About seven hundred years ago, ‘Wheel of Fortune’ did not refer to a Pat’n’Vanna megasquirt of game-show CheezWhiz (am I the only one here old enough to remember when you had to buy the ceramic dog?), but an oversized accessory for the hippest gal in the galaxy. Her name was Fortuna, and she dangled men from her wrist like a giant charm bracelet, turning them round to glint in the sun or to tumble into shade. When you’re down, there’s nowhere to go but up, and if you’re up, well, don’t look down. Who’s in, who’s out, who’s hot, who’s not … it’s the September Issue. Let’s see who’s taken a ride on Fortuna’s wild Wheel this summer.
1. World Cup Wunderkind
HOT: Mesut Özil. The World Cup is like a class reunion: It’s fun to see the cool kids again, but even better to see who they bring to the party. After a standout summer performance that made the big leagues drool, Özil cooly hung fire until Big Bad Mou made the call. See ya in La Liga, lucky dog!
NOT: Franck Ribery. Less Özil, more Oz. The scrappy survivor who scored his way to the top of the Bundesliga now finds himself in a thicket of clumsy club relations, national team disasters, marital woes and criminal charges. Will he play his way into the clear, or stay stuck in the Woods weeds? Only time will tell!
2. World Cup Crack
HOT: El Guaje. Valencia implodes and David Villa catapults into Camp Nou alongside other two-syllable greats like Xavi, Ibra and Messi. Tapped as a back-up for Torres, he-shoots-he-scores Spain’s way to the semis. His torero celebrations, even if inspired by megasponsor McD’s, struck the perfect balance between patriotism and self-parody. If he can keep Fortuna’s cool, look for Brad to shave that Gandalf beard into a soul patch.
NOT: El Niño. Spain’s EuroStar gets injured, goes dim, gets benched. Torres kits go cold, Liverpool fans shiver and ESPN commentators befuddle themselves trying to figure out who’s cool now that Fernando’s on ice. His boyish charm buys him time, but a good-luck charm wouldn’t hurt either.
HOT: MLS. My undergrads blew off their summer minicourses catching matches at the bar. Landon Donovan gets an ovation on ‘Letterman’. And I can’t get Chicago Fi-yah on my DirecTV Package UltraEspecial without an upchuck of thirty bucks. Phil, Ray, help a SoMa and broadcast a couple of local games between the Coppa / Cupa / Copa matches!
NOT: Equipe de France. I’m sorry, I just can’t do justice to this. Or do this to Kxevin. It’s like rubbernecking a crash. A meteor crash. A meteor that’s crashed at full speed into a volcano, on top of a uranium vein, situated along a fault line … well, yeah. Sorry, Kxev.
4. Wise Old Man
HOT: Vicente del Bosque. The Man from Madrid had plenty silver stacked in his cabinet, but when he doubled-down at midfield, stuck by Torres, benched Cesc and crushed on Busquets, he proved to be made of steel. He then re-collected his starting XI in Mexico, demonstrating total commitment to the Selección as well as an understanding of the deep and complex relationship between the former Empire and its greatest Colony. The Supercopa be damned, ¡a por la revancha!
NOT: Johan Cruyff. You may very well be Barcelona’s total-football father, the coach’s mental mentor, the club’s honorary president and a bag of papas too, but in a given moment Laporta’s gone, Rosell’s in, and you’re out. If he stays quiet for a while, el Flaco can rise again to give Rosell his comeuppance, but the stars have him haunting the Camp Nou as a hoary old ghost.
5. Club President
HOT: Fiorentino Pérez. If what you are trying isn’t working, just … try harder? Fifi throws further funds at Fortuna and awaits the payoff. The salaries of Mou & Co. aren’t chump change, but Fifi’s no chump. He knows that if you keep buying a ticket your number will one day come up, and meanwhile fans empty their pockets to see soccer supernovas like Cristiano and Kaká and Khedira. One trophy and Fifi finally cashes in.
