Tag Archives: soccer

Classic Psrhea: The Worlds Most Civilized Game (Part Two)

A reprint from the groundbreaking Psrhea Magazine literary website.
This article saw first published in April 1996.

The Worlds Most Civilized Game
(Part Two)

The Games People Play
by Abdullah Shabazz

Read Part One

I love how soccer is run as a business. Here in the US we have the franchise system. The leagues themselves are the business, and rich individuals or consortiums buy a franchise in that league. The main benefit of this is that it guarantees a certain degree of business stability; when was the last time a major sports franchise in America went out of business? They don’t. Entire leagues like the USFL, WHA, and WFL may go out of business, but franchises do not, because the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL will keep them in business; they can actually operate at a loss. Conversely, soccer internationally operates on the club system.

In the club system, athletic clubs not unlike the Downtown Athletic Club, Capital Athletic Club, or 24-Hour Nautilus form their own soccer teams – with youth development squads. A bunch of clubs get together and play each other in a league. Unlike the franchise system where the league controls virtually every team’s existence, in the club system the league only makes the rules for competition. Furthermore, there may be so many teams in the league that the league is broken down into several levels of play.

Lets use England as an example. There are 92 teams in their major league, the Football Association, or FA. Because it is impossible for every team to play each other at least once, the FA is broken down into four levels, the top 20 teams being in the top level, the Premier League. Those twenty teams play each other twice, the team with the best record being the league champions. The next level of 23 teams is Division One, and so on down the line for all 92 teams, four divisions in all.

Any team not in the Premier division of the FA can get there by playing into it. Let’s say you have a club in Division Three. If you are one of three teams with the best record at the end of the season, you move up – or get “promoted”– to Division Two. In order to make room for you in the next level, the three teams in Division Two with the worst records at the end of the season are sent down – or get “relegated” – to Division Three. Keep finishing in the top three in each proceeding league and you eventually make it to the Premier division. As a result, the season is everything. That is, there is no playoff to decide a league champion; those 38 league games decide the champion, who gets promoted and who gets relegated. Every game is important. That means that if you lose the championship by one point then that stupid loss against the last-place team at the beginning of the season did as much to contribute to you losing the championship than that tough last-second tie to the third-place team towards the end of the season. There are no early season honeymoons; one misplaced goal allowed could be the difference between promotion to the Premier division and staying in Division One, or one goal scored could mean the difference between staying in Division Three and relegation out of the league. And have no illusions – there are scores of non-league teams waiting to take your place. In England, there are quite a few former league champions who for some reason have played their way out of the league.

While the Premier division winner is the winner of the league (recognized as the best of all 92 teams) there are in-season league-wide tournaments played in which every team at all levels of the FA play each other in an elimination format and win a league wide championship. The two major ones in England are the FA Cup and the League Cup. The early-round games usually pit a Premier division team against a lower division team, and it’s not unusual for the lower division team to not only beat their higher division counterpart, it has happened in the past that the eventual cup winner has come from a lower division.

The reward for all this is international exposure. The Premier division champion is recognized at the English soccer champion, and they advance to a tournament in Europe, consisting of the soccer champions of 15 other countries, called the Champions Cup. The Cup winners are recognized as the English tournament winners, and they advance to a tournament in Europe, consisting of the tournament winners of 31 other countries, called the Cup Winners Cup. The next four finishers in the Premier division even are rewarded for consistently good play by playing in a tournament in Europe, consisting of the top four finishers in 15 other countries, called the UEFA Cup. In essence, throughout the FA there is always something to play for, so there is no “being out of it by mid-season”. The mantra in every European country with pro soccer leagues is “Get To Europe.”

Playing other teams from other countries is the ultimate result and is made possible by the fact that there is an international soccer organization, FIFA, that insures that every soccer league world-wide plays by the same rules. Which means that interchanging players is commonplace – but there are no trades. Players come and go by “transfers”. Unlike the franchise system, under the club system a player’s contract is with his club not the league. If another team wants your player, you set what is called a “transfer fee”, for which the other club must agree to pay it. Once they agree to pay it, you get the transfer fee and the player’s contract is voided. The player then negotiates a new contract with his new club. If you have a player whose contract has expired, and you don’t wish to resign him, then he gets what is called a “free transfer”, and is free to sign with whomever he wishes (remember, these are less teams and more clubs).

