The Best Team? Uruguay. The Worst 10? Messi.
Next door to us, people are having their wages stolen by Liberato Restaurant and Kenny Bakery. The 34th Precinct is systematically harassing the picketers at Kenny. Bill DiBlasio has introduced a “housing plan” that will open up swaths of working class neighborhoods to developers who will build apartments for gentrifiers. A new “speed limit” law gives the Taxi and Limousine Commission new powers to investigate taxi drivers and suspend or revoke their licenses, a measure that people in the industry say will cost the jobs of between 30 and 100 people a month. Down south, the governor of Texas is calling out the National Guard to prevent “criminals” from crossing the border, and he is defining anyone who crosses as a criminal because U.S. law says you’re not supposed to cross without a visa. Meanwhile, the very same banks that caused the financial crisis of 2008 are continuing with the very same practices that caused the crisis in the first place, and everyone is just waiting for the next crash. Worst of all, across the ocean Israel is brutally bombing Palestinian civilians in Gaza. In spite of all of this, just try mobilizing anyone to do anything about it. Working people, union members, even people who specifically define themselves as activists—try getting them to show up for anything. If I send 100 texts to people to get them to show up at the picket on Dyckman against Kenny Bakery, I’m lucky if 2 people show up. Or if 5 people even answer me.
But if I send someone a text about a soccer game, they’re usually texting me back before I have time to put the phone down. I can get passionate, thoughtful analysis of any play in any game from at least 5 or 10 people within seconds of it happening. And between myself and a couple other people, who are always willing, I can get anywhere from 12 to 22 people together to play, with a day’s notice, any day of the week.
Okay, then, fine. I’ll write about the World Cup. No doubt there are a million reasons why people want to talk about soccer and not about social issues. A lot of them are bad reasons, media manipulation, opiate of the masses, all that. But who knows, maybe some of them are good reasons. Everybody in the world who’s not white, English speaking and born in the US sure can’t be wrong. I’ll write about the World Cup, and maybe somebody will read it!
First of all, balon de oro to Lionel Messi? Fifa is corrupt enough to make Leonel Fernandez look honest. I would have given Messi a bolita de yuca and told him to come back and play next time after he had breakfast. That last free kick, the one that went up into the stands…that was Messi’s chance to write his name in soccer history. He could have tied the game on the last play, and sent it to penalty kicks, and the way Romero was playing, I don’t see how Argentina could have lost. Okay, it wasn’t a sure shot, but shoot for the goal at least. Can anybody imagine Maradona kicking that ball up into the stands? Or Juan Roman Riquelme? But not everybody who wears a 10 on their back really is a 10.
He should have paid attention
Now, about Luis Suarez. People are saying he bit the guy to get out of Liverpool–maybe it’s true. It was in the 82nd minute, he might have been saying to himself, we’re going to draw anyway, and if we draw we go home, so let me get it over with. That would explain why he blew two easy opportunities in the last eight minutes, after Godin already put Uruguay ahead. It’s pretty strange that Suarez, who is the best striker in the world right now and has a sure killer instinct, would step on the ball and look around to pass on that long ball from Cavani that left him alone against one defender.
If he did it on purpose he’s an idiot. He had to know what would happen, and without him Uruguay wasn’t even good enough to beat Costa Rica. He gives the team its spark. But the way they beat Italy…Italy played it’s most classic, negative game, fouling, looking to draw fouls, talking shit, taking extra hits. But Uruguay is not a team to be bullied–Argentine clubs sign Uruguayan defenders because they hit harder than Argentines. They gave back blow for blow, and it was perfect that the winning goal would be scored by Uruguay’s center half, Diego Godin. With that momentum, after beating England and Italy just to get out of their group, and with the spark they had from Suarez, they could have gone all the way to the final. They were the best American team in the tournament, by far, once they sat down Lugano and Forlan and let Suarez play.
Germany’s luckiest moment
Everyone was impressed by Brasil after they beat Spain in the Confederations Cup, and everyone was impressed by Mexico after they tied Brasil. I guess we know better now. Spain took a team of players who aren’t even staring on their own clubs, and they were counting on a playmaker who’s leaving Barcelona to come play in the Mecca of declining stardom, New York City. I remember seeing Franz Beckenbauer play for the Cosmos when I was a kid–I think he had a cane, but I’m not a hundred percent sure.
Brasil is another matter. Brasil could have made five selections that were better than their actual team, out of the players they left home. We all saw the disaster in the back line–Thiago Silva might be one of the best Center Halfs in Europe but he was a mess in Brasil. Yet Miranda, after winning La Liga and coming in runner up in the Champions League, wasn’t even on the bench. Brasil has playmakers playing up and down the country–Kaka, Alexandre Pato, Deco. Who does Scolari have making the passes to Neymar? Fred. Let’s not even talk about Ronaldinho, who took Atletico Mineiro, a team that can’t stay two years in the first division, and won a Libertadores with them. Maybe he won’t give you 90 minutes, but he’s better than Fred.
Neymar, by the way, wouldn’t have made any difference at all against Germany. Neymar is quick and he’s skilled with his feet, but when he starts to get hit by a tough defense, he disappears–You Tube the Libertadores final three years ago between Santos and Penarol and you’ll see what I mean.
On a final note, let’s sneak in a little bit of social content so that people will stop reading and go back to Facebook. Soccer is not a marginal phenomenon like, say, the left. A lot of leftists will want to say that it’s all manipulation, capitalism, patriarchy, and it is all of those things. But does that really mean that there’s nothing useful for us in a stadium three-quarters full of working class Boca Juniors fans who are rabidly hating the quarter stadium worth of ruling class River Plate fans, among other things because they are ruling class? Is there really nothing useful for us in a game between Germany and Argentina, held in Brasil, which symbolizes for many in Latin America a contest between independence and imperialism? Or in an Algerian team that donates their World Cup earnings to Gaza or a player like Javier Zanetti who gets Inter Milan to fund an ambulance and a hospital for the Zapatistas in Chiapas? Even going beyond the specifics, is there really nothing for us to do in stadiums filled with millions of working class people across the world, stadiums where gentrification is being carried out the same way it is in our neighborhoods, stadiums where corporate capitalism is all too aware of the potential for their own agenda? Populists like Juan Peron and Getulio Vargas haven’t been so naive, and neither have Nike, Adidas and Reebok.
It’s a fact that a lot of people on the left can’t stand working people, our pastimes, even our way of speaking. Besides the fact that working people are my people, that this is where I belong, that I’m as carried away by the excitement and the symbolism and the spectacle as anyone in the stands, I never forget what one of our leading organizers used to say at CCNY when we were putting together two strikes that shut down all of CUNY—if people aren’t coming to your meetings, go to where the people are. If Chairman Mao has 80,000 likes on Facebook compared to 73 million for Lionel Messi, we might use that as a compass to help us find where all those people are at.