This past Wednesday, Arjen Robben once again proved why he is a world-class soccer player. Starting for Bayern Munich in their German Cup clash with Borussia Dortmund, a team that has had their number the past few meetings, Robben was the beneficiary of receiving a deflection in the 43rd minute from a tackle just on the outer perimeter of the reigning Bundesliga champions’ 18-yard box. What did he do instantly upon having the ball at his feet?
On Saturday night, the Argentinian maestro for the Columbus Crew, who sports the unusually high number 33 (although 3×3=9…), also had the ball come to his feet several yards outside of the 18-yard box in the 2013 season opener at the Home Depot Center against Chivas USA. What did he do with it?
In the best leagues in Europe, players do this with frequency. Robben’s strike was fantastic, but not necessarily rare. The best players do not think, but rather react in the many situations throughout any given match. Practice is designed for thinking and the game is won by reacting. For example, most do not focus on the immediate pass or action right in front of them, but are cognizant of their surroundings and instead prepare for what the second and third pass needs to be. In those quick moments, they move and act accordingly. In the case of the two shots above, both the Dutchman and Argentine knew what to do in each of their split second decisions. They’ve trained many years for such opportunities.
Arjen Robben and Federico Higuaín showcased moments of brilliance that are celebrated so passionately in “the beautiful game.” To witness this just three days apart was particularly special because two players from completely different backgrounds, cultures and leagues shared an exhilarating commonality of giving its fans the thrill of a game altering goal with a similar impromptu strike on distant pitches, separated by the world’s largest ‘pond’: the Atlantic Ocean.
“Gran Arco de Fútbol!”
Incredibly, regardless of any language barriers, at least everybody can agree both men scored a “great soccer goal!”
At least that was my reaction.
Gus Johnson as “The Voice of Soccer in America.” What?
To soccer fans and television viewers, it is common knowledge that announcers from the British Isles are the most elite soccer commentators on the planet. It’s a fact. As opposed to purely stating the action that is occurring on the pitch plus a few strategic suggestions, the gents from across the pond engage with each other and instead tell stories. They are free flowing and make it sound as if you are in a pub watching the game on the television while sitting next to a couple fellow football fans, and smart ones at that.
Now, is there any play-by-play man in the good ol’ United States of America who can send electricity through the veins of his fellow men, women and children, by which leading them to the nearest tele to indulge in a sport before considered foreign? Will the guy heard in the video below provide the spark that creates a fire of intrigue and curiosity for “the beautiful game” to people in the land that stretches from sea to shining sea and across purple mountains majesty?
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s all relive a few of the magical moments spoken by the aforementioned announcer during the chaotic month of March.
According to a recent Sports Illustrated article, Gus Johnson (yes, the one from the clip above), is being groomed by Fox Sports to become their vocal leader of soccer in America. “…Johnson begins the long road to becoming the voice of the 2018 World Cup for Fox.”
While he has been gaining experience by calling games of MLS’s own San Jose Earthquakes on the radio along with other low-key assignments, his tasks are about to send him into the soccer heavens.
As revealed in SI, “The 45-year-old broadcaster will call his first match for Fox Soccer on Feb. 13 (2 p.m. ET) from Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu when Real Madrid faces Manchester United in a mouthwatering Champions League Round of 16 match. The assignment is the first in a series of high-profile soccer matches for Johnson, including a second Champions League match between Arsenal and Bayern Munich in London on Feb. 19 and a Premier League game between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on Feb. 24. Johnson will call additional Premier League and Champions League matches and is scheduled to call the FA Cup final on Fox on May 11 and the Champions League final on Fox on May 25. Johnson will be on site for each of the games.”
Here could be a few common reactions to this news: Wow. Really? The guy who broadcasts college basketball? Do I get the Fox Soccer Channel? If not, how can I get it?
Before these colossal matches begin in one week, let’s hypothesize his potential based on culture. The men who hail from the British Isles speak casually, but with the highest degree of intelligence and humor, and are all around fun to listen to for ninety minutes. The Mexican soccer announcers are very intense with the fastest tongues and stretch the elasticity of the word “goal” longer than anyone else on planet Earth: “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLL!!!!!!”
FYI: This is the shortened version.
For your listening pleasure, the one and only Andrés Cantor:
And now Gus Johnson will try to define himself as the “voice” of American soccer on Fox. Thus far, there is a vacancy so-to-speak that is waiting to be filled. The commentators on ESPN are 90% former American players who may understand the game, but are poor to average at best in analyzing the sport and generating excitement, superior insight or perspective to the viewer. Also, when MLS resumes March 2nd, take notice the accent of the play-by-play broadcaster. Does it sound a bit…British? Just something to listen for on The Worldwide Leader in Sports’ soccer coverage.
One of the pivotal questions we will be asking is whether or not Johnson will more closely align to the American broadcaster or the British broadcaster? You could say the leap from one side of this spectrum to the other is about the size of the Atlantic Ocean.
Gus Johnson has a big voice and can gin up excitement like only a select few can in today’s world. What does he want to tell anxious soccer fans? As stated in the SI article, Johnson had to reflect on his response for more than a few seconds (30 in fact) as this sport has not become second nature to him…yet.
