By John Ray, writing from New York City
Minutiae give us the most delight and cause us the most annoyance. Marco Verratti’s silky turns raised my eyebrows (definitely one to watch: more on this later) and a girl’s ponytail whipping against my legs as she alternated between watching the monitor and talking to her boyfriend made me want to murder someone. The crowd at this match was weird, almost unsettling. When I hopped onto the overcrowded subway train heading towards the Bronx with my great pal Maxime there was a large crowd wearing Fernando Torres kits.
I don’t understand the current obsession with football kits in America, although I personally have a couple to play in and a couple up in my apartment. But everyone at Yankee Stadium had an extremely new shirt and if it wasn’t Chelsea or PSG it was their favorite club, be it Liverpool, Malaga, Manchester United, the US National Team, or West Ham. This makes no sense to me. Why wear a Luis Suarez jersey here?
The paradox here is that it’s easy to detest these people from afar, but when I spoke to them they seemed like really nice people. The guys behind me, in a USMNT and Drogba shirt respectively were scraping the bottom of their football knowledge barrel about the players on the field. They (awesomely) referred to Florent Malouda as “Flo” and wondered who “number 46” was. I told them that it was Lucas Piazon and we struck up a little conversation. They didn’t know much about the players, but they were enthusiastic and weren’t just talking BS. Good people.
My theory about the kit obsession is that most domestic footy fans treat these occasions as their annual fashion show where their shirts will be commented on or appreciated, but at what point does a 40 year old wearing a shirt of a player in his 20s get to be embarrassing?
There was a moment when they were showing various people in shirts on the jumbotron that provided some reinforcement for my theory. The Chelsea supporters would howl in approval or disappointment depending on the shirt being worn by the people on the screen. Strange behavior.
Also: football (soccer) shirts don’t have quite the same effect on 400lb people as American football shirts. The fit of the material is not flattering on fat rolls.
The football on display was actually quite good for a friendly. I crossed Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Verratti, David Luiz, and Eden Hazard off my “must-see-live” list. Pastore and Verratti delighted and Hazard had an inauspicious debut. I’ve been following Pastore since he popped up at my grandfather’s club (Palermo) from Huracan in Argentina, and he is as elegant as ever. In the build-up to the first goal, Pastore had a remarkable dribble, absolutely skinning Gary Cahill and blasting the ball off the post and out (Nene converted the rebound). The tall and lithe “Flaco” is easy to spot on the pitch and has always had great skills that he has increasingly complemented with composure and a rangy passing game. The 23-year old Argentinian rifled a ball out to Cristophe Jallet that was particularly impressive early on in the match.
Marco Verratti was the other player that was very impressive tonight in his debut for the club. The 19-year-old led Pescara to the Serie B crown last season and his talent was recognized and fought over principally by Juventus and the Parisiens. He has quickly settled into a holding midfield role and probably chose PSG because he could definitely get a big look in this season if he continues to put together performances like this. His game seemed predicated on passing and moving with great patience and ball control. Verratti’s style has had him likened to Andrea Pirlo and his keep and pass skill is not unlike the great Carlos Valderrama (who I mentioned largely as an excuse to post one of my favorite videos).
Chelsea new boy Hazard was a disappointment, a word which doesn’t nearly do justice to how anonymous and wasteful he was on the pitch. I’m personally a believer in Hazard and think he will be great for Chelsea, but tonight was not his day. All of his efforts were ballooned over the bar or wayward and he gifted away possession far too often. He couldn’t even get a quality corner in. Blame it on jetlag or something.
The sun set over the Bronx, the flood lights radiated, and the sprinklers sprayed unsuspecting staff. Chelsea and Paris St. Germain, two European football giants, had arrived at Yankee’s stadium. In the course of 90 minutes the place was treated to the slick skills of PSG and a couple great goals. FM wonderkid Lucas Piazon played a give and go with Ramires extremely well (felt I should mention this) and finished with aplomb. The place was an utter library except when Chelsea was close to the 18 yard box or when the nascent anglophiles supporting Chelsea boomed with the only song they knew “CHELSEA *clap* clap* *clap*” (repeat ad nauseum). The football was good. The Mexican wave got a great reception, prompting Maxime, who bought us the tickets, to immediately put his hands on his face. There is something about the enthusiasm people have towards the wave that is always confusing and slightly disorienting. “Why here? why now?…..why?!” I guess it’s the international football handshake, and it doesn’t ruffle any feathers. The night was odd, but ultimately satisfying. Now take that stupid bib kit off.
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