The footy calendar was finally released this week and my life is beginning to have meaning again. It’s not final, of course, because some of the matches will be on Saturdays, and some on Sundays, and the midweek matches get shuffled round too. Plus, until UEFA conducts the draws for the European matches and nails down the match dates, the Italian teams involved in that can expect some additional shuffling. Or it could snow, or more likely, flood. But this provides the general contours of the season.
Some things jump out at me right away. There will not be a match on my birthday, there might be a match during my brother’s wedding but it’s only Lazio so who cares, there’s an international break over the Columbus Day weekend so WHATEVER WILL I DO WITH MYSELF?, the last month of matches–Atalanta, Roma, and Bologna away, Crotone at home, and the derby at the J stadium–ought not to be too much of a challenge, aside from Roma. I’d love to give props to the Toros, but you know what? They ditched coach Ventura, who made them better than they actually are; they pissed off their good strikers by loaning in new strikers so the good strikers left and now the loanees are gone and no one left except Maxi Lopez and I don’t think his mother even thinks he can score goals any more; they hired Coach Sinisa “tight pants” Mihajlovich whose record of restoring confidence and order to teams in decline is laughable; they brought in pretty, pouty Serbian head case Adem Ljajic who has already played for Coach Pants, who said he was “too fat” and spent too much time on Playstation and eating chocolate; they sold their Beast-Captain who was not only arguably their best player but has left them without a credible defender under the age of 90; AND, for some reason the bought the highly unreliable Iago Falque, whose main claim to fame is the way teams pass him around on loan like a hysterical but smelly gag gift. It’s not looking good for Toro Power this season.
I am reserving judgment on the mercato so far. Some stalwarts left, Padoin, Caceres, because it was their time. Some–HOLY FUCK! JORGE MARTINEZ WAS STILL ON THE BOOKS AFTER ALL THIS TIME?! COULD MAROTTA FIND NO ONE TO TAKE HIM OFF OUR HANDS IN THE LAST SIX YEARS? Well he’s gone now at long last. Carlo Pinsoglio and Nicola Leali are out on loan again, but at least they still belong to us. Juan Cuadrado’s loan expired and he went back to Chelsea where he will play for Coach Conte who is now officially Dead To Me. And Real Madrid activated Alvaro Marota’s buyback clause so the suits stupidly let him go. I wish I had been there to beat some sense into their boolum heads. It is true that Dybala pairs better with Mandzukic than he does with Marota. But Mandzukic gets broken a lot and he’s 30. Dybala can’t play every day. Marota is 23 and scored some of the most important goals of the season. He is one of a handful of stars of the future. We should have kept him at any price. Seriously. Between Marota and Gonzo? I choose Marota based of future potential, but more on Gonzo later. Minus a lot of points for the outgoing aspect of the mercato so far.
Zero points for the incoming part. Pjanic is a whiny little bitch and 32,000,000 euro is waaaaaay too much. I’ve never heard of Pjaca. I like Mehdi Benatia but he’s 29 and if you’re looking for the next group of defenders to replace the BBC, Benatia is too old, and all you’re really doing is cutting into Rugani’s playing time and making him want to quit like Ogbonna did. And as for Dani Alves—yeah. Well, I’ll never type his name again. His name is Punk. Punk is my number one all time least favorite football player. I hate him more than Arjen Robben, more than John Terry, more than Sergei Busquets. He is a vicious tackler. He cheats and then he gloats. He’s a dirty diver. He has a tattoo of his mother’s name in big calligraphy on his lower abdomen between his navel and his dick. His OWN name, I could probably deal with. That’s just a garden variety egomaniac and footy is full of those *coffcoffZlatancoff* But Mommy? Is he trying to dissuade people from giving him blowjobs? Is he trying to say “You can blow me baby, but I love my mama best.”? “When I think of my mother, I feel a rumbling in my lower intestines and have to run for the toilet?” There is no good explanation for this. Plus, he’s Brazilian, and like many Brazilian football stars, he suffers from a We Are the Champions mentality, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Brazil has sucked balls in international competition in the last 10 or so years. Patrice Evra was difficult for me, but I managed, somehow, to adjust. I mostly pretend he isn’t there, and it helps that’s he hasn’t been a douchebag like he was at Man U. But I will never adjust to the Punk.
Which brings me to Gonzo. Gonzo and I go waaaaaay back and I am very happy to see him in stripes. I am also happy that losing Gonzo has apparently made Zio Aurelio lose his shit. Hee! Try paying your players what they’re worth, asshole! But 90 million euros? Is he really up there with the likes of CR7, Gareth Bale, Neymar and Luis Suarez? Well Suarez, of course. My dirty laundry is worth more than Suarez. It’s a lot of money. And I wouldn’t bet on him scoring 36 league goals this season. Those were once in a generation numbers. Plus, MAYBE HE WOULD HAVE BEEN AN AWESOME PARTNER WITH MORATA? HMMM? BUT NOW WE’LL NEVER KNOW WILL WE? Can you imagine? Two world-class striker teams? Dybala/Mandzukic and Morata/Gonzo?
