Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mark!!! Leave him! He’s not worth it!!! - mountainstriker

I must admit that this is really - no I mean REALLY starting to annoy me now. Manchester City have apparently bid 100 million Euros to secure the services of AC Milan’s Brazilian star Kaka. ‘He’s not worth it!’’ screams Alan Shearer, frantically juggling a kebab in one hand while pulling his mini skirt an inch further south in a valiant, but ultimately doomed, effort to retain his modesty with the other. ‘No-one, NO-ONE, deserves to earn £100m a year for kicking a chuffin' ball about the place.’ wheezes the BBC’s red faced resident blogger Robbo Robson - his article merely inciting angry mobs to desert their local churches and storm branches of Homebase across the nation:

‘I for one will definitely lose faith in football, these people already earn ridiculous amounts of money. This is the final nail in the coffin.’

‘…a loss of faith and the final nail in the coffin should this happen...’

‘My faith in humanity would be severely slashed’

Of course that’s assuming they have the strength – this is actually making us collectively ill…

‘I'm already sick of the dosh being splurged on footy’

‘Disgusting money’

‘This is all causing me to have a bit of a crisis of conscience about football in general. £500kp/w does actually make me feel slightly physically sick.’

For once the UK press and its blogging community seem to be at one. Kaka is a) a jolly good player and what my Mum would describe as an absolutely lovely boy b) not worth 91 million quid.

This is just mass stupidity. Reaching for my dog eared CSE economics text book I see that Manchester City may pay AC Milan £91 million for Kaka’s services because:

a) City want Kaka to play for them
b) AC Milan won’t sell him for less than £91 million
c) Manchester City can raise £91 million in the necessary timeframe
d) AC Milan are prepared accept the offer and sell

Change any one of a-d and the deal’s off.. This is no more a matter of faith, conscience, or morality than my visit to Tesco last week. In a market in which high quality goods are scarce, demand is high and cash is plentiful, prices go up. If you keep pumping in cash while retaining the same (or a greater) level of demand without raising supply, prices will keep going up until you either make the deal, run out of cash or lose interest. When low quality goods are plentiful and cash is scarce prices go down - which is why the entire squad of my Sunday League pub team would collectively raise less than a packet of custard creams (Any offers? No, seriously. Two Gardibadis and a choccy Hob Nob and I’ll throw in the Under 10s too..).

In the last 20 years, football has attracted huge levels of investment, increasingly from overseas, and most noticeably the Russian and now the Middle Eastern energy sectors. These industries deal in billions where previous investors, often the local business magnate, would deal in thousands or occasionally millions. On the other hand the number of trophies to be won and the number of high quality players capable of winning them has remained pretty constant. Throw in a bit of inflation and the numbers become utterly irrelevant. I wouldn’t argue that Kaka is probably 91 times better than Trevor Francis, but is he six times better than Alan Shearer, 93 time better than Johan Cryuff or 180 times better than Kenny Dalglish?

I know this is a lost cause. For some reason economics is generally thought not to apply to football – a fact that became clear to me during David Mellor’s baleful years at the helm of 606. Here was a former Minister in a Government notionally committed to free market economics repeatedly arguing that the number of overseas players should be limited for the protection of the English game. Not once did he consider that the reason for the rise in overseas players was that British players were underskilled in comparison with their overseas competitors and therefore overpriced. Robert Peel who?

The fact that a top footballer earns around 1500 times more than a senior nurse is a question of societal priorities as reflected by our spending choices. If we honestly value nurses more than footballers, are we prepared to forego our season tickets and Sky dishes to alter their respective markets accordingly? Moreover, are we be prepared, indeed are we able, to move our spending away from industries that choose to invest their billions football rather than healthcare? I don’t think so – so , please can we all just get a grip?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter Sports 1.5: History and Football Part II - Beyond the Pale

Liverpool to be asked to explain show of support for Michael Shields before West Ham match
Show of support: Liverpool will have to answer questions from the FA after an orchestrated display to back Michael Shields, a fan convicted of attempted murder Photo: GETTY IMAGES.
(Photo from The Telegraph)

Football and history, suggests Pseuds' Corner regular Greengrass, have always been "inextricably intermingled".