Now this is a system that I think would work well in the states. Let’s use the just completed football season as an example, using the NFL and NCAA’s Div I-A, Div I-AA, Div II, and Div-III as an illustration. Since the season is everything, that means that the Kansas City Chiefs, as the team with the best record, would be the league champions. If there was an international tournament of football league champions, the Chiefs would go. For lack of any other tournaments, the Dallas Cowboys, as winners of the post-season tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, would be the cup winners (in this case, the Lombardi Trophy; we’ll call it the Lombardi Cup). If there was an international tournament of football cup winners, the Cowboys would go. The four teams with the next best records to the Chiefs and Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and Buffalo Bills, would go to an international tournament with 15 other country’s four best teams (if it existed). The New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Arizona Cardinals, by virtue of having the worst records in the NFL, would get relegated to NCAA Div I-A. The Nebraska Cornhuskers, Florida Gators, and Tennessee Volunteers, by virtue of having the best records in NCAA Div I-A, would get promoted to the NFL. It would work the same way for Div I-AA, Div II, and Div III, with teams being promoted and relegated depending on how good or bad they were.

Now who could not get behind this? Who wouldn’t want to see the Cornhuskers (a pro team anyway) play the Cowboys in a game that mattered?. Who gets tired of seeing the Cardinals play like shit year-in and year-out? The promotion/relegation system would force the Cardinals to do the best they can to put the best team on the field at all times without any thought to cutting costs or making a profit. Winning games would be objective one. If Bill Bidwell can’t do that, then Arizona gets sent down until they prove that they can by winning their way back up here. If Bidwell doesn’t have the money to sign quality players in order to maintain or improve his competitive standing in the league, tough shit! Either he figures out a way to compete, or the Cardinals keep getting relegated until they are at the bottom of the food chain.

You can be the richest person in the world and have the wherewithal to sign the best players in the world; in the club system, if you introduce a new franchise, you have to start at the bottom division and spend years working your way up. You don’t get to just come in at the top level or anywhere you please. It’s survival of the fittest – social Darwinism at its civilized best. That’s Life!

Which is exactly my point. Sorry, Mr. Boswell, but life imitates soccer more than it does baseball.

© 1996 Accurate Letters Enterprises/Psrhea Magazine

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Classic Psrhea: The Worlds Most Civilized Game (Part One)

A reprint from the groundbreaking Psrhea Magazine literary website.
This article saw first published in March 1996.

The Worlds Most Civilized Game
(Part One)

The Games People Play
by Abdullah Shabazz

As a disciple of Allah and the true faith of man, Islam, I have come to realize that fun and games in ones free time should reflect ones beliefs to a certain extent. I wouldn’t be able to write this column if I didn’t follow most sports to some degree and living here in the western world the athletic undertakings tend to go towards the primal. That having been said, I am a recent convert to the Muslim faith, so shedding both my attraction to football, baseball, basketball, bowling and boxing, and my attention to hockey, tennis, golf, and auto racing is very difficult.

Besides, I really don’t want to give up interest in any of the aforementioned sports; as much as I tell myself that I shouldn’t watch, I find myself symbiotically attracted, which would explain why it is I’m usually left with lots of free time on Sundays to watch football, or open Monday nights to go bowling. I mean, how can one not appreciate how Michael Jordan glides through the lane, or how Emmitt Smith finds the seam for daylight, or how Tony Gwynn makes putting wood on a baseball look oh-so-easy?

