Thursday, July 18, 2019

CAN 2019--Goodbyes and Championship Pick

Dearest Mates,

The “silly season” reaches its terminus. Time to begin plowing through that substantial pile of stoic books and periodicals that have been steadily accumulating on your nightstand. The flippant and fun gives way to the somber and austere. 

Though a return to normalcy doesn’t necessarily dishearten your friendly bookie in quite the same way as it used to, the task of mending my drywall so that I can prepare to frustratingly throw hardbacks like David Brooks’s latest memoir up against them reliably engenders bleak feelings. 

On the topic of “bleak feelings”, why don’t we revisit last Summer’s farewell address?

I actually considered this a rather sanguine, if godless, appeal to the potential for inspired action which resides within all of us. One doesn’t need an invented God to imbue life with meaning. Should you remain convinced that a loving deity watches over humanity, the bookie invites you to read the David Brooks memoir. Older male workaholics need Jesus just as much as they need younger women. Wonderful proof of how delusion drives the self-obsessed.

Anyway, let’s aim for something a mite more cheerful this Summer. We’ll begin with a question posed by 23-M.

Reader: How in God’s good name are you still typing, Vicey? You should have dropped dead weeks ago.

A reasonable question deserves a thoughtful answer. Some loaded down Summer this has been. Factor in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and we’ve covered four major tournaments. The bookie has covered 128 fixtures over the course of 39 days. He’s written 64 posts averaging twelve pages and some 4200 words per day. All of this while working a full time job, volunteering, and coordinating a global betting/riffing syndicate with over thirty active members. 

I assure you I don’t list such statistics in the interest of self-aggrandizement. After all, you won’t have to scroll very long through these pages to find typos, missing words, and factual errors. There exists no shortage of evidence revealing mental, physical, and intellectual fatigue. The bookie ultimately doesn’t know how it all got done or even whether he could produce such numbers again. Atheists fail to come up with answers just as much as everyone else, and are more than happy to admit it. 

One truth I can confidently assert concerns the fact that doing what one loves and maintaining contact with people one enjoys infuses one with boundless energy. So much of life centers around making ends meet though doing what you genuinely hate. So it goes. The rigorous discipline necessary to tolerate the intolerable saps one’s energy. Maintenance of one’s personal drive sucks up all the fuel. Before one knows it, one is coasting through on fumes.

Those who do have the rare privilege of undertaking work that they honestly love, if even on a very limited basis, have no course to whine or bitch about anything; not even ennui. Burnout doesn’t come into play to those immensely grateful for their chance. That’s why you see footballers still full sprinting even after playing six tournament matches in under three weeks. That’s how a writer finds keeps churning out words even after 700 plus pages. 

Footballers in these tournaments don’t allow their enthusiasm to slacken. There simply isn’t time for it. They remain intensely aware that the openings afforded them are narrow and time-sensitive. Your friendly bookie operates under the same parameters. Whether it’s the next match or the next post, one focuses one’s attention forwards, onwards, and upwards. A glance back possesses utility only should one have a mistake to learn from. Otherwise, the only other non-task oriented thing one should focus on is the clock. The irreversible flow of time happens to be the sole obstacle truly standing in your way. 

Footballers also rely upon their colleagues to inspire and instill. They feed off of each other. Your friendly bookie has his “M”s. False perceptions of enervated emptiness are easy enough to defeat when one has such great mates. Summer can never be considered complete until 88-M—the other Shadow Scholar—checks in with his thoughts. 

In the Day Thirty-Three recap, your friendly bookie took it upon himself to compose a three-page metaphysical mini-essay on the subject of self-forgiveness. Baghdad Bounedjah’s sideline behavior called for something completely off tangent. That’s how we roll over at the Syndicate. Covering 128 fixtures isn’t enough. We’ve got to work in some soul searching as well.

My much-cherished friend had this to add to the bookie’s pontifications:

Reader: Us former football captains aren’t meant for the sidelines, Vicey. Comfy, cozy, and lucrative they may be. Insufferable bullshit reigns when the vain and stupid run the field. You know as well as I do that the shallow prey upon vacuums. They love to make everyone as miserable as they are.

He’s right. The blamers, whiners, and professional victims hog the megaphone, not to mention the Presidency and the piece-of-shit management jobs. Fucking leeches want to drain you, but you don’t have to let them in. Your friendly bookie’s most sincere wish for all of his dear friends in the coming year is that you continue to strive for the associations that fill you with energy, positivity, and ideas. 

To those caught in a constrictive tower unable to see how expansive and beautiful this world truly is, your bookie swears to you that color and light are within your grasp. Possibilities abound for those who brush aside distractions and keep moving onwards, upwards, and forwards. Don’t tolerate those who would play petty games with your heart. Your heart belongs to you, and it will lead you to a beautiful tomorrow. Ignore trifling ticks.

Bookie loves you, brothers. You’ll always be welcome in this house. 

You’ll never watch alone ; )

Time for “Peace with the Metric System”, gentlemen. 

“Peace with the Metric System”

“I don’t know what to say really. Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives. All comes down to today. Either we heal as a team, or we’re going to crumble. 2.54 centimeters by 2.54 centimeters…set piece by set piece….til we’re finished. We’re in hell right now gentlemen. Believe me. And…….we can stay here, get the shit kicked out of us, or………..we can fight our way back…….into the light…….we can climb our way out of hell. 2.54 Centimeters at a time.

