Guest post by Marquis Escalier, writing from New York
He was a funny looking lad. Not really of the kind with an obvious oddity in his face, like big ears or large nostrils (that would just make one look and giggle quietly). No, this boy had a vibrant air of intrigue and oscillating daftness about him. And it was a pity because he probably wasn’t even 17 or 18 years old, and, failing serious facial reconstruction, faced the prospect of life filled with strange stares and muffled laughter.
Nevertheless, unfazed by the looks from the Sunday morning faithful he plodded his way to the bar and took a seat. The Arsenal kicked off against Man City nigh two minutes later, and I think for the most we forgot about him.
Indulge me for a minute while I introduce you to the regulars. There’s Jack, who’s been following the Gunners since ‘81. John, from Islington, who’s held a season ticket every year before moving to New York. Jane and Sarah, who think Cesc is, um, Cescy. The lads from the supporters club. The lads from London. The lads from North Africa. The fat Frenchman who looks like an obese Robert Pires. Big Arsenal fans all. Here every game. We sing about Wenger, we sing about Tottenham. We only drink Guinness and talk about life in the New World.
The modern player he adores, predictably enough, is Lionel Messi. “He plays like a child in a playground, unaffected by tactics, teammates or opponents.” But Messi would not, he believes, be as great as he is if it weren’t for Pep Guardiola “who does not try to confine his talent but gives Messi all the space he can express it.”
And that, in a nutshell, is what Baggio would like more coaches to do: “One should never denigrate talent, as happens far too often at grassroots, when young players are told off for trying a backheel or some clever dribbling.
“For me, football has always been about trying something difficult, truly inventive or an action that will be truly remembered. I’ve never really been satisfied by the easily scored goal.”
That vision of football, he feels, has been undermined because “modern football is increasingly dominated by the coaches, their narcissism, their tendency to put themselves above the team and their players.”
By Eric Beard, writing from Barcelona
When 90 minutes were up and the whistle blew for extra time, time, for a moment, seemed suspended. Perhaps it was exhaustion, frustration, unbelievable pressure, or just two things wonderfully canceling one another out, but every player on the pitch in Valencia for the Copa del Rey had a moment of pure “what more can I do?”. Maybe it was Xavi finding a few inches time and time again only to find that Mourinho’s defensive shape was absolutely perfect. Maybe it was Pepe’s glorious header off the post or Dani Alves’ near-perfect performance making Mesut Ozil seem nothing more than malignant on the wing. Maybe it was Messi after being kicked by Xabi Alonso or Ronaldo not getting a few calls because of his reputation or Pedro seeing he was marginally offside moments after erupting into ecstasy. Every player will tell you that they cherished those minutes against their rivals, but at the same time those minutes were filled with the highest degree of irritation. But is all this angst, all this trepidation, simply football at its highest form?
And the crazy thing is there are two more to go in the next couple of weeks. The first match was edge of chair madness. The second was amazing bordering on transcendent. What’s next????