this wet, gifted little player sycophancy somewhat undermines St Boot-It-Long George's accusation that melodramatic foreigners who require protection are ruining our football "culture".) Any other player on a six-year contract angry at his chairman, delusional enough to describe Chelsea FC - historically and aesthetically an insignficant club, captained by Jihad-celebrating, disabled-parking-space thief, extramarital shark, brave John Terry, a fanbase famous for its anti-semitic core, a club only recently successful because of its There Will Be Blood, Cold War loser of a hero - as somewhere that every footballer "dreams of playing", would be ridiculed by at least one thinking person in the media.

After the last twelve months, in which the Premiership's newest Big Four have gambled with incomparable success on Javier Hernandez, Fernando Torres, Edin Dzeko and Marouakh Chamakh, it makes indefatigable sense to draw attention away from Neymar to his teammate, Ganso. Chelsea and Manchester United's midfields are both in need of a glamorous reboot. Manchester City, despite signing David Silva, were accused at times last season of lacking subtlety in a midfield thoroughly augmented by ivory, and by concrete in reserve: Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry, James Milner, Patrick Vieira and so on. Meanwhile Sandro, Tom Huddlestone and Rafael Van der Vaart each offer surprise and artistry in abundance, so Luka Modric's absence would do little to impoverish the aesthetic expected at White Hart Lane. Cesc Fabregas, of course, could go. If he is not replaced, then Jonathan Wilson or another member of the press might well inquire into the potential cultural ramifications. Would the Spaniard's, and possibly the Croat's, departure signal a victory for clout in the Premier League, leaving the likes of Raul Moreiles, Park Ji-Sung and Samir Nasri - let's lump and gulp them down as gifted little players - in a strange and permanent frost? Dominic Fitfield made a similar point this weekend in the Guardian (a newspaper borrowing throughout this News of the World debacle, Harry Redknapp's post-match interview soundbite on loop: I know what the people want... If it wasn't for me... Look at what a job I've done...). Regrettably Fitfield is, as I had been during the last World Cup, much too generous to Joe Cole, the Liverpool substitute whose largely uneventful career is slowly eating itself.

The things a small, 'family' club can do for lucky men...

The banality of the transfer window and an even broader, matchday boringness are why English football would be privileged by the import of a talent such as Ganso, on whom it is worth keeping an eye and pinning a hope.

Friday, 1 July 2011


"They can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything other than liberalism."
-- George Orwell, Inside the Whale, 1940

Folded thin, the moon
sheets of straw
Through a pale blue shelter.
It is five in(to) the morning, end of June.
Two unfinished paperbacks and a lager,
So little is there to tell of this, or summer.
And while the narrator may,
Given the hot history of your address bar,
Seem unenviable,
I know of no gloom in candor.

This is my making it onto the page.

A gull coughs, hardly worth reporting.
And clouds bring rain.
What other than third-rate minutiae goes on here?

Instead should I rhyme consistently,
Or pun with fingers in my ears?
Don't think I'll battle a trope
Then smile if you begin privately -
Words as snowballs
(Critical distance, dialectic, avant garde)
- What I want no part in.

I cannot pretend I am speaking to another,
Listened to,
Unless I leave the house.

The arms of critical theory are glued, folded:
These strange gods, who command strangeness,
Who cannot say Bonjour without blushing,
Are half-musing, unrepulsed,
The hue of acid through the unveiled lips of women,
The mass in the mass grave. How strange!,
You chin-scratch.

If the race (to the straw moon) survives this leg,
Another outstretched hand, a new nonsense,
Will write a fist and run the show.