Ryan Giggs is gently juggling a football. He looks slight and pale, and is looking down intently at the ball through his floppy fringe. You’d think he was doing so shyly until you see how relaxed his shoulders are. Thousands of people are watching him and the cameras are rolling, but the 17-year-old Giggs ignores them, slow dancing with the ball.
Two decades later, the footage from that moment will crop up in a montage at the start of Class of 92, a documentary about Giggs and his peers — David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville — from the famous Manchester United FA Youth Cup–winning team of 1992. The shot will be nestled among a flood of broadly contemporary images of Poll Tax riots, early Oasis gigs, royal divorces, Conservative prime ministers — and soundtracked by a song by James, the indie wing of the Acid House–infused music that swept Manchester (and, Mancunians will tell you, the world) at the start of the '90s.
The Designated Player has all the sweet hook-ups. So this week, when Twitter began rumbling that Orlando City were about to be confirmed as the 21st MLS club, entering the league in 2015, there was only one man he wanted to speak to.
The DP swiftly called up Ray Hudson (“Hi DeeeeePeee”), former coach of the defunct Miami Fusion, professional Geordie, and current much-loved idiosyncratic commentator for beIN Sports, to get his take on the revival of Florida’s soccer fortunes. Apologies for the spelling. Blame the useless Siri app on the DP’s phone. Also, some of the metaphors jump around a bit, but that’s Ray, not the technology. As Ray himself put it, “Leaping like a salmon, my logic is like Riohhhh Ferdinand on the morning of a drug test. Like Neetsheee telling us God is dead, sipping tea on the pastor’s patio.”
If there was a Year 1 winner when the Nets moved to Brooklyn, it was the Modell's on Flatbush Avenue that sits across the street from the Barclays Center. What was formerly a rundown sporting goods store with little on the shelves transformed itself into a bright beacon of fluorescent light featuring row upon row of apparel sporting the logo of the borough's newest franchise.
Ninety minutes before Brooklyn opened its 2013-14 home schedule against the Miami Heat, a few dozen people milled about Modell's. I asked a casher if Nets stuff was selling fast. "Of course. It's the first day of the season. They are going to buy it all," she told me in an optimistic tone that sounded like the party line. I looked around. They were not buying it all. One guy inquired about two Nets hats; almost everyone else seemed more interested in purchasing soccer balls or asking about the length of the crew socks. An employee stocking the shelves said it wasn't nearly as busy as the season opener last year. His take: The jerseys were too expensive and no one had any money. If the Nets won, however, the fans would come back after the game to buy something.
David Beckham’s playing career drew to a close a couple weeks back when he captained Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-1 thumping of Brest. The evening ended with a teary-eyed, perfectly coiffed Beckham getting tossed into the air by his teammates. It was the perfect way to remember him as a player — aloft in some other orbit, a beloved teammate who grew increasingly uneasy as one of the boys.
There were times over the past decade when Beckham cut a lonely figure, someone who got swallowed up by the symbol he’d become. This isn’t to overstate the burdens of fame or even to take those appearances all that seriously. But whether that light sense of man-apart ennui was in the service of perpetuating some sort of Becks-brand mystique or merely a kind of later-rationalized personal failing, the effect was to produce a new, sleekly modern kind of sports archetype.
In case you were busy doing hilarious takes to a nonexistent camera when your friends and associates said absurd things, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a conclusion to a magnificently contested series that makes me wish to wax poetic, the San Antonio Spurs overcame a poor shooting night from their backcourt to oust the Golden State Warriors from the NBA playoffs with a 94-82 Game 6 win. Despite its premature end, twas a series in which all of the participants were worthy of the title warrior, even those generals who bestrode the sideline battling with their wits rather than their bodies. Sing oh muses of the ankle of Steph Curry, son of Dell, which brought countless ills first to his enemies, and then to himself! Such was the sovereign doom of a cursed team, and the will of Stern writ large: There shall be contested yet between famed warriors The Bron and Timothy Who Dunks a Finals that shall split the world in twine!
