Being precisely one of the people who tends to scoff at the supposedly American use of the word 'soccer', preferring and even insisting on 'football',Being precisely one of the people who tends to scoff at the supposedly American use of the word 'soccer', preferring and even insisting on 'football', there's a chastening moment in this tome when the writers, who have been using the word enough by that stage to really be sticking in my craw, point out that in fact the decline in the use of the word essentially dates to the late 1970s, when the NASL was formed. That it's essentially a form of cultural snobbery: you use it, then we won't. Which I'm not really down with practicing, whenever I can possibly help it. So okay, point taken. Soccer it shall be.
This book is a cross between the Freakonomics vibe of quantifying oddball trivia (and a few central zeitgeist questions), the Moneyball vibe of putting numbers where sporting received wisdom sits, and the typical pub genius getting on his high horse after the fourth pint - "I'll prove to you just why this is shit and that is not, with numbers" - so that you shall evermore be chastened and under his (pseudo)-intellectual thumb. That perhaps sounds a little forbidding, the truth is it's good to see a little mathematics stepping into redeem some beliefs and puncture others. A few central myths are debunked: Maradona's 1980s Argentina performed worse in terms of wins than any other moment in the country's history (but won some big prizes, sometimes with divine assistance), England is an overachiever not an underachiever, and is expected to have to wait a long time to win anything big, and a World Cups are never money-spinners for their hosts.
Well, the last one is obvious to anyone with two eyes, notions of arithmetic and no vested interest. The first is indeed surprising, although it has to be said that it won't be pacifying any of the ridiculous Messi-sceptics currently parading their inability to understand how teams work when there are 11 men on a field. And the second point is also sadly true, that England is quicker with the self-serving excuse and scapegoat than the new dawn that could come about with someone changing the approach, the way, say, Clive Woodward did with the England rugby team in the late 1990s up until the World Cup win of 2003. The difference was not that they started winning, but the way they won, rampaging backs and back rowers and incisive creative use of the ball, not hitherto a hallmark of England teams. They found new strengths to play to and made their Southern Hemisphere opponents afraid for the first time ever.
With the numbers in hand, Kuper and Szymanski look to show up all the clichés: Spain was in fact the No. 1 team before they won the European championship in 2008, rather than an underachiever, and the real team to watch is Iraq… We'll see how that one plays out. Occasionally they trip over themselves. Where Europe's networking is supposedly it's real strength, and will soon be it's Achilles heel, England's failure is its lack of ability to let in outsiders (to coaching) or to travel and learn, and the clubs Ajax and Barcelona are successful precisely because they don't travel but stay at the same club, lovingly nurturing their young charges… Sounds a bit like sauce for the goose. What is definitely true is that until England gets some self-criticism it is unlikely to win, and while the Masia at FC Barcelona works hand-in-glove with the first team it is likely to have a better conversion rate than most clubs.
We also get a look at Guus Hiddink, a modern-day missionary, the current state of the soccer fan and a musing on the relationship between suicide and football/soccer. In the same way that you stumble out of the pub with the conviction that the pub genius has just identified what weakness will bring down such and such a club (mark my words), you find yourself over the next few days looking out for the truth that may have lain in his words. So you do with this book. These two, well-informed and cosmopolitan as it gets in football terms, have set out a series of statistical proofs that we will now get a whole series of real life experiments to test out. Bring it on....more
In the source materials for postwar film adaptations, two names stand out in having one science fiction film and another from a completely different gIn the source materials for postwar film adaptations, two names stand out in having one science fiction film and another from a completely different genre: one is Pierre Boulle (Planet of the Apes and The Bridge Over the River Kwai), who was gifted a screenwriting Oscar as a front for the blacklisted Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, and the other is Walter Tevis (The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Hustler). The Hustler, a classic 1961 film starring Paul Newman, was adapted from this short and lively work, Tevis' debut novel, written while still in his twenties. It is a vivid piece which has defined the idea that many people have of the smoky and hardnosed world of pool halls.
