Back row (l-r): Casillas (1), Torres, Puyol, David Villa, Ramos, Pique
Front row: Xavi (8), Iniesta, David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas
Back row (l-r): Casillas (1), Torres, Puyol, David Villa, Ramos, Pique
Front row: Xavi (8), Iniesta, David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas
Growing up with football (soccer), I learned about Pele as a mythical being, the game's greatest, and saw the videos that proved it. The player of my youth was Diego Maradona, Pele's nearest equal. I still remember getting his sticker for my Panini World Cup '86 book late in a sunny September, long after most of my schoolfriends had thrown their books aside and were no longer doing swapsies in the yard at playtime. It was a great moment. I had waited all summer, and had amassed a small mountain of Willie Millers and Nigel Worthingtons waiting for the one card no number of conkers could buy.
Past childhood, it seems natural to stop idolising players quite so much. Maybe it's adult cynicism, or there being something a bit strange about worshipping a player younger than you are, or that no amount of world class football will ever compare to the proverbially rose-tinted memories of the game you grew up with (Mexico '86 isn't so much rose tinted as burning bright red in my minds eye). And because of this, I'd never really appreciated Zinedine Zidane quite so much.
Like a great band you only really concentrate on once they've broken up, this post-career appreciation is bittersweet, but looking at this video I found myself asking - could Zinedine Zidane have been the best ever?
Pele had incredible vision, Maradona masterful close control, and we've seen countless videos of many players showboating on the practice field or late in lopsided games against inferior opposition. But Zidane played like this, tricks and touches, genuine heel-toe magic, practically every match for his entire career. It wasn't showboating to him, it was just the way he played, regardless of opposition or occasion.
Zinedine Zidane - the game's greatest..?
P.S. For those of you who found this post via google and were expecting to see Bill Murray, here you go...
The New Jersey Devils can be so frustrating. They haven't been able to win properly for a few years, now they don't know how to lose properly.
Their season ought to be pretty much done, but instead, following the addition-by-subtraction trade of Jamie Langenbrunner, the Devils have gone on what must be considered "a tear", by the standards of their season so far, jeopardising their first ever shot at a number one pick in the draft in the process.
The way things are going, I can imagine the Devils recovering beautifully and finishing 9th or 10th, missing the playoffs and the top pick. What if all this new-found confidence convinces Lou Lam not to trade away some of the UFA's (all that Arnott talk has dies down a lot recently) and squander the chance to retool the roster?
It's rare a fan doesn't want to see their team winning, but while the Devils were "enjoying" their worst ever season, it meant issues like the lack of a #1 centre or #1 d-man or permanent head coach were top of the list. Now they're turning things around, the lure of regaining respectability might curtail any grand ambitions to overhaul the team, which would be like plugging a hole in a boat with paper. In other words, it won't last, and I was actually excited at the prospect of seeing some incumbent rust shaved off and some new blood brought in. Of course, all that might still happen.
In the meantime, I wonder how long the Devils can keep up all this scoring and winning. If they actually make the playoffs, it'd be almost as big an accomplishment as winning the Stanley Cup, given it's never been done before by a team so far out of it. It would also shut Scott Burnside up (though probably not once-and-for-all) and on those grounds, I'm hoping they do manage the impossible.
The transparent dance of impending sackitude the West Ham board is slow-stepping with incumbent incompetent Avram Grant is finally reaching it's frankly hilarious and long-winded climax.
Before Christmas, they gave Grant an ultimatum - win one of the next three games or you're out.
Which he did.
Then, they said, you must win the Carling Cup semi-final, or you're out.
And he did.
Now, they've moved the goalposts once again and have told Grant he must beat Arsenal. Or he's out. Take his last-placed team and beat third placed pernennial heavyweights Arsenal. Or he's out.
What next? If he somehow does beat Arsenal, I can't wait to hear the boards next painstakingly lame attempt to manoeuvre Grant into killing himself because they lack the guts to pull the trigger themselves. What'll it be?
"Uh, you've got to win the Champions Cup tomorrow, even though we didn't qualify for the Champions Cup and the final's not for months... actually, no, we want you to win the World Cup, in the next ten minutes. On your own. Or you're out. Yeah, then nobody can say we didn't give you a fair chance..."
It's pathetic, really. Just allow the man some dignity, cut him loose and get Martin O'Neill on board like you want to. Hey, O'Neill might even still have an Aston Villa scarf in his wardrobe, which is handy because it's the same colours. He won't even need a new one! See, you're saving money already.
On the subject of Avram Grant, has there ever been a man less flatteringly compared to so many uglies so much of the time? Check this out:
Yup, nobody loves you when you're down and out. Or when you're Avram Grant. Which is about to mean the same thing by the looks of it.
