Tuesday, November 30, 2010


What Will FIFA Do?

If you're a fan of international soccer, you know that this week FIFA will announce the nations to which it will grant the expensive privilege of hosting the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The 2018 bid is guaranteed to go to a European nation or combination of nations among England, Russia, Spain/Portugal, or Holland/Belgium. Meanwhile, the finalists for the 2022 host are the U.S., South Korea, Japan, Australia, and Qatar.

Yes, Qatar.

Handicapping the races is about as easy as counting on there being only one minute of stoppage time when the visitors are leading at Old Trafford. All of what one would think would be the considerations that go into the decision (which country/ies have the best infrastructure, the most people, the most diverse population, the most to gain for soccer as a sport by creating or solidifying a fan base?) take a back seat when FIFA is at the helm.

Instead graft, collusion, and megalomaniacal kingdom making rule the day. Two federations have already been caught trying to take bribes for their votes (by an English newspaper reporter posing as an individual trying to buy support for the USA's bid -- why didn't he pose as a Brit?). FIFA's current head honcho Sepp Blatter has made it clear that he sees himself as soccer's missionary (or Messianic) version of St. Paul or St. Patrick, hellbent (there's an oxymoron for you) on bringing the world's game to the great unwashed in the Asian and Arab worlds.

Blatter also apparently believes that he/FIFA can do what 50 years of diplomacy haven't done and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula if South Korea were to host the World Cup. Never mind that it didn't make a whit of difference when South Korea co-hosted the Cup with Japan just eight years ago (North Korea turned down an offer to host some games) and that North Korea may be one of the few institutions in the world more corruptly and dictatorially run than FIFA. Finally, Qatar and Spain/Portugal have allegedly cut a deal to support each others' bids and all of South America's representatives have already announced that they will support the Iberians.

Any or all of which are reasons why Qatar, home to 1.7 million citizens and 120F temperatures when the matches will be played in the summer of 2022 (but lots and lots of oil money) has a chance.

England was the early favorite for the 2018 bid, but first Russia and then Spain/Portugal have made strong runs.  Never mind that the Iberian Peninsula is widely regarded as the EU's next likely bailout target, scuttling along behind Greece and Ireland -- I guess FIFA figures if they have to be bailed out, what's another few billion that the costs of hosting the World Cup will add? Handicapping is impossible, but if recent trends are any indication, the 2018 WC may have a Latin flair.

Which may actually help the American bid, since it's widely suspected that FIFA will not give the hosting honor to two Anglo countries in a row. Still, the U.S. seems to lack support from anyone one particular region other than its own, which holds only three of the twelve votes needed to win the rights to host.

Japan is viewed as having no chance and Australia seems to be too remote and even more disinterested than the U.S. in soccer as a nation to be a contender, although it is trying to get its federation vice president voting rights at the meeting (the Oceania president was one of those caught with his hand in the cookie jar). One would think South Korea has hosted too recently to have a shot, but there's that whole Team America thing Blatter has working that lends its bid an air of legitimacy (another oxymoron in this process). Qatar would be the first Arab nation to host -- and did I mention that it allegedly has some oil money?

The U.S. makes the most sense for a lot of reasons (in particular those in parentheses in the fourth paragraph of this post) but rarely does sense rule the day with FIFA. That's why I won't be surprised if the 2022 World Cup is played in the desert, in air conditioned outdoor stadiums with lots and lots of empty seats.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Arte et Labore

So, we've just won our third straight State championship by a score of 3-0, finished a season undefeated, and virtually guaranteed a National ranking at the end of the year. And most of the quotes in a newspaper article about the Final game are me moaning about how we didn't play particularly well.

No mention of the fact that we just went through a season in which we played and beat all four AAA state semi-finalists as well as an Ohio state finalist. No nod to our undefeated season, to the fact that the last time we lost a game was in August 2009, to our 46-game unbeaten streak. No reference to the first "three-peat" in West Virginia soccer in a decade.

I've been wondering the last few days if I can defend my comments based on some argument that aesthetics are important to me and I care not only about whether we win but how we look while we're doing it, or we really didn't play that well and I wanted us to go out on a high note. Or maybe that I wanted to impress on our returning players that there was still unfinished business that needs to be taken care of next season.

Or maybe I'm just a grouch.

I don't think I'm usually an over-demanding coach. Not a lot of yelling. I generally try to be positive, before, during, and after games (although admittedly once this year the whole team was mad at me because of my obvious, and repeatedly expressed, disappointment at their play). So what's up with the Steve Spurrier imitation?

I think I just wanted to be our last game together to be perfect and I was disappointed when it wasn't. We had played so well all season and set such high standards for ourselves that I wanted that final to be a celebration of what we were capable of -- attractive, maybe even beautiful, attacking soccer. But I should have recognized it as a celebration of a different sort. Not of art, but of the value of plain old hard work and determination.

The crest of my favorite professional soccer team, Blackburn Rovers, has the Latin phrase "Arte et Labore" -- by skill and hard work -- on it.

I recognize now (too late for the reporters) that our Finals win was a testament not to the "Arte" of our team but rather to the "Labore" -- the hours of practice, of long distance running and sprints and drills and scrimmaging that 20 players and two coaches endured since the first week of August. It was that work that put us in a position to withstand the elements, as well as overcome the emotions that went with the realization that it was our final weekend as this team, to finish the deal. And that's exactly what we did.

We played in difficult conditions both days -- cold and rain and snow and sleet and sloppy goal boxes and bumpy fields. While it's true that the conditions were the same for both teams, let's face it: weather and field conditions can be an equalizer for the less-skilled team. Add in the fact that we played the second half of the Final with three players sitting on the bench with injuries, including arguably the best player (and in my opinion certainly the best forward) in the state who was sidelined with a hamstring pull, one could certainly believe that we overcame some significant obstacles to win and win convincingly at that.

If I had it to do over again, I would make sure to mention that good teams can win in different ways, that we had discovered all of those different ways in the course of the season, and that "winning ugly" can have its own value. But I'd still probably say that I wouldn't have minded seeing a few more passes to the players with the same colored shirts. Hard work only gets you so far when you're an aesthetic person. Or a grouch.