The other day I wrote about watching the Champions League match from Monaco -- in Brooklyn.
Young fans in Israel watched the most recent Clasico from Spain, on April 23 -- projected from a laptop onto canvas, resting on an artist's easel.
The host, Mendel Horowitz, does not have a TV in his house. (What a great idea. Except for soccer and baseball.) The young people improvised.
This was the match won by Leo Messi, two minutes into stoppage time.
My friend Horowitz, originally from Queens, insists Messi is the greatest active player in the world.
One thing I have learned over the years is, never argue with a rabbi.
(see Comments below)
A few months ago, Rory Smith wrote a prescient piece in the Times saying the Champions League was becoming same-old, same-old.
That could also be said about many American events like the Final Four or Super Bowl, when a new Destiny’s Darling rarely wins out, but he was basically right.
The disparity in soccer is continued during the first leg of the semifinals this week, with Real Madrid humiliating cross-town rival Atlético, 3-0, on Tuesday in their annual Champions League encounter and Juventus pretty much annihilating Monaco, 2-0, on Wednesday.
For me, the utter one-sidedness of both matches was made tolerable by people I have seen in uniform in the past couple of decades -- great moments and abject failures by Diego Simeone, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gigi Buffon, dominant players, dominant personalities.
And, really, isn’t that the essence of sport – the past adding to the present? This gigantic youth with the Yankees – Aaron Judge – has already hit 13 homers this season, bringing comparison to Ruth and A-Rod, to say nothing of Mantle and Maris.
Sports fans watch two things at once – live action and mental replay.
On Tuesday, I saw two trim gents on the sidelines, just a few yards apart. I envisioned Simeone, stalwart defender for Argentina, provoking David Beckham into the worst moment of his career, a petulant kick of Simeone in plain view of everybody in St. Etienne, France, during the 1998 World Cup, for which Beckham was ejected.
And speaking of ejections, I could see Zidane gliding and dancing and leaping for two header goals in what I consider the greatest (or at least most beautiful) World Cup final performance, ever in the Stade de France, 1998, the whole nation chanting Zee-dahn! Zee-dahn!
Then of course I could see Zidane, provoked by a former opponent, from Serie A, head-butting Marco Materazzi of Italy, late in the final of the World Cup, and trudging off impassively after being ejected.
There they were on Tuesday, two great players involved in historic meltdowns, watching Atlético being destroyed by Real Madrid – or should I say by Cristiano Ronaldo?
CR7 willed himself to three goals, the second one, into the upper left corner, about as vicious and accurate a missile as any of us will ever see.
I have referred to Ronaldo as a pretty boy with tinted hair and supercilious smirk, but now I see him as the best player of his time. My two Arsenal pals, with whom I watched Wednesday's match, say Leo Messi is the best but for me Messi excels in a pattern whereas Ronaldo is a force unto himself.
The fourth familiar face this week was the expressive Buffon, who shows more emotion at singing the Italian anthem than most people muster up for the biggest events of their lives. He and Juve seem to have been doing this forever, interrupted briefly by scandal a decade ago.
Buffon is 38, still able to flick away just about anything and then find time to socialize with opponents. He shut down Radamel Falcao Wednesday and greeted his opponent as he departed.
Later Buffon fell to the ground to smother a loose ball and Monaco’s 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé chose to leap over him, rather than raking his cleats on Buffon's ancient spine. Buffon gave him a toothy smile and a collegial pat on the head.
Don’t be fooled by this show of brava figura. Italian defenders often smile and schmooze – like lanky Giorgio Ciellini of Juventus, who cold-cocked a Monaco opponent with his elbow Wednesday and then knelt over him solicitously, as if he were some kind of genial paramedic.
It’s always good to see people I recognize, to have their past exploits hovering over the field. But good enough to invest time on the second leg next week? Not so sure about that.
(below: the most beautiful WC final by one player, ever.)
