One should never start with an apology. And so Tactically Naive is not sorry for being a day late, and will not be asking your forgiveness. After all, if football was fun yesterday, then what must it be today. Fun plus one. That’s right. You’re welcome.
The vindication of Woodrow Wilson
How are you feeling about the Nations League, Europe’s answer to the problem of boring international friendlies? Baffled? Angry? Slightly titillated?
All are reasonable reactions. For a start, the thing is a little bit baffling. On the grand spectrum of competitive complexity, which begins with the FA Cup — winners stay in; losers go out — and ascends beyond reason into ingenuity, madness, and that edition of the Caribbean Cup where two teams ended up needing to score an own goal, the Nations League definitely tends towards the latter extreme.
55 teams divided into four leagues, each subdivided further into four divisions, with promotion for the winners and relegation for the losers. Then, at the end, a playoff for the four best teams, a path into the European Championship for the four best teams who haven’t already qualified through more conventional means, and maybe some connection to the World Cup if that seems like a good idea.
It’s not that it doesn’t make sense. But like the flag above, all the sensible component parts get a bit psychedelic when you try to take them all in at the same time.
And it is definitely a little angering, at least for anybody concerned with the far more serious business of Winning Actual Football Competitions. Jurgen Klopp called it the “most senseless competition in the world of football,” on the grounds that his Liverpool players are already knackered after all the gegenpressing he makes them do.
(Maybe take a tip from Jose Mourinho, Jurgen? If you annoy your players to the point they don’t want to run around any more, they’ll be much fresher. Advantage the Special One.)
Still, it’s strange, the way sport works on the mind. The fealty to labels. Drape a competitive structure over something, stick a shiny pot at the end of it, and suddenly, magically, it matters. Maybe not as much as the World Cup. Maybe not as much as the Intertoto Cup. But more than any “friendly” ever could.
Eric Dier vs Sergio Ramos with one of the most fabulously pointless clatterings ever seen. Magnificent. pic.twitter.com/hYfGBTmgdX— Panini Cheapskates (@CheapPanini) October 15, 2018
Elsewhere, the Netherlands demolished Germany — that summer crisis is really stretching out — and Roberto Mancini went for a dance on the pitch as Italy beat Poland in the final minute. That result, incidentally, means that Poland become the first side relegated in Nations League history.
Most important, however, was Gibraltar’s win over Armenia, the first competitive victory in their history. A remarkable achievement, and one they celebrated with this absolutely perfect non-league-side-in-with-a-chance-of-getting-on-television-next-round huddle. Complete with goalkeeper who thinks about launching himself into the middle, then bottles it. We are all Gibraltarians now.
Clean sheet ✅— Gibraltar FA (@GibraltarFA) October 13, 2018
3 points ✅
First ever points ✅
That winning feeling ⚽️ !! pic.twitter.com/yqF5e0DYLL
Taxi for Preston Edwards
Speaking of non-league football ...
At Dulwich v Palace and the most non-league thing just happened. The guy over the tannoy read the registration of a car that was being towed. The Dulwich keeper suddenly started frantically calling to someone in the crowd.— Jim Daly (@jimdalycomedy) October 11, 2018
It's his car.
Oh yes. That’s the good stuff.
TN was actually at this game, though sadly up the other end when all the fun happened. The car’s registration number was actually read out a few times, though it wasn’t until the words “will be towed” were added that Dulwich’s keeper, Preston Edwards, decided that he needed to take action. Apparently he was running late.
[total absence of grinding gear noises, since the link is so seamless]
On the pitch, meanwhile, he wasn’t doing quite such a good job of blocking the way. Dulwich shipped five.
The most boring of all the Turtles
Just before the international break got going, there was some inevitability from Monaco. Manager Leonardo Jardim was sacked after a frankly rubbish start to the season: the sash-wearing casino botherers are 18th in Ligue 1, with one win and just six points from their opening nine games.
Hard to survive that, though from a broader perspective, Jardim had been doing one of the more extraordinary jobs anywhere in Europe. After finishing third in his first two seasons at the club, he coached them to the title in 2016-17, ahead of money-burning PSG; they also reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. Then last season they finished second.
Not bad for anybody. For a coach whose players are all wearing gigantic price tags, and sandwich boards reading BUY ME PLEASE and EVERYTHING MUST GO, little short of miraculous. Off went James Rodriguez, Yannick Carrasco, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Anthony Martial, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko ... on went Monaco. This was a case study of resilience and team-building in the face of chaos.
Well, until recently. But four seasons is a decent run for any manager, and Jardim emerges out the other end with a reputation for being able to take raw talent and refine it into immense profits, excellence, and silverware against the odds. Quickly. More than once. Which is more or less what everybody’s looking for.
And so his dismissal does something very interesting to the elite coaching pool of Europe: it adds another shark. There are a fair few managers under serious pressure at the big clubs of Europe, and now Jardim joins Zinedine Zidane in swimming around ominously, looking for work. We’re not saying Jose Mourinho or Niko Kovac should be worried. But that cello music is definitely getting louder.
In Italian footballspeak — calcio chat? no, probably not — the chip/lob/humiliating arc over the goalkeeper is known as “il cucchiaio.” The spoon. Which is, we can all agree, excellent.
But there are spoons and then there are spoons. This, from James Rodriguez against the USA, for example. A spoon. But also: a spoon.
There are of course many spoons out there in cutleryland, and TN would like to propose that we bring this variety into football. So, Davor Suker vs. Denmark was an ice-cream scoop. The panenka, given its closeness, can be the demitasse, the tiny espresso spoon.
And James? It’s a spoon, but streamlined and delicate, with sharp teeth that bite through the air. Il cucchiaio di pompelmo, then. The grapefruit spoon.