Now I can’t do it for you. I’m too old. I look around, I see all of these young faces and think……..I mean……..I’ve made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make. I…ah…. pissed away all my money, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me. And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror. 

You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you…. I mean that’s…that’s…...that’s part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of 2.54 centimeters. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small…..I mean…one half a step too late or too early, you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite kick it. The centimeters we need are everywhere around us! They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for those 2.54 centimeters. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for those 2.54 centimeters. We claw with our fingernails for those 2.54 centimeters! Because, we know when we add up all those centimeters, that’s gonna make the FUCKIN difference between winnin and losin!!!!!!!! Between living and dying!!! 

I’ll tell you this: In any fight, it’s the guy who’s willin to die, who’s gonna win that 2.54 centimeters. And I know, if I’m gonna have any life anymore, it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for those 2.54 centimeters!!! Because….that’s what livin is!!! The 15.24 centimeters in front of your face!! 

Now I can’t make you do it! You’ve gotta look at the guy next to you. LOOK INTO HIS EYES!! Now I think you’re gonna see a guy who will go those 2.54 centimeters with you. I think you’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows, when it comes down to it, you’re gonna do the same for him. That’s a team, gentlemen. And, either we heal, NOW, as a team……..or we will die…as individuals. That’s football guys. That’s all it is. Now………..WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?!?!?!?!”
Supreme Champion of Africa—Senegal vs. Algeria


I sometimes wonder if there exists a more profound pleasure in life than being proven dead wrong about something. When life contravenes one’s carefully calibrated somber expectations, it reminds one that predictions formulated in the head are often untrustworthy. When previewing the Malagasy football team less than a month ago, I wrote the following:  

From CAN 2019—Round One

Plenty of arguments for expanding the tournament field to 24 teams over the course of this post. Here’s one against. As cartoonishly bad as…well….the cheaply made cartoon movie series named after their isle. Somehow they’re not even the worst team in this group. Their striking corps is adequate enough to leave them mildly competitive in their sub confederation. There’s also an un-official Indian Ocean association of sorts that gifts them easy competition. 

Qualified out of a weak group that featured one of the worst Equatorial Guinean sides in years. Mostly French second leaguers on this squad. The strikers have been in the game a while, surely too long to look anything other than exhausted at this level.

Now I’m searching online for a tricot, annoying everyone with “Barea Horns” goal celebrations, and lamenting the fact that I can’t figure out how to watch Indian Ocean association games. The Malagasy have turned out to be the story of the tournament.

Your friendly bookie gets it dead wrong often enough. We even did a short lived segment about it during the 2014 WM. 33 and 36-M, among others, love to bring up the fact that I’ve picked the wrong onset winner in 26 of 29 tournaments. We’ve already closed the book on two tournaments for which I picked the wrong outset winner, pushing the all-time stats to 3-31. I also incorrectly picked the U.S. over Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final. Oops. 

I do wish to point out the fact that I tipped Senegal to take this crown from the onset. I’m going to plow through some reservations and bloody well tip them again here. I might be wrong. We’ll write it out a bit. Here are my thoughts on the matter: 

Two major issues still plague the Senegalese manager as he prepares to engineer a reverse result. Centerback stalwart Kalidou Koulibaly will be ineligible for the final after garnering a second yellow against the Tunisians in the semis. An injury to Salif Sané had already forced him to move Cheickou Kouyate back to centerback and give him the captain’s armband. Sané did get some minutes in as a sub in the semis, but it is unclear as to whether he is fully fit enough to start. 

Cissé has only one other natural centerback on his roster. The 23-year-old Pape Abou Cissé has only been capped thrice and hasn’t seen any action in this tournament. There’s also the matter of this team not having a designated penalty taker. Sadio Mané relinquished the role after missing two of three spot kicks in the initial five matches. Saviet stood up to take one in the Tunisian match, but he too missed. 

The Foxes have refined an effective passing scheme as they’ve grown into the tournament. A flexible 4-4-2 reverts to a 4-5-1 whenever control over the tempo needs to be exerted. Sofiane Feghouli slides inward alongside Adlene Guediourra to get the triangles moving. Ismael Bennancer and Riyad Mahrez often take turns drawing coverage. Youcef Belaili drops back leaving Baghdad Counedjah as the target man. 

This worked extremely well against Cote d’Ivoire in the quarterfinals, but head coach Djamel Belmadi made some ineffective and—I would argue—unnecessary tweaks against Nigeria in the Semis. Shifting Mahrez left and moving Feghouli wide right clogged the engine a bit. It took the foxes some time to get their triangles correct and overall creativity suffered. Mahrez’s set-piece wonder at the death spared them added extra time and possible elimination.

I think we go with Aliou Cisse here. One must respect the man with the perfectly starched shirts and the viral “Victory Fists”. 

 Take us home, good sir. 

THE PICK: Senegal +1 Goal

Enjoy living your life. Enjoy it for its own sake. Dance to the music. Appreciate the painting. Delve deeper into that novel. Make laughter and love as often as you can. Live lionhearted or don’t bother living at all

We’ll meet again. The Syndicate will return. For the time being……

“Go kick a ball with a stranger”

Seriously…go kick a ball with a stranger. 

--S.S. P.V.