In a non-conclusion to an adequately contested series that makes me wish to speak plainly, the Knicks kept their hopes of an Eastern Conference finals showdown with Miami alive, beating a depleted Pacers team, 85-75, at Madison Square Garden. "Just taking it one day at a time," said Knicks coach Mike Woodson after the game, "because if we do more than that we'll become aware that the winner of this series gets the Heat and oh, no that's terrible! The winner of this series gets the Heat! Oh no, they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Oh man, they also have Chris Bosh. Why did I stop taking it one day at a time? Why?"
“(The American) is always in the mood to move on ... He is devoured with a passion for movement, he cannot stay in one place; he must go and come, he must stretch his limbs and keep his muscles in play. When his feet are not in motion, his fingers must be in action ... He always has to have something to do, he is always in a terrible hurry. He is fit for all sorts of work except those which require a careful slowness. Those fill him with horror; it is his idea of hell.”
—Michel Chevalier, Society, Manners, and Politics in the United States, 1839
“Sorry, but Thierry has to go now.”
Henry springs to his feet laughing as the press officer intervenes.
“Wow. I’ve got to come here more often.”
The small group sitting at a table in a Red Bull Arena executive box have asked maybe three questions of a player who usually has to endure more. This is MLS media day — a day when key players from every MLS team are brought to New York to film preseason spots with the league, sponsors, and TV partners, and somewhere among all this, find themselves ushered through a door to meet a few members of the local and national press in quick roundtable conversations. Henry, understandably, is in demand and now he bounces to his feet and bounds cheerfully out of the room, pursued by a team carrying clipboards. Those of us left in the box reset our recorders as Chris Wondolowski edges politely in to take his place.
It wasn't just Didier Drogba. Everyone in an Ivory Coast shirt was helpless. Nigerian midfielder Sunday Mba's 78th-minute run from midfield ended with him running out of options. So he had a shot. The ball took just enough of a deflection off an Ivorian defender to leave the keeper, Boubacar Barry, with no chance.
But even if Ivory Coast's 2-1 elimination loss to Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations over the weekend was surprising as an upset, it should have been predictable as an inevitability. If not that match, then maybe the next or the next would have seen the Ivorians out. Ever since losing the 2006 final to hosts Egypt, Ivory Coast has been the heavy pre-tournament favorite for every ACoN. And each time it has failed to win.
In case you were busy setting all the clocks in your house back an hour as part of an ill-conceived "February Fools" prank, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
After missing birdie putts on the last two holes he played, Phil Mickelson finished with a 60 in the opening round of the Phoenix Open, one stroke off of the PGA record for the lowest score in a single round. "I'm not thinking about those two putts," a haggard Mickelson said 12 years from now, panhandling outside of a Piggly Wiggly's in West Memphis, Arkansas, a broken shell of his former self. "But, man, they were both so close. I bet things would be different if one of those bad boys fell. But no, I'm not thinking about them. Hey, you got some teeth I could borrow?"
It’s been a funny few weeks with Hurricanes, snowstorms, Beckhams, and playoffs in my part of the world, not to mention the three days I spent in a darkened room as I processed the concept of Gerard Butler as a Celtic legend, and the week spent on a Manhattan Beach vision quest with Landon Donovan (before he took the decisive penalty in the MLS Cup final it occurred to me that I’d seen that squat before, just before he hurled marshmallows and peyote onto our campfire).
But the bills have to be paid, and with the second draft of my rewrite on the next Lifetime made-for-TV movie due next week (I can’t say too much about it, but the title is L’étranger and the tagline is “Lindsay Lohan IS Hope Solo”), and the confetti just about settled at the Home Depot Center, it’s time to turn our thoughts to looking back on this year’s MLS campaign.
So without further ado, here are the Designated Player 2012 MLS awards:
Over in England, Surprise Scoreline has wrestled all headlines away from lesser, more predictable characters. In yet another wild weekend in the Premier League, Rafa Benitez's Chelsea fell yet again, Manchester City relinquished points to United, and Tottenham continued their crawl up the table to claim fourth. Michael Davies and Roger Bennett review all the significant developments from England in this week's Men in Blazers podcast, though it's the announcement of the royal baby that heightens the drama.