Recently, though, I’ve been attracted to soccer, or futbol as it is known to the world outside of North America. There seems to be a natural beauty to the game that I just can’t explain; the editor of this cyberzine once wrote about soccer: “If you don’t get it, you’ll never get it.” Thomas Boswell once prophesied how life begins on Opening Day [baseball]. While I don’t mean to excuse Mr. Boswell’s harmonic – I believe he’s referring to the sense of renewal he and other fans feel as a result of both the start of spring and the opening of the baseball season – I find more parallels to life in soccer than any other sport. And despite the fact that western “civilization” invented the game, I think it truly is a civilized sport.

Soccer has the same number of players per side as football, eleven, and there is tackling, but not in the American sense. You can’t use your hands or arms and physical contact is limited to non-combative impact. Contact is tolerated as long as the ball is the objective, So decidedly American idiosyncrasies such as body checking, blocking, grabbing, hitting, and football tackling are strictly forbidden. Otherwise it is a foul. Furthermore, you won’t find other American practices such as trash-talking and taunting. And arguing with the referee is verboten. You can say one or two things to him with no raised voices, insults, profanity or vulgarity – and then you get out of his face.

I even like how justice is meted out in soccer. Fouls are not tallied – there isn’t a limit as to how many you can have – but don’t think that, like in basketball, fouls can be used as a strategy. Committing fouls for the sake of committing them, or especially aggressive physical play, or an extremely violent tackle where the ball is not the objective will result in getting “booked”. The soccer equivalent of a basketball technical, a booking is a formal penalty where the referee stops play, calls the offending player to him, gets the player’s name and number, and writes it in a little black book he keeps in his breast pocket. The referee then flashes a little yellow card letting everybody know you’ve been booked. It’s like getting arrested, which makes it more like real life.

Now here’s the kicker: Get two yellow cards in one game and you get “sent off” – the soccer equivalent of an ejection – and your team cannot replace you with another player. In essence, your team has to play with one less player than the number allowed. And because you received two yellow cards in one game, you cannot play in your team’s next scheduled game. There are even some of the more important international competitions where if you get a yellow card in one game and one yellow card in another game, you have to sit out your team’s next scheduled game. Seems kinda brutal, huh?

…But that’s not all: If you do something baldly wrong, such as exhibiting excessively violent play or hitting somebody altogether, the referee won’t even waste his time with a yellow card; he’ll pull out a red card. An even more severe booking, a red card is the equivalent of two yellow cards; you’ll get sent off, your team plays a man down, and you get to sit out a minimum of three games. Believe me, this does a better job of maintaining order than football, baseball, or basketball, where the system of fines and suspensions deters nothing.

That’s not the only thing I like about soccer. I like that there are no time-outs – the game clock is always running – and that the referee not only keeps the official game time but is the only person who knows exactly how much time there is in the game. I used to think that this was uncivilized and barbaric, but I now understand what soccer is trying to accomplish with this. There are no time-outs in life; why should there be in sports? It’s 12:00 pm and you have to get the phone bill paid by 3:00 pm or they turn off your phone. If you stop off at a restaurant on the way for fifteen minutes, that phone bill is still due by 3:00 pm; the phone company is not going to allot you another fifteen minutes to your deadline. Furthermore, you don’t know exactly (and I mean to the second) how long a lot of things will take. You don’t know how long you’ll be stuck in traffic. You don’t how long you’ll be asleep. You don’t know how long it takes to comb your hair, or take a shower, or eat a meal. And you have no idea how long you’ll live. By taking away the time-outs and not knowing exactly when then game will end the inventors of the game of soccer have minimized the time element.

Which is part and parcel with limited substitutions; only three are allowed per team per game. Ergo, with eleven players per side, that means at a minimum eight are playing the entire game with no letup. And once you come out, you are not going back in. In an specialized era where we Westerners are paying $5 million dollars to a relief pitcher to throw six to ten pitches every third game, or $3 million dollars to a placekicker, or $4 million to a third down slot-back or pass rusher in passing situations, the limited substitutions forces soccer to have to find the best possible all-around players and live with the results. No going in for one play or a third of an inning; once you’re in, you stay in and deal with everything that goes on; once you’re out, you are done for the day. If a player gets injured, then his team plays a man short until he can return; otherwise you’ll have to waste one of your three substitutions.