Pseuds' regulars Mac Millings and Margin have raised questions regarding the appropriateness of Frederic Kanoute's display of a "Palestina" t-shirt after scoring for Sevilla in a Copa del Rey match on 01/07/09.

Looking back a bit, we see that Kanoute is far from the first footballer to use a t-shirt as a statement.

Who can forget that following Brazil's victory in the 2002 World Cup final, four Brazilian players were seen displaying t-shirts proclaiming themselves to be possessed by Jesus. And after Milan's 2007 Champions League final victory over Liverpool, one of these same players, Kaka, removed his top to reveal the same t-shirt legend: "I belong to Jesus". (Should this statement in fact be true, and should Kaka, as is rumoured, be sold to Manchester City, it might thus be a sound idea for City supporters to understand that the player is only theirs on loan from Jesus.)

Are religion, politics, sport and history inextricably intermingled?

In 1997 Robbie Fowler used a shirt display to indicate his support of sacked Liverpool dock workers. He was fined 2000 Swiss francs (about 900 quid) by UEFA.

In 2007, in a Brazil friendly with Guatemala appointed as a farewell occasion upon the retirement of the great striker Romario, the player removed his shirt after scoring a goal, revealing the slogan: "I have a daughter with Down's syndrome who is a little princess." Romario was, remarkably, yellow-carded for this "inappropriate" gesture.

Last fall in a Championship match Ipswich midfielder Michael Norris mimicked being handcuffed, as a show of support for his friend former Plymouth Argyle keeper Luke McCormick, sentenced to seven years in prison for causing the death of a two-year-old child by dangerous driving. The FA fined Norris 7000 pounds. Norris made a public apology. The fine money was donated to charity.

On November 30, 2008, South African midfielder Stephen Pienaar of Everton scored the only goal in a match away to Tottenham. Compounding his temerity, Pienaar then displayed to spectators at White Hart Lane a t-shirt bearing the slogan "God is Great."

In the first week of December 2008, Liverpool players, training for a match against West Ham, wore shirts with mottos supporting Liverpool fan Michael Shields, sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in Bulgaria for attempted murder of a waiter. (See above photo of Steven Gerrard thus attired.) No FA fines were imposed.

How should we regard these incidents? As simple proof of Greengrass's assertion? Or should we consider the incidents on a case-by-case basis, apportioning praise or blame according to our judgment of the rectitude, or lack of same, of the cause being supported?

Some may recall the shirt shown off by Ian Wright of Arsenal upon tying Cliff Bastin's club scoring record. Wright's shirt bore the legend: "179 just done it."

And then there was the shirt exposed by Swansea's Lee Trundle following his club's victory in the 2000 Football League final, contested at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff. Trundle's shirt depicted a cartoon figure in Swansea kit urinating on a Cardiff shirt.

James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus famously asserted that history is a nightmare from which one can't wake up. And then there is the even better-known truism to the effect that we ignore history only at the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past.

There is currently quite a bit of world history through which it might well be more pleasant to sleep a dreamless sleep. But unfortunately this history feels much less like a peaceful slumber than a nightmare. And if we are human and conscious, the mistakes of the immediate past trouble our sleep. Even George Bush, in his recent farewell address to the American people upon leaving office, confessed that his regime had contained certain "disappointments" (he did not use the word "mistakes"). Foremost among these, he said, was the sad fact that there had been no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq.

This dovetails with Freddy Kanoute's shirt in that there are indeed plenty of weapons of mass destruction to be found currently in Gaza; American-manufactured weapons at that. White phosphorous has been raining down upon the civilian population of Gaza from the sky.

This weapon has been used before: in the firebombings of Hamburg, Vietnam and Fallujah. This is history; these are--as Rafa Benitez, were he a CNN reporter, would tell us, fishing the relevant scraps of paper from his pockets--"facts."

But what good would it do Rafa, or for that matter CNN? We probably would not want to listen. We'd probably be doing our best to look away. Perhaps we might be looking forward to next weekend's round of bread and circuses--er, EPL fixtures.

There is, for example, Tottenham's momentous home match with Portsmouth. Surely a respite from nasty world history, that.