I'm not usually in the business of making predictions, but I've been looking forward to these games so much all week I couldn't resist.
Green Bay has a top flight quarterback, one of the best wideouts in the game (Jennings) and a committee rushing attack which is gradually finding it's feet. They also have Clay Matthews. Atlanta has a playmaker at every offensive position (Ryan, Turner, White, Gonzalez) but a shaky secondary, which probably isn't much comfort when facing Aaron Rogers. The regular season match-up was close, with the Falcons winning at home, where they rarely do anything else. One of the deciding factors will be whether Michael Turner can run with BJ Raji stuffing up the middle. If Turner is contained, the Falcons become one-dimensional, but the same can so far be said for the Pack (James Starks unexpected emergence last week notwithstanding). The difference is Green Bay has been playing - and winning - without much of a running game all season. Atlanta also has to live up to the pressure of being the #1 seed for the first time ever. I expect it'll be close, but Rogers is playing with the kind of self-assurance that makes me wonder if he hasn't got that almanac from Back To The Future II in his back pocket. Also, I fancy the ferocious John Kuhn to destroy any 3rd or 4th and short situations, especially on the goal line. Those small differences might outweigh home field advantage this time. Pick: Pack
The Seahawks confidence is running high as the entire team drinks plentifully of Carroll's Kool Aid. Seattle has won in the afternoon at Soldier Field already this season. Despite having the league's second to worst regular season running attack, Marshawn Lynch's superhuman rush versus the Saints means the Bears will have to take Seattle's ground game seriously, which might open up the kind of deep passing plays Hasselbeck slaughtered Roman Harper and the Saints with last week. With that victory, Seattle proved it is better than the dubious distinction of being the first losing-record playoff team. Now they'll want to drive that point home. For Chicago's part, they have to be feeling the pressure. In the regular season, the team did a great job of settling Jay Cutler down into Mike Martz' quarterback-killing offence, whilst capatilising on the Vikings implosion and managing to hold off Green Bay for the division title. After all that hard work, the danger they could become the next Goliath to Seattle's David can't be good for their nerves; sometimes trying too hard is as bad as not trying at all. Expectations are always high in the Windy City, Cutler is unproven in the playoffs and prone to making mistakes and Seattle has nothing to lose. That's a dangerous mix. Pick: Seattle
This is an incredible match-up and ought to be an incredible game. It's almost pointless debating the team's respective strengths and weaknesses, because they match up so well they almost negate each other, and there's no questioning the desire from either team to get one over their rivals. It's interesting that in the regular season, the road team won each time. It's also interesting that the Ravens are the best road team in NFL playoff history (7-3). Rothlisberger's improvisational savvy and ability to extend plays gives the Steelers something the Ravens don't have, but on the other side Joe Flacco has the best set of recievers the team's had in years and the arm to use them. Saying all that, I think the key to this game is Troy Polamalu. With him, and assuming he is either at or near 100% fit, I think the Steelers win. Without him, or with a sub-par Polamalu, I think the Ravens have the edge, especially if Ed Reed shows up. I'm saying Polamalu makes a good effort, but isn't properly fit, and that'll be the difference. Pick: Ravens
I think the only thing more amusing than the Jets constant attempts to unsettle the Pats with their unending litany of verbal diarrohea is the Pats near total non-reaction to it. In many ways, their press personas epitomise both teams personas on the football field; the Jets play the part of the jumped-up, snot-nosed brat, punching above it's weight, writing cheques they'll struggle to cash, while the Patriots play the part of the consummate professionals, at ease with the inevitability of battle, quietly perfecting the plans they'll use to dismantle Rex Ryan's band of merry men. It's almost like the Patriots evil intergalactic empire versus the Jets rag-tag rebellion, or, to flip the analogy, the Patriots super-efficient special forces versus the Jets belligerent guerilla army. Back to reality; Brady is the league's best quarterback, and won't make the mistakes Sanchez will, and you've got to wonder if all the media hype Ryan stirs up isn't starting to exhaust his own players. Knowing a loss will be all the more humiliating because of your coaches histrionics is an extra burden the Jets players don't need chipping away at them on the inside. Belichecks staunch refusal to indulge Ryan with any meaningful retaliation already gives the Pats an edge which they hardly need. Pick: Pats
With Langenbrunner shipped back to Dallas for what is effectively a second round pick (not a bad return considering), the smart money (i.e. obvious money) says Jason Arnott is next (UFA, probably worth a third) and Stan Fischler was saying he thought guys like Clarkson and Zubrus could be moved, too.
Arnott's already more or less gone public with his desire to be traded : “I didn’t really want to be in this situation. I came here to try and win and be in the playoffs.... It’s not a great feeling... of course, I’d love to play in the playoffs and help another team win.”