The defection of Coach Dead To Me to South London had made the summer mercato rumors more frightening than usual because of the possibility that he might poach some zebes. Add to this the Euros, where you had American sports commentators and British commentators using their prejudices to arrive at obscene conclusions. The British, normally Italian-haters of the first degree (except for Ian Darke, Steve McManaman, and Martin Tyler, all of whom know their shit and are a pleasure to share a match with), all of a sudden were drooling over the prospect of luring my special boys over to the land of hoof it and hope, which tends to support my theory that they only pretend to be haters because they are trying to conceal that they are jealous of the Italians’ good looks, lovely language, and edible food. So some British idiot starts it by thinking that it would nice to have Leo Bonucci in England and Coach Dead To Me and LeoDingbat like each other and work really well together so maybe Coach Dead to Me can persuade Roman Abramovic to come up with the kind of money that would convince LeoDingbat to leave the only team he has ever loved and the team where he has won five consecutive scudetti, been part of the best and most respected defense in Europe, been an absolute fucking hero to his fans, and has said he will never ever leave. Wouldn’t that be awesome. So he repeats his speculation and then someone repeats it as an actual possibility and before you know it, there’s a bona fide rumor going around that Leo is going to Chelsea. The British repeat it because they want it to be true and because they don’t know enough about calcio to understand how unlikely it is to actually be true, and the Americans repeat it because they are stupid and have nothing to say but believe that they have to fill every moment with blah blah blah and therefore will spout nearly anything out of their pieholes rather than just wait for something that’s actually worth saying. Whew.
And then Dirtbunny hears the rumor and has to talk herself down from the ceiling, and it’s mostly OK but the truth is you never know about mercato rumors and she cannot unhear what she has heard so there’s a tiny voice in the back of her head for the rest of the summer going what if Leo goes to Chelsea?
But by far the scariest of all, the mother of all mercato rumors is the claim that Juve is selling Paul Pogba to Manchester United for 120 million euros. I can believe the price. He’s worth it, and then some. Pogba is the man. He is going to be the next one to be as big a star as Cristiano Ronaldo or Zidane. His quality on the pitch is incalculable. Even so, he may be more valuable as a star, and I don’t mean by selling more tickets or more souvenirs. If you’re the next big thing and you’re considering where to sign, which is more attractive: I could get to know Neto and play in a Coppa Italia quarter-final! or I could get to know Paul Pogba and maybe win the Champions League! The presence of world class talent attracts additional world class talent, which is why Cristiano Ronaldo is playing at Real Madrid and not in Abu Dhabi. Paul Pogba wins trophies now and five years from now and through the players he attracts and the players they attract ten years from now and thirty years from now until one of the suits does something shady and everything gets all fucked up again.
So: To Beppe Marotta from someone who is no particular expert but is incredibly smart and sees things from a different angle that you may not have thought through, POGBA MUST STAY. The 120 million euro fee is dwarfed by the massive lost opportunity costs of keeping. Massive. He is quantum. The last time you had a player who was this quantum, his name was Gianluigi Buffon.
This has gotten pretty long, so let’s skip the Euros except to comment obscurely on how things might have been if Coach Dead To Me had sent a different lineup into the penalty shootout.
The fifth scudetto. Five in a row. After a krap kommencement to the season, when it looked like Juve might finish in the bottom half of the table, they pulled it together. Then, on February 13, 1st-ranked Napoli came to the J Stadium to play 2nd-ranked Juve (talk about a big game!), Simone Zaza put one in in the 88th minute, Juve won and moved ahead of Napoli in the table, and stayed there until the finish. When the final whistle blew that day, I knew the scudetto was ours. It helped that Gonzo threw a ridiculous temper tantrum and got suspended at the end of the season just when Napoli needed him most, but now we can have him help in a different way.
And lo there was much rejoicing.
There they are. Simone Padoin on the left, the utility player who never stopped trying to win my respect and finally succeeded; Paulo Dybala, Argentinian dynamo with 19 league goals; Simone Zaza, the bald who won us the scudetto; a whole lot of shiny confetti on the right obscuring whoever might be over there, and right in the middle, my four special boys. The BBC. The B-BBC. They are, well, these years with the four of them together, they’re just a blip in time to savor and enjoy.
Two more things and then I’m done for the day.
Guess who scored a goal last season? I don’t mean a penalty as in “We love you and it would be great if you got goal on the books for once so come and take this meaningless penalty so we can adore you properly.” I mean a goal. In the run of play.
He never does that. Seriously. 4 in the last 10 years.
Finally, some bad news.
Loooca has retired. He won the world cup, went to Bayern Munich and won some more there, then drifted aimlessly around Italy and the middle east for years, but finished up brilliantly at Hellas Verona, reminding everyone just how good he is. And his protests were magnificent to the very end.
This post powered by bittersweet appreciation of Gigi, Chiello, Leo, and Andrea, while they’re still together, and before Punk drives me to give up footy altogether.