Ah but wait. Let us think back a moment to Spurs' Sept. 28 visit to Fratton Park. A 2-0 win for Pompey; nothing very remarkable about that. But what is memorable about the match is not the scoreline. It will be recalled for some time to come, for another reason: the vicious racist and homophobic chants directed at ex-Spurs man Sol Campbell by the Tottenham travelling support.

Our Pseuds' correspondent Margin has lately written on this site about the rousing example set by Spurs fans at the Lane in their vocal support of keeper Heurelho Gomes in a November victory at home to Blackburn. So this lot, we know, have shown their contributions can have a significant effect upon the course of a match.

And what was it they were singing in that September match at Fratton Park? Nothing inappropriate or unsporting or even approximately historical, surely?

Here are two of the chants, as reported by the Guardian:

"He's big, he's black. He takes it up his crack. Sol Campbell, Sol Campbell."

"Sol, Sol, wherever you may be / You're on the verge of lunacy / And we don't give a fuck if you're hanging from a tree / You Judas cunt with HIV."

"Hanging from a tree", the Guardian suggested, could be a reference to a racist lynching, or more likely, to Judas's guilt-ridden suicide after betraying Jesus. Or, perhaps, to the death of footballer Justin Fashanu who hanged himself in 1998, after years of anti-gay taunts.

Nothing inappropriate, nightmarish or historical in any of that, surely.

This weekend Portsmouth travels to the Lane, where banks of CCTV cameras will be awaiting them, in anticipation of another friendly singalong from hospitable Spurs supporters.

"Inextricably entwined"? History and footie? Perish the thought. Football, like all sport, boasts the diamantine purity of a Platonic Idea.

Another Pseuds' regular, Guitou, has introduced into this discussion--apropos the Kanoute gesture--the example of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the American sprinters who, after winning gold and silver medals respectively in the 200 metre final at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, drew great media opprobrium upon themselves by displaying a Black Power salute on the medal-awards podium.

Smith and Carlos, at this distance, are viewed by many as historical heroes, and spoken of in the same breath with Martin Luther King--whose assassination some months earlier (along with the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the events of the Vietnam War), helped create the historical context out of which the Smith/Carlos action arose.

No human action is not inextricably intertwined with other human actions. Some Pseuds' regulars have complained they do not have time to look at video clips. This is understandable, we're all busy people. Then again, to understand the Kanoute affair in context, one might do worse than begin by looking at this very useful clip documenting the historical context of the event Guitou has referenced:

And perhaps, if you learned something from that one--for, if you were not old enough or brave enough to be cognizant of world history in 1968, still you might wish to learn a bit about it now, not only as it unfolded in that remote past but as it is unfolding here in our painful human present--you might wish to go on and view a few clips of the current ongoing events that form the historical context of Freddy Kanoute's recent controversial shirt-show.

Israel's use of white phosphorous in Gaza was first reported a few days after New Years. The first reports came on maverick websites. Here are some examples (and though some of the video clips are unpleasant, please keep in mind that history has a way of being unpleasant at times--it's just that way):

January 5/6, 2009:

By January 11, the enormity of the war crimes in Gaza was being documented by international human rights advocates appearing on Al Jazeera:

By January 12, the mainstream news media giant CNN was finally confirming the white phosphorous atrocities:

Cameras were now trained upon the nightmare. I will spare you the images of burned children I found in my latest video searches: they are simply too horrendous. What has once burned its way into your eyeballs will remain permanently embedded there.

But let me describe to you one final clip I discovered this morning.

Look at this one and then try not to remember it forever. In this clip one may see the streams of white phosphorous shells and tracers lighting up the dark night sky (and awakening the roosters) as they rain down upon Gaza City in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday January 13. If you're like me, you'll imagine yourself there.

Then again, if entertainment is your object, and you enjoy fireworks, the clip may well simply entertain you with its aesthetic delights. When it's done, you can turn your mind back to the footie.

But if you're me, you'll feel the hot breath of the nightmare called history warming the back of your neck and making the small hairs stand on end. And you may no longer be able to deny, ignore or forget the human implications of what you're seeing. As to the feelings of the victims down below, who can imagine that? No one who hasn't been through such a thing.

But one can feel compassion. Which is what, I believe, Frederic Kanoute must have been feeling when he decided to wear that shirt and to show it.