Needless to say, those comments incurred the ire of many a Devils fan, which is interesting because when Marty Brodeur alluded to pretty much the exact same thing (I'll explain in a minute), nobody said a word.
A Brodeur trade is fast becoming the elephant in the room. Stan Fischler is adamant it won't happen, but a couple days after I wrote why I think trading Brodeur is a good idea, the man himself said some pretty interesting things. Such as:
"At the end, it’s their decision. I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t want to go anywhere, I want to stay in New Jersey. But, it’s like anything. If their mind will change, there’s not much I can do"
Which isn't really the case at all, given Marty has a no-trade clause. He could block any trade if he wanted to. He then made sense of that comment by adding
"You have to be wanted to play on a team. It’s not healthy to play on a team that everybody wants you out"
So, in other words, Marty wouldn't want to play for a team that wanted to trade him. Which makes the NTC irrelevant. Talking about possible reasons that might make a trade difficult, he said
"I’m a little older, too. It’s a lot different to trade a guy like me with my salary ($5.2 million cap hit) at my age for more than one year. You could see it with (Brian Rolston) what happened."
Yeah, ok... I'd say there was quite a bit of difference between Brodeur and Rolston in terms of value for money. For the same cap hit, you could either have the game's greatest goaltender (who has enough left in the tank to make a serious run at a cup)... or a third line plumber. I'd give it 30 seconds from the time the "Brodeur's available" fax goes out before the phone starts ringing.
The big question seems to be whether the team is officially "rebuilding". Brodeur thinks the team has the nucleus to make a run next year:
“When you have talent like Zach (Parise) and Travis (Zajac) and you have (Jacob) Josefson and (Mattias) Tedenby, some young guys, (Andy Greene), who is coming along real well, and with (Ilya Kovalchuk) being here, you’re talking about a nucleus that could do a lot of good things... And I feel we’re going to have a great chance to win next year, Iike I felt this year too.”
Well, we all saw how well this year's "great chance to win" worked out, and when your core group of players does not include a #1 centre or a #1 defenseman (or a #2 defenseman, for that), and the team has no real chips to trade for those pieces without weakening the team in other areas, I don't see a cup in New Jersey next season. A playoff berth, perhaps, but there's too many missing pieces for anything more.
If the team was planning a proper rebuild, then Brodeur said he would want to move:
"Definitely. No question because you want to play, you want to have success. You want to have at least another chance to win another championship.”
That last sentiment should come as no surprise; it was one of the reasons I thought would be the biggest motivation for Brodeur in a trade scenario. Of course he wants one more cup; not just because it's natural for a sportsman to want to win, but because he knows he's got the ability to win again - he's not one of these older guys who just doesn't have it anymore, regardless of how bad a season he's been having.
I think Marty sidestepped the wrath Arnott received for making more or less the same comments (albeit a lot more bluntly), partly because he's Marty Brodeur and partly because he kept re-iterating that he expected the team could do well next year. Which is easier for him to say because he's got a next year on his contract, which Arnott doesn't. Anyway, the question is, does Marty want to risk writing off possibly the last year of his career based on the potential level of achievement of this team rather than on the actual level of achievement?
Another big factor is Zach Parise. If the team wants to be honest about rebuilding, it means Brodeur would want out, which would need to happen anyway for the team to rebuild. But if that happens, what kind of message does it send to Zach? The team needs to work out a new contract with him - but would he want to sign with a rebuilding project, when he might have a chance to become, say, Crosby's wingman?
It's almost a transparent game of deception; keep Marty, refute talk of a trade, make it look like the team can still be competitive, ignore the alarm bells this season has set-off, and hope Zach (or Zach's agent, who is Arnott's brother...) doesn't see a sinking ship.
This is actually exactly why the team should trade Marty now - his trade value will only decrease the longer time goes on, because unlike Rolston, the extra year on Brodeur's contract is actually a plus. A team would be happier having Brodeur tied down beyond one playoff run because Brodeur easily has another two years in him. Trade Marty now, get a good deal (i.e. one that includes at least one player the team can use, someone young and developing but already playing regularly. Preferably a centre or puck moving d-man), and the team can actually avoid an earnest rebuild by restocking at a critical point.
And if the team needs another goaltender to tandem with Hedberg, Nabokov's still out there. Of course, he'd have to clear waivers, which means the worst team in the league gets first shot at him. Which is convenient.
Seriously, I know I'm more-or-less a lone voice in the internet wilderness barking madness about trading Brodeur, but not only does it make sense to me, I think Marty's thinking about it, too.
“I’m not expected to go anywhere anyway. But, as I said, in the future, you never know.
