116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Get Off My Lawn

When we first laid eyes upon Wayne Rooney in 2002, he was the rarest of footballing delights, a genuine teenage sensation. Those of us who had been tantalized and amazed by Michael Owen five years earlier could only wonder what gifts Everton's then-16-year-old would bestow upon the soccer world, and it is safe to say we have not been disappointed thus far. By 18, Rooney was ready to step up to the highest levels of international play, and by 19 he was starring for Manchester United, eventually becoming a key man in England's most high-profile side. What amazes me, however, is that as our man Roo turns 21 today, he stands at the head of not only a spectacular generation of young attackers (Cristiano Ronaldo, Lukas Podolski, Kaka, Robinho and Carlos Tevez could be considered early-twenties contemporaries), but that had he debuted today he would only be one of a galaxy of teenage sensations.
Has there ever been a time when so many teenagers had the talent and poise to play as full internationals, as well as key members of their respective clubs? Argentina gave us the spectacular Lionel Messi in 2005, and is now set to introduce Sergio Aguero and Fernando Gago to their collection of stars this season. Cesc Fabregas became an Arsenal mainstay by 18, and is on the short track to superstardom with Spain. Andres Guardado was a teenage regular for Mexico during the World Cup, and El Tri will be displaying Giovanni Dos Santos any day now. Theo Walcott could be ready for the big-time with Arsenal and England by season's end, and Chelsea's John Obi Mikel could do the same with Nigeria. It seems that in 2006, teenagers are not merely curiosities; rather, they are expected to have an impact.
I was thinking about all of this the other day, when I was reading of how Manchester United and Bayern Munich were gearing up for a bidding war over a teenage player named Nani. "Who the eff is Nani?" was my initial thought, expecting some academy-level tussle over a player who wouldn't surface until 2009. Then I learned that the Nani in question is a 19-year-old Sporting Lisbon winger, currently carving up defenses in the Champions League and earning a Portugal callup. Remind you of anyone?
All of this spectacular young talent has us here on 116th Street on the lookout for any new teenagers on the horizon. Arsenal signs an 18-year-old named Denilson? We must investigate. Is Johan Djourou ready to be a starter? Of course he is. Where are the American youngsters? We've got them, both domestically (Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore) and abroad (Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen). With all of this (very) young talent on display, this game is going to be (very) exciting for a (very) long time, and I, for one, cannot wait!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ronaldinho Is Fat?

Who told me Brazil had Ecuador in a friendly tonight? That's right, it was the Brazilian woman I started a conversation with while having a drink the other night. The bartender thought we were together (I swear, if she sticks me on the same bill with a complete stranger one more time, that's it!), and our utter unfamiliarity with each other led to conversation, most of it surrounding Brazil's World Cup failure. "It is the fault of the - how do you say it - technical," she started. You mean the coach? "Yes, the coach, the technical, whatever." It couldn't be all his fault; he had good players, they just didn't step up (I like a good argument). "Yes, but he didn't have to pick players on name, they have a lot of good players. Honaldo -" Well, Ronaldo is fat. "Yes, I know, Honaldo, he is fat! He can't run! When he was young, he could run around everybody, but now he is too fat! It is all the money." Well, you can't put all the blame on him, he did score some goals. Now Ronaldinho, on the other hand - "Oh my god, Honaljeeyo, he is fat!" Ronaldinho is fat? "Yes, he is fat!" I'm not sure about that. "Look at him, when he was young, he was good! But now he has all this money, and he has too much in the bum-bum now!" I've never heard that one before, I'm not quite sure I agree. "Next time you watch, look at him! He has too much in the bum-bum!"
Lots of laughter, but hey alcohol and talk of Ronaldinho's bum-bum will do that. "Hobinyo, he is good! Kaka is good! Honaljeeyo, no," she continued. I couldn't really argue with that, our love for Robinho here on 116th Street is well documented, and Kaka, no matter how inexplicably he reminds us of Mandy Moore, is quite a good player, possibly Brazil's best. "We need to put in the younger players. That is what our new technical -" Dunga? "Dunga! Yes! He will put in the younger players who can still run!"
There was a lot more laughter, and she soon exited the bar, which brings us to now, where we here on 116th Street are watching Fox Soccer Channel with the score 2-1 Brazil. A few observations: well, what do you know, Ronaldinho does indeed seem to have added a few kilograms to his "bum-bum." We will consider this a developing storyline. Robinho, Kaka and Fred are Brazil's best players on form right now (Juninho as well, but as he has retired from the national team, we may never see his full abilities in a canary jersey). I normally hate international friendlies this early in the club season, but any game involving Brazil is quite an event. Seeing how fired up this crowd is, you can't tell me this game doesn't mean anything. Also, Ecuador has very sharp change kits.

One final note, R.I.P. to Mooch Myernick, and best wishes to his family.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Step Up

By now, most soccer fans have seen Didier Zokora's shameful dive against Portsmouth, which was such a disgraceful act that it blighted an otherwise fantastic weekend. Robin van Persie gave us all a reminder of why we watch the game against Charlton, but that high quickly dissipated in light of Zokora's theatrics.
The Zokora incident speaks to a much larger problem in the game, and that is the inability of the powers running the sport to solve any of the problems associated with professional soccer. Racism, corruption and cheating are the game's three plagues, and in combination they threaten the game's popularity and possibly even survival. Have FIFA, UEFA or even any association done anything to clean up the game? It appears not.
The problem is one of accountability. FIFA says it needs the support of its confederations to enforce regulations, but it never carries out any of its threats. UEFA, swayed by powerful clubs as it is, won't lift a finger if it means endaging FC Barcelona, Ajax, Manchester United or even Porto. Meanwhile, the FA's choose to look for FIFA and UEFA to make their decisions for them, meaning that resolution is hard to come by. It is time for at least one of these factions to take a stand and carry out real solutions to what ails the game; you would never see the NFL sitting on its hands on matters of blatant cheating.