And let us keep in mind that this gesture on Kanoute's part was no one-off. His record of backing up his Muslim beliefs with appropriate actions is well known (at least to some). He built a home for orphans in Mali. He put up half a million dollars to keep open a mosque in Sevilla. And as to that Sevilla shirt he wears, with its logo advertising the betting site 888, he's been chafing against the wearing of it for some years now (for Muslims, gambling is forbidden). This time around, he found a way to put out a shirt message of his own.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winter Sports 1: Football and History -

A brief video essay starring Frederic Kanoute

Beyond the Pale

A bombed-out house in Gaza

After an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

photo from The Guardian

"I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland"

I Come From There by Mahmoud Darwish


The world is broken into pieces. Is there a language to bring the pieces back together and make the world whole?

Diplomacy and politics do not appear to contain this language.

Could world football provide the language in which this broken Babel of voices struggles somehow to speak?


From Spanish Football & Sports:


FEDERIC KANOUTE yesterday voiced his personal opinion after
scoring the 2º goal in Sevilla FC 2-1 victory over Deportivo in the
1ºleg of the SPANISH CUP ( image below).

We are all terrified & concerned as human beings of what is occurring
in Palestina, & we pray daily for a stop to the military activities so that the
Palestinian people can stop suffering. It´s a complex affair, it is not black
& white at all, Kanoute has a democratic right -plus as a Muslim- to
express his feelings.

However, just for reflexion, SFS feels it is best not to mix politics with
sport. The latter is already emotionally charged as to have another
emotional element get mixed in. Sports is meant to united, while politics
by its nature disunites as there is always a loser.

Althought Kanoute´s action is human, a sign of solidarity & a right, it´s
best be kept off the field. Its the ethical thing to do: neutrality in Sports


The above comment from a blog post suggests that Frederic Kanoute's gesture of displaying a "political" message in removing his shirt after scoring a goal for Sevilla--on January 7 at home to Deportiva La Coruna in the Copa del Rey--was inappropriate: "not the ethical thing to do," as the poster, one STRIKER, puts it.

What do you think?

Was Kanoute out of line? Or was he taking a useful step in attempting to find a language in which to communicate collectively held thoughts and feelings otherwise either inexpressible or effectively proscribed in the "authorized" world media language outlets?

Was his a legitimate attempt to begin through the communication of an intelligible sign to put the pieces back together and make the world whole--or merely, as STRIKER has implied and others have more specifically suggested, a further explosive fracturing device, aggravating rather than healing, separating rather than bringing together? And even, in the worse case, perhaps indeed also a naive and distracting sideshow somehow compromising the sacred "neutrality of sports"?

Beyond the Pale would be curious to know what Pseuds readers think about this.

In order to reach a semi-informed position from which to consider the question, please consider the following video evidence, comprised of ten minutes or so of clips of the event as reported in various You Tube postings--this is the important evidence--followed by another ten minutes or so of clips from the same source, documenting highlights of the player's career with Sevilla and before that with Tottenham (while entertaining in themselves, these latter clips relate to the question at hand only insofar as they establish Kanoute's footballing fame, and thus viewing them might be thought of as optional if you're a football fan and thus familiar with this well-known player's career already--or if you don't think demonstrations of his skills to be relevant in any case).


The video evidence

Frederic Kanoute scores for Sevilla vs. Deportivo La Coruna (2-1) in the Copa del Rey 07.01.09 (Spanish match broadcast--Kanoute goal only.)(1:17)


Frederic Kanoute with Gaza (still photos/music)(Historical framing)(0:58)


Footballer Frederic Kanoute showing his support for Gaza (Algeria channel news story, with historical context.)(1:27)


Frederic Kanoute the greatest football player in the world (Frederic Kanoute celebrates with Luis Fabiano.)(0:17)


Sevilla vs Deportivo La Coruna 2-1 (Ahistorical view: Spanish broadcast match highlights, all goals: Luis Fabiano scores on a free kick for Sevilla's first; then Jesus Navas crosses to Diego Capel, who heads down past Diego Colotto to Kanoute, who scores Sevilla's second and celebrates with Luis Fabiano, showing his "Palestina" shirt; finally Omar Bravo pulls one back for La Coruna.)(2:49)