NOT: Sandro Rosell. This guy has bad vibes seeping from his pores. Plus, he’s a klutz. In a simple summer he’s trashed Laporta, stripped Cruyff and bullied Pep. Barça’s books look cooked and the bench has holes big enough to stick a Yaya through. Fans are rightly wary. This year will read in spite of, not because of. Bad news for Barça’s bungling boss.
6. Club Captain
HOT: Iker Casillas. The Madridista Barça fans hate to love will have to hate even harder now. He’s outlasted fickle Fifi, crazy coaches and galácticos galore to go from Raúl’s heir apparent to … Raúl who? He lifts Worlds after Euros as the against-sheet stays clean (Spain only won by one, true, but the opposition lost by zero). His post-triumph smooch transformed Succubus Sara into Spain’s Sweetheart. Fortuna, clearly, crushes on Casillas.
NOT: Cesc Fabregas. Not to set the flamers alight, but Cap’n Cesc comes across this summer as the anti-Iker. According to the press, he’s either a clueless kid caught in a web of Catalan conspirators, a tapped-up captain wrapped in Arsenal’s red tape, the butt of Pique and Pepe’s whoopie-cushion of a joke, or a wayward boyman taken to task at dinner with Big Daddy. Answer the Fabrephone, baby, it’s London calling.
HOT: Arsene Wenger. The Quiet Man of the Emirates kept his peace throughout a media frenzy, a flapjawed daddy, a Catalan campaign and a couple of wasted WorldCuppers over the course of a tumultuous transfer window … and in the end kept his cool, his cache, and his captain. Even if Fabregas is still in a fit, or Arsenal fans in a snit, I’ve no doubt the Loafered One will have all Gunners gung-ho for the season ahead.
NOT: Pep Guardiola. Rosell chucks Txiki. Wenger wins over Cesc. Mou makes waves in Madrid. Del Bosque bites his thumb at you, sir, from Mexico D.F. And Seville pounces in the first leg of the first trophy on deck. In Pep we trust, because right now, we must.
8. Club Approach
HOT: Farmer Teds. World Cup years tend to separate national wheat from overpaid chaff, but so many Barça babies on the final podium brought tears to the eyes of more than one blaugrana lifer. While Mou scavenges superstars, Pep harvests local boys. It cost him some Supercopa, but I’d rather sacrifice a season to see what sprouts at the Farmhouse than make uncertain hay with forty million big E’s. Achoo!
NOT: Galácticos. I just said Fifi may end his misfortune by forking over so much of his fortune, but in terms of what’s new, the move itself is so 2000. We’re all in crisis, we’re all tightening our belts, and Fifi’s on another binge at Soccer Saks. It may be effective, but it’s tacky.
9. Club Kit
HOT: Inter. This is edgy-Euro-Asian cool. It’s skater-dude-meets-soccer-star. And maybe the Milanese won’t feel pressured to tattoo themselves from wrist to pit. Which looks bad when you’re hairy. And when you’re old. And you forget what all the glyphs mean. Just ask Guti.
NOT: Barça. I liked the neon yellow a few seasons back. It was like a giant flashing ‘Caution!’ sign on the pitch. And the Pink Puker, well, I just pretended it was the yellow kit’s photo negative, like when you stare at the American flag too long and then close your eyes and the colors go all psychedelic. But this season’s minty-green monstrosity has got to go. It looks like the television screen when PBS signs off at 3 a.m.
10. Cool Club
HOT: Sevilla. We pinched Dani. Then Adriano. Navas? Off to the Bernaboo. And Kanouté has seen better days. But with a corker of a season (including silver) behind them, Betis in the Segunda, first leg up in the Supercopa and everybody in black fedoras, Sevilla is poised to outmuscle the rest of the Liga to an easy three-spot on the table.
NOT: Valencia. Phew! What happened to the Jewel of the Levante? Wherefore art thou, Che? Where are the Batmen of yesteryear? The team crashed and burned from Cúper to Koemer only to skid along and burn some more. The Davids have all jumped ship, César’s looking to fade into the sunset, and Mata floats along hoping for a lifeboat.