Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Platonic Ideal of a Michael Column

There are certain times where it makes sense to pull out the esoteric stops.  When Fisking a writer who spent a chapter of his polemic against the South arguing that SEC football is overrated, it comes in handy to drop C. Wright Mills, Sheeple, Jubal Early, and Joseph McCarthy.  If I’m defending a region against a writer who no doubt believes that we are slack-jawed yokels, it helps to dispel that notion quickly.  If someone came up with a drinking game for my columns, this one would check all of the major boxes:

  • Using Sagarin and SRS to prove a point;
  • Advocating the use of a big sample size over a smaller one;
  • Mocking Gary Danielson for being a shill;
  • Taking the position that Auburn should have won the national title in 1983;
  • Deploying least one Latin legal phrase;
  • Using numbered arguments;
  • Making at least one ad hominem attack that I just cannot resist, in this case “I guess these are the rigorous research skills and commitment to precise language that one learns as the features editor of Maxim”; and
  • Referencing World War II;

All this column was missing was a James Bond reference, an entire paragraph delivered in sarcastic voice, and at least one shot at Northeastern media figures.  My goal at some point in my life is to check every one of these boxes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

¿Por qué?

Jose Mourinho has decided that "The Special One" will no longer do for a nickname:

"In England, I was presented as the 'Special One'," Mourinho told Portuguese TV channel SIC on Monday night.

"Thanks to God, things have gone well and, whether you like it or not, I am the only one who has won the English, Italian and Spanish championships. So, more than the 'Special One', they must begin to call me the 'Only One'."
In the same interview, Mourinho also says that his ego has shrunk:

"After having won practically everything, as time has passed I have become less self-centred and egocentric," he said. "I have always liked more the joy of other people, those around me. For this, winning with Inter gave me a special pleasure. These are challenges, not personal goals. I also think I could have been a good human resources executive."
If Mourinho is newly-humble and is proclaiming himself the "Only One," how big was his ego before?  Also, if he is motivated by the joy of those around him (as opposed to, say, being the highest-paid soccer coach in the world), then why wouldn't he take the coaching job at a club like Newcastle that has not won a title in decades?  That would seem to be the situation where he could create the maximal joy for those around him, as opposed to delivering Real Madrid a 33rd La Liga title. 

There are those who say that Mourinho's comments are designed to deflect attention from his players so that they can focus on winning titles and he can take the arrows from the media.  However, we are in an international break right now and Real are five days from starting the season.  There is no need to defuse pressure right now and yet Jose is still mouthing off about being the humblest "Only One" in the world.  Maybe, just maybe, the chant is right.*

* - Note: in that clip, Barca fans are singing about Jose in a road match against Villarreal.  It was the first song that I heard on the escalators to the upper deck at the Wembley Champions League Final.  Jose doesn't need to be in the building to be the target of love songs.  I wonder if he likes the contempt of other people as much as their joy.

A Message Board Gem

Sorry for the lack of posting in the last several months, but time has been short and what time I have had has been spent on writing longer pieces for the Atlanta SB Nation site.  Here is the complete list of what I've been doing.  I quite enjoyed writing the piece on 2008 Georgia and 2012 USC because 2007 Georgia remains one of the strangest teams that I have ever followed.  The radical transformation that that team underwent before the Florida game was something to behold.  So, when USC made a similar turn mid-season, it became obvious that I was going to make an analogy based on a sample size of one.

One of the pleasures of writing, either on this blog or on SB Nation, is that I get to track the sites that link to my work so I can gauge reactions.  The discussion about the piece on the USC Rivals board was hilarious as an illustration of message boards generally and of Rivals boards specifically.  Most of the response from USC fans was that it is folly to compare USC and Georgia, just in general.  Georgia has not had the historical success that USC has had, so a season where Georgia was preseason #1 and was led by the presumptive top pick in the Draft at quarterback cannot possibly be compared to a USC season that will start under the exact same conditions.  Res ipse loquitur.  My personal favorite was from a poster who goes by the witty moniker of Ribbed Trojan:

He didn't know how Marquis' name was spelled? He was co-Pac-10 Freshman of the year...