5/4/2017 11:09:00 am
I love when you cover the beautiful game George. You helped me fall in love with futbol when I read your coverage from Spain in 1982. As a loyal Atletico supporter, Tuesday's match still hurts. I'll be pulling for the "Old Lady" (Juve) in a what looks like a probably RMA v Juventus final. Buffon deserves the Champions League silverware!
5/4/2017 07:16:16 pm
Mike, thanks for the nice words. Only reason I can find for my not rooting for Buffon in the final is that he might figure it's a good way to retire. I would miss him belting out the anthem. Be well. GV
5/4/2017 01:30:03 pm
It took me four tries to read through this article until the end, and it was fun The first two attempts, I was stopped cold by one of the most interesting thoughts I've encountered in a long time:
5/4/2017 07:18:13 pm
Brian, thank you for the honor. I enjoy writing, as sheer pleasure, plus keeping myself in typing shape. Use it or lose it. I got up early today knowing I needed to change gears on the site again, and use my reactions to the two Ch. Lg. matches of past days. Makes me happy to peck away, knowing you are reading. GV
5/5/2017 05:31:55 pm
"Sports fans watch two things at once – live action and mental replay." sounds so simple but it says it all about being a fan. Sometimes memory is the more enjoyable of the two.
5/6/2017 07:48:30 pm
Alan, because you played and now coach the position, you know keepers. So many flamboyant ones, not just Buffon. Zenga of Italy., Jorge Campos with those wild outfits, Rene Higuita "El Loco," roaming for Colombia., And let's not forget Scurry and Solo for US women. Now Neuer with more touches than Brazilian striker in last World Cup. It's a unique position -- with lots of history and characters. GV
5/8/2017 10:05:34 am
Unlike my dad, I gave up goalkeeping at a relatively young age (I had a HS coach who took all the joy out of the game, so I wanted to play intramurals and run around a lot, instead). But i want to add to the pantheon of flamboyant goalkeepers the one I idolized as a young player -- Shep Messing. I didn't know a lot of the nutty stuff he did at the time, I just liked that there was a home grown US goalkeeper hero, a Jew, no less.
5/8/2017 11:16:53 am
Josh, thanks for the comment. Yes, Shep/is was one of the great American presences.
5/6/2017 05:30:50 pm
Others already have picked up the insight in you "Two things" comment. For years when Maury Wills and others got on base I saw Jackie Robinson. Ciao.
5/6/2017 07:51:48 pm
Ed, thanks. True, but nobody had the physical/psychological presence that JR42 did. He was so big. Sometime find a video of Robinson running outside as wingback for UCLA. I was at a JR Foundation reception 10 years ago with Joe Morgan and Willie Randolph, and they played a tape of Robinson in college, and Morgan and Randolph were roaring at his audacity and size and speed, and so were the rest of us. GV
5/8/2017 04:35:17 am
My sons insist on Leo and I tend to agree. Hosted a group of teenagers to watch the most recent Clasico projected from a laptop onto a blank canvas standing on an artist's easel. Leo's deliberate explosiveness blew me away.
5/8/2017 09:27:31 am
Mendel, thanks. I have come to appreciate Messi's special talent., I think I was fooled a bit by his humble size and demeanor. I'd still pick Ronaldo as the one building block....
5/8/2017 06:41:21 pm
My favorite keepers were Shep Messing, Brad Friedel, Tony Meola, Kasey Keller and Tim Howard.
5/9/2017 08:47:25 am
Alan, I saw that match on the tube. Howard was magnificent, at the peak of his game, like Reyna at MF vs. Mexico, 2002.
5/9/2017 07:44:57 pm
5/10/2017 12:12:53 pm
5/10/2017 01:16:32 pm
5/10/2017 06:09:57 pm
5/10/2017 06:23:21 pm
5/11/2017 08:54:12 pm
An interesting article in the NYT concerning the PK shootout format.
5/11/2017 09:04:58 pm
not surprised by the %, but i'm against shootouts.
5/12/2017 06:21:49 am
5/12/2017 08:47:25 am
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.