Three nights later, on January 10, Sevilla travels to La Coruna to again face Deportivo, this time in Jornada 18 of the La Liga season. An unrepentant Freddy Kanoute appears as a second half substitute, and in 33 minutes produces two fine goals on wonderful crosses--the first to Luis Fabiano, the second to Renato--to lead Sevilla to a 3-1 victory. Spanish broadcast match highlights.(3:06)


Frederic Kanoute Tribute--a "Frederic Kanoute complication" (sic) compiling Kanoute goals for Sevilla, to '08. (Apolitical)(6:33)


Kanoute: Thunder! (Compilation: Freddy Kanoute with Tottenham, to '07)(4:53)


The question then would be: having viewed this evidence, fellow Pseuds, do you agree with the conclusion reached by STRIKER (above)?

Why They Boast - Mac Millings

Which nation has the most arrogant sportsmen? Many of you are thinking of one country. However, on-field gloating isn’t unique to Americans, nor is it the norm amongst them. In fact, this “arrogance” has little to do with nationality, and almost everything to do with context.

There’s little room for boastfulness in baseball. A good catch or well-executed double play is met with little more than the acknowledgement from a teammate of a job well done. The pitcher shows little emotion at all – for him, absolute concentration is a must. If he gets an out he has no time to celebrate, because he’s got another batter coming along immediately. Only at the end of an inning do you tend to see passion, particularly if he has got out of a difficult situation.

Nor will a hitter often over-emote – perhaps some fist-pumping if he drives in a run, but little more. Even after hitting a home run – the single most impressive sight in baseball – celebration is not (unless it’s the game-winner) excessive. The hitter may not, having struck the ball, stand and watch the result with self-indulgent admiration; he must immediately round the bases, and not too slowly. When Manny Ramirez (a frequent offender) dwells too long upon his brilliance, you can bet they’ll be discussing his “lack of respect for his opponents” on ESPN’s ‘Baseball Tonight’.

Compare cricket. A batsman doesn’t celebrate after hitting a four, for two reasons. Firstly, because a boundary is relatively meaningless in the wider context of a match. Secondly, because he has to prepare for the next ball. There simply isn’t time for chest-thumping.

A cricket dismissal is more boisterously celebrated than a baseball out – again, for two main reasons. Firstly, there’s more time to do it before the next batsman arrives; more crucially, it is usually of greater importance. In an ODI, your side can take 10 wickets at most. In baseball, you’ll need 24 or 27 outs. In cricket, when a batsman’s out, he’s out, and you bring the tail closer. In baseball, strike out Albert Pujols first time up, and he’ll be back three or four more times to try again.

Basketball features less on-court self-indulgence than you might think. A show of arrogance might come after a crowd-pleasing dunk or block, but you’ll see the acknowledgement of a teammate’s good pass at least as often. Again, the chief factors are time and import. Once you score, the other team comes right back at you. And really, how important are the 2 points you’ve just scored in the context of a game in which the teams will probably combine for 200 points?

Finally, let’s compare rugby and American football. For our purposes, one notable difference is that an American football player will strut around after making a tackle, no matter the context. A rugby player will just get on with it – usually only a try-saving tackle gets acknowledgement from his teammates. The “time” rationale works fine here. While in rugby play tends to continue after a tackle, in American football play usually stops - there’s plenty of time for celebration.

However, unless a touchdown results, a quarterback won’t celebrate a completed pass, nor will a running back start to strut after any but the longest runs. Even those showboats, wide receivers, will usually flip the ball to an official after a successful catch and run, rather than leap around conceitedly. Why the restraint? Because, as in other sports, there’s no point celebrating something of little actual significance. There’s always the next pass, the next run, until a touchdown ensues. So why the defenders’ post-tackle strut?

This is, indeed, boastfulness - but with reason. While a quarterback throws between 20-50 times in a game, and a running back will run 20-30 times, the receiver that, say, a cornerback is covering may only get thrown to a few times – thus the defender has to make the most of his opportunities (this explains receivers’ notoriety for braggadocio, too). Perhaps just 3 or 4 times a game, his reputation, and maybe his contract, is on the line. If he celebrates as if to say, “Look at me, I’m good at this”, can we begrudge him that?

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