Also, comparing the wide receivers is ridiculous. AJ Green is great, but he Massaquoi is no match for Lee. Plus, USC has outstanding tight ends and 2 running backs. Yes, Silas was not on the team when he wrote this. Furthermore, we get Stanford early before their QB gets too many reps and we get Oregon at home. Georgia may have had tough games on the road to end the year.

Defensive line is the most important position group in college football. If our line ends up marginal, that could be our achilles heal.
Ah yes, the irony of making fun of me for having to look up how Marqise Lee spells his name ... and then misspelling it yourself.  You're a funny one, Ribbed Trojan.  The next paragraph says that "Georgia may have had tough games on the road to end the year."  Yes, because it is so hard to find a schedule and determine that Georgia's three losses in 2008 came either at home or on a neutral field.  Finally, you have an instance of a Trojan referencing Achilles and then confusing "heal" with "heel."  This is why I write.

It's All Football

Here's Jonathan Wilson on the decline of Brazil, which was on full view in their tepid performance against Mexico in the gold medal match on Saturday:

A generation has grown up watching Nike adverts showing carefree men with questionable hair-cuts freestyling through airports, cityscapes and prison ships and wondering how that equates to Dunga and César Sampaio, or Edmilson and Gilberto Silva, or Zé Roberto and Gilberto Silva, or Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva, sitting doggedly in front of the back four. Nike's advertising hasn't created the contradiction that lies at the heart of Brazilian football culture, but it has highlighted it, perhaps even accentuated it.

Neymar, poor, overhyped, brilliant Neymar, is compelled to do tricks. It's not enough that his team wins; he must also perform individual miracles and live up to the advertisers' ideal. It is his misfortune to live in the age of an Argentinian genius: he must also confirm to Brazilians with every breath that he is as good, or at least may soon become as good, as Lionel Messi. Pelé's pursuit of the line that they are equals not merely confirms his debased status as a pundit, but is actually counter-productive, heaping pressure on Neymar and deflecting attention from far more significant issues.

The twin pressures on the Brazilian game have resulted in a style of football that recalls Arrigo Sacchi's description of Real Madrid in the galacticos era: it is full of specialists. There are those who dribble and run and shoot, and there are those who sit back and fill the spaces to allow them to do so. It's simplistic and effective against weaker opposition, but vulnerable to more streetwise opponents: even before Mexico beat them, Brazil had stuttered against Egypt and Honduras, before being extraordinarily fortunate against South Korea, who should have had two penalties in the semi-final. It also explains why so many of Brazil's holding midfielders are tacklers and distributors like Lucas or shuttlers like Ramires, and so few of them deep-lying creators in the way Falcão or Gerson once were.

As football elsewhere becomes increasingly about universality, about players being able to perform a multiplicity of roles, it also feels like an old-fashioned style.
And here is Chris Brown on the evolution of hybrid defenders in American football:

The 1990s Cowboys may have set the path, but it's the current coaching innovators who are molding the idea to the present. On offense, the trend appears to be so-called "hybrid" offensive players, primarily the new wave of tight ends like New England's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the Saints' Jimmy Graham, and Jermichael Finley of the Packers. All are big, tall, and fast downfield receiving threats, and those like Gronkowski can also block. Then there are the smaller "space players" like Darren Sproles who are just as dangerous catching the ball as they are running with it from the backfield. The meaning of the term "spread offense" is debatable, but the principle it embodies — that all available skill players are a potential threat on any given play, and gone are the blocking-only fullbacks and tight ends who never touch the ball — is now the standard at every level of football. These multitalented and multipurpose offensive weapons are merely the latest embodiment of that.

In response, Jimmy Johnson's edict — that speed on offense must be matched with even more speed on offense — has been adopted by defensive coaches at every level of football. Those hybrid offensive players are being met with hybrid defenders.
I think I have my theme for the season in both soccer and football: the decline of specialization.