With all the buzz ‘bout who’s coming, it’s easy to dismiss who’s going. Who’s coming generates excitement: He’s only 14 years old! He scored 8,973 goals for the youth squad! Imagine what will happen when he plays alongside him! And HIM! And HIM!
The goings, meanwhile, read like rejections from an on-line dating service: He’s too old. He has no style. He doesn’t get out enough. He didn’t live up to his profile.
But the goings give me, oh, what would Pep call it? Ah, I know. A fee-leen.
I read the news today, oh boy …
It’s really over. Raúl shuffled off to Schalke. I knew that the Special One spent Cup season transforming Raúl Madrid into Real Moudrid. But still! At 33, the Captain’s not that old. And with 7 goals last season, he’s not that bad. He’s not controversial, petulant or irresponsible. And he’s … Raúl. The White Knights’ santo 7 seña (ironic, I meant to type an ampersand and the Shift key stuck). The all-time leading scorer of the Champions, the EE and the Spanish selection. I don’t know of any other player who has received a personal adiós from King Juan Carlos II. But those rumors that Luis Aragonés removed him from the 2006 Spanish squad because he undermined the coach’s authoritah among the players …
The week’s other notable departure was that of José María ‘Guti’ Gutierrez. He’s as old as Raúl. And, no, he’s not as good. He’s always been a troublemaker, with the sleeve tattoos and metro hair and that cursi H on his jersey. But he’s also a real canterano, up from the RM kiddie squads, and perhaps La Liga’s ultimate Super Sub. He’s kind of an inside joke in Spain, with a cameo in the delightfully tasteless Torrente movies, so he’s not without a sense of humor. He’s not without his tantrums, either: we remember his outburst to Pelly during the Alcorconazo that got him a big ol’ time out just like Kaká generous recovery time from a difficult injury, just like Kaká …
I’m no conspiracy theorist. Eras are not eternities. These are older players past their prime, and with Maicón in Madrid it’s Galácticos Redux: The Special Edition. Iker will step into his official role as the Madridista Barça fans hate to love, and Ramos will commit enough nefarious fouls to keep the morbo flowing. But … but … let’s put it this way: In spring I advocated for Mourinho because I thought he was the only coach ruthless, manipulative and ambitious enough to undercut Raúl and Co. I just didn’t think he’d cut them. Guti, give our best to Bernd!
Meanwhile, somewhere between Strawberry Fields and Harrison …
Rafael Márquez and Thierry Henry cross the pond to play for New York’s Red Bulls this year. Ostensibly, Rafa came over because he wanted more playing time; at 37, Henry realized that his playing time was running out. No doubt that the Red Bulls’ attendance will spike, if only because footy fans are rushing the Arena to convince Henry that not all Americans are as moronic as Fox’s ‘Good Day’ anchors before Rafa bumps into him in the locker room and assures him that, yes, they are.
I once wondered if Rafa could do what Beckham could not, that is, bring soccer to ‘flyover country’, the vast prairie spanning CA to NY. This, for me, is the real test of soccer success: Can Henry hack it in Packer Country? Do not be fooled, Coasters: ‘SoccerMom’ denotes a white Midwest political demographic, not a sports reality. For all of June’s ESPN / ABC anchors spouting off about the Upcoming Soccer Ascendancy (‘Every cool American kid knows Landon Donovan!’), my local broadcasters only mentioned Cup results after the Packers, the Brewers, the Bucks, the Badgers, the East Memorial High girl’s track meet, the New Glarus Pee-Wee Bake Sale … you get the idea.
I am interested in the Rafa-Titi move because it may settle a long-standing argument with the Hunky Soccer Husband (especially since said spouse is currently winning the argument). When Beckham came to LA, I cried, ‘Oh, this is it! He’s a soccer star! More important, he’s a star! He knows Tom Cruise! Posh wears Tom Ford! They’re handsome! They’re chic! They’re Hollywood! And since white Americans love Hollywood, Beckham will bring soccer to flyover country!’
The HSH grimaced. ‘White people will not go for Beckham. The MLS needs Márquez, and they need Márquez in LA.’
‘That is racist,’ I said. (This was last year, before the Tea Party redefined ‘racist’ to mean ‘a person of any ethnicity other than Caucasian’.) ‘White people like nothing more than handsomer richer white people. I see Becks on a Wheaties box!’
‘The future of soccer in this country are the Latinos in this country,’ replied the HSH. ‘And Latino fans won’t pay to see a Hollywood star. They want soccer stars, and if they’re Latino, all the better.’
Then I watched, chagrined and cringing, as Becks crashed while his wife burned. It didn’t help that he has a third-grade voice in that six-pack chest, or that she comes off as a walking Swiss Army knife. For a celebrity couple, they have the least spark I have ever seen. The only people I know who became enamoured of them were fashionistas and Flyoverians, as a rule, do not identify with fashionistas.
Along the HSH line of reasoning, the MLS moved smarter with Cuauhtémoc Blanco, but I think the problem with Blanco among blancos is that he has no personal appeal. He’s short and un-handsome. You have to know who he is where he’s from to care about what he does, and neither factor is so compelling. He’s too narrowly-defined to broaden soccer’s appeal in the States, and given the short-and-not-too-handsome issue, he has little commerical value either. He doesn’t even have an All State ad. I love All State ads.
The affected Harry is not going to affect the situation in Harrison. He’s here because he enjoys New York, and although someone like Gwyneth Paltrow may be GOOP-ing all over herself to fête the Frenchman in Manhattan’s Monkey Bar, soccer’s most manly metrosexual is not going Midwest anytime soon. It will be us diehards, Boomer Francophiles or graduates of some Paris study-abroad program of random culture and/or color who will charge Red Bull practices with our knock-offs and Sharpies, begging Henry for his John Hancock.
It remains to be seen, though, if Rafa, with his iconic status, his statuesque looks and his exquisite technique, can not only bring the entire East Coast Latino population to Jersey (oh please I want to see Chris Christie draped in papel picado), but also convince Flyover Fred that fútbol is more cool than cute. Maybe we suburban soccer moms will find Rafa as dreamy as Latino Lovers like Lorenzo and Ricardo and Julio and Enrique and Ricky and oops, well, maybe not Ricky, well, Lucy’s Ricky, yes, but not the other one, so much … And maybe our kids will try to clear it like Rafa and Márquez will become synonymous with MLS and the M in MLS will stand for machismo and maybe …
… maybe one day the Red Bulls will play Suaharos. Away.
A girl can dream, can’t she?