Stateside, a Brit has dominated the week's headlines as well. Sure, L.A. Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo 3-1 in a well-deserved team effort, but it was David Beckham spraying passes across the park, being ridiculously good-looking, and generally building the almighty brand that drew the most attention. We at Men in Blazers would like to wish Becks godspeed on the next stage of his journey and thank him for all he's done for the development of soccer and men's tighty-whities here in the U.S.
What's my relationship status with MLS? It's complicated. I’d like to tell you that ever since I became a supporter of the league, when it kicked off in 1996, I’ve remained loyal to it. But I haven’t. And many American soccer fans probably have a similar story. For me, it’s been hard to stay devoted to the league when you (a) don’t have a hometown team to support (I’m from Michigan), and (b) know that a better on-the-field product exists in England, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc.
But my feelings for MLS began to change last year when I moved to Los Angeles, where there are not one but two clubs to follow: the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA. While keeping up with the flashy and successful Galaxy and the rather feckless Goats, my love for the league has been rekindled.
Now, all meaningful relationships will have their day of reckoning. And I believe that for conflicted MLS fan like me, it has arrived: the L.A. Galaxy will play the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup this Saturday, and the match holds such potential for greatness, and whether you're an MLS monogamist or just keeping it casual, I believe we all must witness it. Here’s why:
With fortuitous timing, the announcement of David Beckham's retirement promises that all story lines for the upcoming MLS Cup final lead back to the Golden One. Regardless of the ominous brand building, Beckham will be missed on these shores. But just as one trailblazer exits the game, another prepares to enter it. The word from Britain is that Snoop Lion is considering buying a stake in Glasgow Celtic. The circle of soccer life continues.
The Blazers will welcome anything to divert their minds from a weekend of EPL football that saw three of the top four teams lose. In this week's pod, Michael Davies and Roger Bennett review the wild weekend of uprising before being joined by NBC lead play-by-play commentator Lord Arlo White. The Leicester native dishes on the growth of MLS, a commentating career that began at age 6, and what viewers should expect from NBC when the network broadcasts the English game next year.
Sunday night, the L.A. Galaxy gathered in the cold rain on a stage on Century Link Field, amid a chorus of boos from the remaining Seattle Sounders fans, waiting to receive the trophy as the MLS Western Conference champions. They had just beaten the Sounders 4-2 in aggregate goals in a two-game series and earned a spot in the MLS Cup, where they will be playing to defend their 2011 championship. The team’s captain for the night, Robbie Keane, waited atop the podium to receive the trophy from MLS executive vice president of competition Nelson Rodriguez. Beside Keane was the team’s usual captain, Landon Donovan, who missed the game with a hamstring injury. Next to Donovan stood the man who built this Galaxy team, the club’s general manager and head coach, the most successful coach in American soccer: Bruce Arena.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns as the 49ers trounced the Bears 32-7. "Not bad for an intellectual," sneered Randy Moss, just before snapping Kaepernick with a towel. Kaepernick seethed with pain and anger, but he knew from experience that it was useless to explain the difference between himself and the 16th-century Polish astronomer Copernicus.
Owing to a stupid clause inserted into the Designated Player’s MLS contract while I was busy browsing real estate listings — mainly for penthouses without views of the shacks my Grantland teammates are kept in — I apparently have to “participate in the playoffs.” This, in general, is not what I came to America for. Even worse, on further investigation it turns out that “participation” involves more than delivering the odd platitude about the standard of play in MLS, while being photographed somewhere in a darkened VIP room that also includes Tony Parker, Kelly Ripa, Russell Brand, and a minor Jonas — I actually have to play.
Knowing that this may involve contact with the former academy players who keep circulating colds among themselves, I immediately got my new agent on the phone with my list of demands — that is, if MLS wants to see the legendary “DP bounce” in attendance figures this year (I also got him to trademark DP Bounce™).
At first league management were pretty tense about the whole thing — probably remembering the play-for-chocolate-covered-jets clause I’d encouraged the mortal members of my team to ask for during the last CBA negotiations. But when I explained that I just wanted a wholesale format change for the playoffs inserted by Wednesday, they relaxed and were actually pretty cool about it all, making me wish I’d pushed for the “DP goals count double” rule I’d been toying with asking for.
So I’m delighted to present, with my full and meaningful participation, the Designated Playoffs™ ...