The first thing that is interesting is that the dialogue seems written for a screenplay. It is evocative but succinct, actually quite remarkable when we consider that many scenes feature some pretty convoluted life lessons. Tevis hammers on the imagery and doesn't bother to sugarcoat or "explain" Fast Eddie Felson. This is a wise move that keeps us guessing a little: is he a hero or an anti-hero? Is this a morality tale or a feel-good sporting comeback? Is he worthy of love or just another dunderhead galumphing through his wild oats days? Wherever there can be ambivalence, Tevis underlines it. We have to listen to our own voice, believe in our destiny, even we the readers…
It is an accomplished work, not so much because of an amazing prose style, but because Tevis strikes this unusual tone between pulpy sensationalism and inner understanding that reads both slick and profound when it wants to. Once Newman had played the role, his translucent blue eyes stranded in the black and white world, his cocky grin both overdone and deeply true, then the book's legacy should have beenassured. And yet it was almost too effortless-seeming an adaptation, which left its author behind, since it almost felt like it had been improvised by a stellar cast. In truth, the book is a worthy enough entity, a return to days when a bestseller didn't have to be focus grouped or watered down.
Try this: "The truth of what Bert was saying was so forceful that it took Eddie a moment to drive it from his mind, to explain it away. But even this was hard to do, for Eddie had a kind of hard, central core of honesty that was difficult for him to deal with sometimes—a kind of embarrassing awareness that only a few people are afflicted with. But he managed to avoid the fact, to avoid capitulation to what Bert was saying, that he, Eddie, was—simply enough—not man enough to beat a man like Fats. But, not knowing what else to say, he said, aware that it was feeble, “Maybe Fats knows how to drink.”
Or this: "I did. You and any decent goddamn gambler wants to be a hero. But to be a hero you got to sign a contract with yourself. If you want the glory and the money you got to be hard. I don’t mean you got to get rid of mercy, you’re not a con man or a thief—those are the ones that can’t live if they got mercy. I got it myself. I got soft places. But I’m hard with myself and I know when not to go weak."
Which offers a kind of thinking man's macho worldview, tough nut welcoming some mirror time. And while it's pretty reductive, betting the whole house of humanity on a stroke of unbridled pragmatism the way many in the US seem to want to, the truth is that the winner/loser dichotomy (or Nietzsche's master/slave morality if we want to ratchet up its implications) does have a certain hook in it: that self-pity is pretty much anathema to victory.
Between this and the alien Thomas Newton despairing at this world, we have a cast-iron legacy of perceptive pessimism to carry into the new millennium....more
There is an exhilarating moment in this novella when you feel a rush on several fronts. The set-up (boorish wunderkind chess master accosted on cruiseThere is an exhilarating moment in this novella when you feel a rush on several fronts. The set-up (boorish wunderkind chess master accosted on cruise agrees to play if paid) gets a little twist (mysterious stranger steps in and forces a draw), then we go off to find that mysterious stranger is a Austrian Jewish banker who had been hunted down and imprisoned by the Nazis. What is exhilarating is that the privileged banker learned his chess literally by himself, filling his mind with something while in solitary confinement, playing against himself, paying for it with a kind of schizophrenia, while the boorish peasant just had a natural savant gift. The child of privilege worked so hard at his chess he unhinged himself, while the boor just sees the money he can make from these lesser fools around him.
Why exhilarating? Because Zweig manages to slip in some neat allegory (East European destruction of its Jewish faux-elite vs militaristic peasant empowerment - this was 1942 - but without avoiding the heavy irony riding on the question of opportunity) while turning on the undeniably appealing chess showdown. The peasant grand master here is the one in his element, using the rules to his advantage. The Jew is cut adrift from his earlier privilege and even from his sanity. But he takes on the champion: David vs the excruciatingly relentless Goliath. There are so many levels going on here - which chess is always good for anyway - that it's not anywhere near enough just to think about who won the match. This is another great entry in the sublime sequence of novellas and short stories that Zweig sprinkled around the first part of the century.
Of course, it's when you consider Zweig's looming fate that the whole thing takes on an even deeper resonance....more