I was nowhere near the place, but I could hear and feel the noise: “USA! USA! USA!” That’s what Americans chant. Normally, when it comes to soccer (they will forever have problems talking about football, which they reserve for the grid iron variety), they are the ones sitting in the corner sulking that the television is not tuned to baseball or basketball or NFL games. “”Jeez, you guys! What is it with this soc-k-er? I don’t get it. A bunch o’ guys, tapping a ball around, and never scoring. You can’t get me to watch that. I want action, dude. Dunk it, LeBron! Boom! That’s what I’m talking about. I’m gonna get a Bud, anyone want one?” To which the answer is a resounding no. Like the American love of fizzy yellow water with foam, their tastes in sports are just a bit off, for the rest of the world. Leave us to wallow in what they see as boring. The adrenalin of near misses, and the open goals that become half chances. The controversy about almost every move. The silly little battles that are going on all over the field (pitch). Football fans understand the idea that you cannot let your opponent run free: if the ball goes past, the man cannot. Yesterday, though, a good number of Yanks, understood what yanking was and why it happened. Their team was playing for a spot in the last eight of the World Cup. All of a sudden, Americans understood that a ‘world’ championship meant playing teams from other countries. PResident Obama, who is not really American (even though slim evidence of his being born in Hawaii exists), had set it up that the greatest con-try on Earth could be idle all afternoon. He had his meetings done in the morning, and was ready to pop the popcorn. “Michelle! Where’re those beers, hun?” He had his staff set up to watch in the coziness-not of the White House’s media room. Thousands gathered at other venues, including Soldier Field in Chicago, where former Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel is now mayor. Pictures of about 20,000 fans packed there to watch the Jumbotron (which reportedly went out), lit up social media. The USA had their Eureka moment. Football was cool. USA! USA! USA!
Well, it’s one thing to sit there, but it’s something else to feel what the rest of the world feels. Unlike sex, faking it with emotions in football, is not the right thing to do. If you do not naturally put your hands in your mouth when a man pulls back his leg to snap a shot, don’t do it. Just yawn, or step in front of the screen to pick up something.
I know many diehard American football fans, with whom I had spent countless hours coaching kids, refereeing, playing games, week in, week out. Every football event had a big gathering to watch and support. Now, these people need not do that with the curtains drawn so that the neighbours would wonder what all the ruckus was about. They could put out flags and silly red, white, and blue clothing and yell “USA! USA! USA!” Welcome to the world.
Ironic, it may seem, that they USA has been coached most recently by a German superhero on the football pitch, Jurgen Klinsmann. Skilled, and good-looking, he had also mastered some of the sports dark arts. Before Robben, there was Klinsmann.
I would give him a 9.5 for the effort in the video for technical merit, and 10 for style, with the exaggerated rolling that came from his own lightning bolt strike. Jurgen knew how to roll.
He also knew that while Americans were feeling the need to put up huge walls to stop immigrants coming into their country, many ‘countrymen’ resided in Germany, and would love to be called Americans. Five of the 20 field players on the USA roster (or one-quarter) are dual German-U.S. citizens. Klinsmann came of age during the Cold War, when the U.S. military stationed hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Germany. He played with and attended school with many children of soldiers, so this all feels natural. (The father of each of the five German-raised players is a former U.S. serviceman.) When he took over the national team, Klinsmann made no apology about his interest in recruiting the very best American-eligible players he could find. The squad also includes players who could have played for Norway, Mexico and Iceland. He knew the German system and felt it produced better trained players. The results during this World Cup show that. The USA may have to reconsider its traditional college-based structures as far as football is concerned. Most of the rest of the world knows that you need to get out and be playing with full-grown men much earlier than after you graduate from college. But, let’s leave them to figure that out. Klinsmann’s German recruits fought for their country as hard as anyone born there was supposed to. Those who doubt national pride, wherever it comes from, just don’t understand. Moreover, these recruits come from military backgrounds, sir: many could epitomise the US Marines motto, “Semper Fidelis”, which signifies the dedication that individual Marines have to “Corps and country,” and to their fellow Marines. It is a way of life. Jurgen did well. He had his soldiers, and how apt then that fans would gather in Soldier Field.
But, what a match for which to raise their flag. Tim Howard is just beginning his short presidential election campaign. I joked on Twitter: Joking apart, Howard would become a saint easily, for his ability to save. If the day before we had seen Germany’s goalkeeper, Neuer, redefine goalkeeping to add the role of sweeper, we saw Howard revert to the role of shot stopper. Feet, hands, chest, head? Whatever it took. All at once or parts at a time. People got excited that he broke the record set in 1966 of the most saves in a match.
Well, that tells you the pressure under which his defence was. Not until extra time was he beaten. His head should not be bowed in shame, nor should that of any of his team mates. I’m sure his former Everton teammate, Marouane Fellaini, playing for Belgium, or his normal league opponent, Vincent Kompany, Belgium’s captain, had nothing but praise for him and relief that he had not stopped all afternoon.
Despite, Klinsmann brashly telling his team to change their travel plans to go home after the final, the USA are out. Beaten, not bowed. Klinsmann is one coach who should have no fear for his future, unlike many of his partners in crime leading Ghana or Cameroon, for instance. I imagine he and the team will get a rousing welcome home. POTUS would perhaps get universal endorsement for a decision to send Airforce One for them.
President Obama will not be staying on at the White House after his term is over, so he may have to make the most of moments like yesterday, when he was able to show that “Yes, we can!” attitude still applies. He has a way to go to capture the true spirit of a football fan. The usually close relations between the USA and Great Britain could help him mightily, though. He needs to get on the phone and talk to PM David Cameron. The latter can arrange for some real viewing parties when leaders meet again (with Chancellor Merkel, too, who knows how to chug a flagon of ale). Cameron can tell Obama that there is no mute button in football fanaticism. You give it your all. Leave nothing on the table, so to speak.
I think we’re done with the silly late night talk shows where hosts can joke about football and get a belly laugh. Now, I think they can raise ratings by having replays of Howard’s saves. Watch out for him doing the late night circuit soon. I think we are also done with the inane “Soccer is boring” mantra. We will leave Ann Coulter and her brand of snide tackles in the mud where they belong, and hope that she learns to pronounce the “Chomp-s Hay, Lee say” better…maybe, she had visions of Luis Suárez about to bite her and twitched so much wondering if he was about to chomp out of a taxi while she was being interviewed. I suggest she get picked for a friendly scrimmage and be given ‘the treatment’, à la Cantona, on the field and off. A little Kung-fu fighting? “Oh, ah, Cantona” used to be the cheer.
In England, they talk about ‘afters’, when players give a little more zeal to their tackles. Cantona did it with great panache. I would leave it to him to be persuasive with Ms. Coulter and her love of headline grabbing gobbledegook.