Tuesday, June 22, 2010
An absolutely necessary post about the World Cup
(Chances are you don't give two shits about the World Cup. But if I let the occasion pass without weighing in I couldn't live with myself, so here goes.)
It doesn't take much to be a guru these days. Not in the literal sense of "religious leader and spiritual teacher," but in the modified modern sense of "an advisor or mentor; a leader or expert in a field." You can quite quickly become a guru just by being the first person to buy the latest gadget and investing the time to figure out a third of the crazy shit it will do, and voila! You will be your local iPhone guru or PS3 guru or Zune guru. Ok, never mind the Zune, nobody cares.
So in that vein, I have become, to certain people, a soccer guru - wise enough to know that the rest of the world says "football" and means what we call "soccer," but only a pretentious douche will call it "football" if he/she is American - which means I know just a little bit more about the game than the average soccer-hating American. My guru-ness in this regard was well earned. Hundreds of hours out on the field, hundreds more watching the English Premiere League and Serie A and Bundesliga, and by now you can tell by my dropping of obscure names I must know what I'm talking about. At least, I know more than you, so tug your forelock and bow down to my largely worthless knowledge.
Once every four years, for a month, I get to display my exceptional wisdom and explain things like the offside rule and Dutch "total futbol" and compare one Ronaldo to another and tell stories that make me seem even more guru-y than ever. Unfortunately, the average person's eyes glaze over after about one minute of my bloviating and they regret they ever brought it up in the first place. And of course, it's once every four years because that is the frequency of the (reverence, please ) World Cup finals.
Now we are engaged in a great soccer war, testing whether this nation, or any nation, can long endure through to the championship game. And in just a few hours, the US National Team - an ever-changing assortment of 23 players who have collectively killed my soul at least 37 times in the last 20 years - will take the field. Glory and abject failure seem equally possible, as they always do, and here's where the game holds the mirror up to nature.
Sport as a analogy to life? (What a concept! I think I may have discovered a new thought?) But yes, it plays out (pun intended) most beautifully in "the beautiful game." Already we have seen inspired performances by lowly, hopeless but strong-hearted teams that have bested better rivals - already we have seen the mighty brought low when capability is not matched by passion - and already we have seen the French throw their arms in the air shouting "Mon Dieu!" and fall to blaming and infighting. (All that remains is for them to collaborate with the Germans now.)
National teams in the World Cup carry their national pride and hopes and, on the pitch (or "playing field," for the non-pretentious non-douches) display the style of their nation in the way they play the game. For the relatively small but growing number of American soccer nuts, each World Cup match is a test of our national will. It remains the only sport in which we aspire to greatness but have never achieved it. Perhaps it is essentially the modern American experience to always have high hopes but low expectations? For the relatively large but also growing number of soccer nuts in all the other nations, their teams are cast as valiant Davids slinging stones at Goliath - or rightful Goliaths who should slay the unworthy foe and tilt their chins up with pride. Everything is on the line. Make the magic happen now, or slink away and wait four years for another chance.
In sanskrit "gu" means darkness and "ru" means light, says Wikipedia. Over the next two weeks, the World Cup will reveal both the darkness and light in the human spirit, displayed on the mock battleground that is the soccer field. Spirits will be taken to new heights, and hearts will be broken - lifetimes will be lived in the three minutes of added time. In the end, some team gets a trophy and 31 others don't, but it's the getting there that makes the trip worthwhile.
And there will be lots of cool commercials.