Marty interview segments cut'n'paste for Tom Gulitti's excellent Devils blog.
Word is Jamie Langenbrunner is about to be traded. He was a healthy scratch against the Flyers tonight, who apparently offered two draft picks for Langenbrunner already, but Lou Lam said he's been offered a better deal elsewhere...
Exciting stuff. No offence, Jamie.
Let me start by saying I don't think Lou Lam would ever trade Marty Brodeur. So let's get one thing clear - this isn't bored rumour-mongering. I just wanted to explore the idea that maybe the best thing the Devils could do right now is trade arguably the greatest goaltender of all time.
Let's look at the facts; Brodeur has the remainder of this burnt Sunday roast of a season and all of the next remaining on his contract. That's if he doesn't retire this summer (and who could blame him if he did?). Safe to say the Devils aren't troubling the playoff picture this year, which means that the team has to have a proper chance at a Stanley Cup next year to justify holding on to a goaltender of Brodeur's calibre this close to the end of his contract (and/or career).
I'm sure, loyalty to the team aside, he doesn't want to eek out the last 18 months of his career splitting time on a team surprised to suddenly find itself thrust into rebuilding mode. Brodeur has already set new and possibly unreachable records in most of the important goaltending statistical categories. You've got to think he wants to end his career having at least equalled his closest rival - Patrick Roy's - number of Stanley Cup victories. In his last 2 seasons, Brodeur could still top Roy's career playoff victory total of 151 - Brodeur is on 99 - if every playoff series went to 6 or 7 games and he won the cup both times (though I appreciate that's beyond mere Hollywood and straight into the realm of science fiction instead). Right now, purely in cup wins'n'rings, it's Brodeur 3 Roy 4. And it'll stay that way barring a miracle in New Jersey or a trade.
Many of the Devils hardcore fans consider any slur against Marty sacreligious; talk of trading number 30 blasphemy. They argue "nevermind his (frankly appalling) season this year, think of all he's done for the team in the past". And it's true - Brodeur is at least half the reason the team won any of it's three cups. But Marty agreeing to be traded at this point (NTC) would represent the absolute best thing he could do for the team now or ever after.
You might argue Brodeurs trade value would have plummeted based on his reality-defyingly hapless season so far, but it's plain to see Brodeur doesn't believe in this incarnation of the Devil's defence (with good reason) and he's unmotivated because for the first time in his career there's nothing to play for. Traded to a contender, with two more chances to nullify at least one of Roy's last outstanding boasts, I'm certain Brodeur would play like it was 10 years ago. The GMs around the league must know that, and I'd say they'd be willing to give up some good meat for it.
Marty can't help this team anymore, and the team won't be good enough quickly enough to help Marty win one more ring either. Like a strained relationship that's getting dangerously close to passing the point where it could end nicely, there's no point in holding on anymore. Let it go! Marty gets traded, brings the team some important picks/prospects/players, the team can turn around it's fortunes that much quicker, and Brodeur gets a couple more shots to go out strong (and how romantic would it be if one of the pieces Brodeur brought back turned into the team's next franchise goaltender?).
I'd love to see Brodeur retire a Devil, too - those one-franchise guys are as rare as an Yzerman off-night - but the potential return on a Brodeur trade would probably be too good to turn down for the sake of the history books or the nostaligia of scared Devils supporters.
* Edit: Another thought occurred to me thinking about the Brodeur-Roy rivalry. I wonder how much motivation there might be for Brodeur in proving he can win a cup with more than one team. That's something Roy achieved, and could be considered a distinction when talking about the game's best ever goaltenders.
Brodeur has had to put up with one frustration particular to the Devils throughout his career - specifically, when Devils fans talk up Marty, haters say "oh, any decent goaltender would have his stats on such a defensive team", and when Devils fans talk up their teams strong defense, haters say "oh, any team would have a strong defence with Brodeur in net". It's almost as though Brodeur will forever carry an invisible asterisk next to his records because he played his whole career for the infamous hockey-killing, defense-first, boring-trapping Devils (almost all of which is jealous BS, by the way, and even when the Devils led the league in scoring and won the cup at the turn of the century, people were still rolling out that crap).
Anyway, Brodeur agrees to be traded, joins a contender and wins one more cup this year or next (or two, who knows?), then all that stigma goes away and Marty can retire with nothing left to prove. I know my harping on about a Brodeur trade is probably quite tiresome to realists and loyal-to-a-fault Devils fans who don't want to face facts, but seriously - the positive reasons for a trade (albeit strictly sports reasons and not off-ice family reasons) outweigh the negative ones by an even greater margin than the potentially record-breaking point dropoff the Devils are dive-bombing towards this season...