“What would I say to them? I would probably say just give me a minute and I’m going to become a convert, and once I do, I am going to give you the passion and the commitment to your sport that I do for every other sport that I’m part of. I see this as a great opportunity for my life, and I’m down with it and I want to get in there.”
Imagine that you are a fan and patron of the ballet (just for a few minutes). You enjoy watching ballerinas, with their beauty and striking features, effortlessly glide across the stage in amazement. When a new show is set to premiere a short run at the gorgeous theater downtown, the question is not if you will see the show, but only when.
The lights go down to a glow when the audience sees the curtain rise and soon after comes the first leg movement. The vivid string music picks up a second later. Enchantment fills the air. The next two hours are filled with grace and inspiring strength, as demonstrated by a ballerina’s grand jeté. The drama or sometimes adventure, with a few moments of comedic relief, captures everybody’s attention. The audience is rewarded with such a wonderful and tight performance that a standing ovation is not an optional exercise.
Another night and another show defined by smooth, world-class movements. They took the crowd through a journey of delight and precision. The latter word alludes to the fact that the ballet is a defined and confined art in many ways, yet that is exactly what keeps fans coming back for more. In other words, they are meticulous about what they expect.
But, what if the rumors are true and a new choreographer is set to be hired? Nothing drastic is set to occur, but his reputation is one that demands his dancers be more free flowing. In the strict world of ballet, there are very few exceptions for bending the rules.
It is, ironically, an uncomfortably comfortable art. There are assigned movements and a familiarity (sometimes painful) that becomes second nature to the trained and dedicated professional. It’s not so much about thinking what to do next when dancing in front of the bright lights, but instead it’s about reacting to the music and partners on stage.
This could be a risky move to change a structure so beloved and rich in history and tradition. And yet, the day has been set for when the new choreographer will arrive. His reputation is one of excitement, degrees of unpredictability and all with quicker movement between dancers. The quickened pace will add dynamism that can be difficult to predict, both for those doing and watching. Some long-held beliefs on this ballet stage will be redefined. There will undoubtedly be curiosity and anxiousness.
Outside reviews declared their audiences were “mesmerized” by his adaptations to the traditional ballet. Each ballerina performed with more movements en avant and with a splendid final allegro. It’s new and exciting.
Nobody is exactly sure what to expect.
This past Wednesday, it became official that 41 year-old Pep Guardiola had signed a three-year contract to become the next head coach at Bayern Munich starting this July to replace the outgoing 67 year-old Jupp Heynckes.
“He is an adventurous and attacking coach, who fits at a club that shows guts,” Arjen Robben said.
Pep used his own Tiki-taka strategy at Barcelona from 2008-2012. This team won just a few top-shelf accolades (14 trophies) and also showcased the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and David Villa. Despite the contradiction, this team continues to move and play with a precise fluidity. It is very impressive to witness.
The style of soccer at Bayern Munich is not exclusively defined by structure, discipline and toughness (& winning quite frankly), but are nonetheless paramount factors. There are players who exercise tremendous flare and skill of course, as is evidenced by a Dutchman (Arjen Robben), a Frenchman (Franck Ribéry) and a Weilheim Winger (German Thomas Müller). Possession with world-class individual play is on full display during any given game. However, their passing is not typically accompanied with as much misdirection as is used by the players at Barcelona.
How much of their style will change?
Bayern Munich has won seemingly countless German Football Championships and four UEFA Champions League Titles. They are no stranger to success and winning. But a new coach and a new style is about to reign in Munich.
There will be two firsts come this July. First, the Tiki-taka philosophy will be implemented or adapted with the current players, plus perhaps a couple future big name signings.
A Tiki-taka Tutorial:
Second, Guardiola will become the first Spanish manager of this club dating all the way back to when Bayern Munich entered the Bundesliga nearly fifty years ago in 1965.
Changes are coming and even though they will not alter the very game itself, they are going to be significant. The dance of “the beautiful game” in the capital city of Bavaria will be different from what has been seen there before. While world-class talent will remain along with each individual’s offensive and defensive prowess, the way they move will adjust and how they use their skills at certain moments will have new and spontaneous variety.
There are certain expectations fans of Bayern Munich will want to transition from its previous coaching regimes. But with such a banner hire, the team will look more distinctive compared to years past.
Much like at the ballet, the audience has very particular expectations. Soccer is similar in the sense that its fans demand to be constantly entertained with superior defending, speed, dribbling, passing, shooting, toughness and intelligence. Soccer is “the beautiful game” and its fans are not shy about expressing their support or disappointment to what they see on the pitch…every other minute.
Unlike the ballet, soccer is a physical sport that involves contact and some occasional rough play. Its atmosphere is more lively, less formal and sees more vocal reactions from fans of all ages. And yet the intention of this post is to point out surprising correlations between two contrasting professions.
As with the ballet, soccer fans can be tentative to remove an “Old Guard” for something new.
We’ll all just have to wait and see if Bayern Munich’s faithful will embrace a little “Pep” in their step.