This minimizes the extent of which coaches can have an active participation with what’s going on on the field. The logic is simple: You’ve spend years practicing and preparing to play, and I’m paying you all this money to know what to or improvise throughout an entire game, and I’ve done the best I can preparing you; when it comes time for you to perform, you should know what to do with little or no prodding from me. Look, if there are three clerks assigned to work the front desk at a hotel during a given shift, and one calls in sick, the hotel is not closing down because they don’t have enough clerks that shift; they’ll have to make do with two desk clerks. If the grass needs cutting and dad and son usually do it, but son gets sick, dad still has to cut the grass by himself. Are you now beginning to see how soccer imitates life?

© 1996 Accurate Letters Enterprises/Psrhea Magazine

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FIFA World Cup 2018: Championship Preview

Championship Preview


This is not the World Cup final people were expecting and could have been a round of 16 match-up if Group play had gone to form.  Instead, Croatia surprisingly won Group D by upsetting Argentina and thus got to face the 2nd place finisher in Group C, Denmark, instead of Group C winner France in the round of 16.  The French barely got by in their high-scoring round of 16 win over Argentina, while the Croatians survived on penalty kicks against the Danes.  Since then, France hasn’t allowed a goal, beating Uruguay 2-0 in the quarterfinals and Belgium 1-0 in the semis.  Croatia went to extra time in both rounds, again getting by on penalty kicks against Russia and netting a winning goal against England in the semis in the second extra period.  France was one of the favorites to get to the final all along, while Croatia was viewed as a team that might make it out of group play, but not likely to go any further.  France is considered a strong favorite for Sunday’s championship game, which is a rematch of their 1998 World Cup semifinal game.

France has been on a mission since losing the Euro 2016 final on its home soil to Portugal.  France’s speed, particularly Paul Pogba in the midfield and Kilian Mbappe up front, has proved to be unsettling for opposing defenses, but Mbappe has not scored since the Argentina game.  Les Bleus have instead had to rely on winning goals coming from defenders pushing forward during set pieces in the last two games.  The French have won regardless of winning the possession battle because their defense has been indomitable and has shut downs attacks before shots can even be taken.  In the semis, Belgium controlled the ball 64% of the time, made nearly twice as many passes as France with better accuracy.  Yet, the French took twice as many shots with more on goal because their defense closed down attacks quickly and efficiently.  Except for the outlier game against Argentina, the French defense has given up only one goal in the tournament.

Croatia’s journey to the Cup final has been quixotic.  Their national federation has been plagued by scandal and corruption.  The team’s coach was fired before their last qualifier and they had to beat Greece in a playoff to even qualify for the World Cup.  They got placed in a group with 2014 second-place finisher Argentina, the always tough Nigerian team, and the rising Icelandic squad.  Getting out of the group was no sure thing, but Croatia crushed the group stage, winning all three games while scoring seven goals and only giving up one.  The knockout rounds have been a different story, with all three games requiring extra periods, two of them going to penalty kicks.  Croatia faced adversity in each one, giving up the first goal in each knockout game.  In fact, they gave up very early goals to Denmark in the round of 16 game (and missed a late spot kick) and England in the semis, as well as very late equalizer to Russia in the quarterfinals.  Every time though, the Croatians showed their mettle and persevered.

France is a huge favorite in the championship game and it is easy to understand why.  They possess greater speed, play great defense, have a strong midfield, and have a lot of experience on the big stage.  They have beaten two teams ranked in the top five of the world rankings in the knockout rounds and have not given up a goal in their last two games.  Croatia, on the other hand, has just barely survived at each phase of the knockout round against lesser competition than the French have faced.  However, they have one of the best shot creators in the world in talisman Luka Modric and an attack that can come down the middle or through either wing.  Eight different players have scored goals for Croatia.  France may be the favorite, but they have not faced the adversity that Croatia has faced to get here.  Croatia has a resilience that no other team, including the French, has.  I am picking the upset here.  Croatia has found a way to win every game they’ve played in this tournament so far and I think they do so one last time on Sunday.

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