The Summer Football Survival Guide

The football season of plenty is over, the heat of Summer has you weary, and meaningful football matches are an oasis in a sea of “World Football Challenge” and “Messi and Friends” matches. Because this time of the year is so sparse, here’s John Ray with a list of what to look forward to in the next month or so before the Premier League season starts, along with some suggested reading and viewing to help fill the time.

  • July 12th: Trinidad & Tobago vs. Haiti (Gold Cup group stage, 7:00pm EST) Oh, how I love them. The islands nations in this tournament are the Jamaican bobsled team of CONCACAF. Small upstarts who are doing brilliant things at a breakneck pace. Where’s John Candy? Jeff Louis of Haiti and Kenwyne Jones of T&T are the players to watch for here. In Haiti’s opening match against Honduras, Louis (of Nantes in France) was pulling all the strings before being inexplicably substituted for a Peguero Jean Philippe who bundled across the pitch, looked generally lost, and had the first touch of a toddler for the remaining 20 minutes. Look for their manager to not make the same mistake again. 
  • July 14th: Corinthians v. Atletico Mineiro (Brasileiro, 3:00pm EST) Atletico might be a little depleted because of the midweek Libertadores final (see below), but these are two of the most talented sides in Brazil and are somewhat fire and ice tactically. The bruising style of Corinthians, represented by their defensive midfielder Ralf, is a stark contrast to the flair of the Belo Horizonte based Mineiro. 
  • July 17th:  Olimpia v. Atletico Mineiro (Copa Libertadores final, 8:50pm EST). The Paraguayan giants, if there is such a thing, and 3-time winners, Olympia, take on an impressive Atletico Mineiro side that features talents like Bernard, Ronaldinho, Jo (who is apparently not rubbish again and has been in the Brazilian side deputizing Fred), Gilberto Silva (who somehow still has legs), and Josue. Olimpia will count on a big contribution from their midfielder, metronome, and captain, Carlos Paredes, who featured for Porto and Sporting Lisbon earlier in his career. Miniero are the favorites.  
  • July 19th: Dynamo Moscow v. Anzhi Makhachkala (RPL, 12:00pm EST) These Russian title contenders are rather familiar with some of their opponent’s key men. Dynamo’s pair of playmakers Balazs Dzsudzsak and Fyodor Smolov both featured for Anzhi in 2011 and 2012-2013 respectively and Anzhi just purchased Dynamo’s Aleksandr Kokorin by triggering his €19m release clause. Kokorin is one of Russia’s most exciting young players and is on his way to becoming a mainstay in the national team with 13 caps at just the age of 22. Anzhi, on the back of Eto’o, Lass Diarra, and Lacine Traore, will be narrow favorites away from home, but this should be a good match. 
  • July 20th: Rubin Kazan vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (RPL, 5:30am EST) Here is a simple questionnaire to discover if you are going to watch this match: Did you take stimulants the night of Saturday the 19th? If Yes: This should be great. If No: I guess you’ll just have to dream about the dimensions of Alex Witsel’s afro. 
  • July 20th: Real Salt Lake v. Sporting Kansas City (MLS, 10:00pm EST) This description mirrors the efficient and consistent nature of two of MLS’s best clubs. Could meet again in the MLS Cup Final. Unfortunately, Kyle Beckerman’s hair will most likely be with the United States. 
  • July 20th, 21st, 24th, and 28th:  Gold Cup QF, SF, and F (Final is at 3:00pm EST). The tournament that none of the good sides care about just keeps on giving. Will Beckerman’s aforementioned dreadlocks and lateral passing reign supreme or will Marco Fabian’s academy award winning antics steal the show? Will the USA and Mexico even make the final? If not who will? Martinique? Haiti? I can only dream. 
  • July 27th: Bayern Munich v. Borussia Dortmund (German Super Cup, 2:00pm EST) It is tasty, isn’t it. The story lines here are self-evident, but if you need a few: Bayern won the treble under my main man Juup Heynckes last season with a record number of points. He’s been replaced by Josep, Pep, Guardiola former defensive midfielder and manager of Barcelona FC and last bastion of Catalan in Bavaria. Guardiola is trying to inject the side with Barcelona DNA™ and there has already been many rumors of Javi Martinez moving back to centerback to accomodate his free flowing passing style (this rumor has left some Bayern supporters not too pleased) and Thiago, who could be making his debut after allegedly choosing to join a jam-packed Munich midfield (lets see: Götze, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Martinez, Shaqiri, Can, Højbjerg, and Gustavo) over being the leading man at Manchester United because of his father-son relationship with Pep. That’s just the Bayern side of things. Dortmund have sneakily reloaded with unspellable names: The pace of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, the steel of Shalke’s Papastathopoulos, and the genius of Henrikh Mkhitaryan have all been injected into Jurgen Klopp’s well oiled machine who are looking to rebound from a season of second bests and having their main creator, Mario Götze prised away by Bayern. Must see stuff, this. 
  • July 27th: Montreal Impact v. Sporting Kansas City (MLS, 7:00pm EST) The Eastern Conference’s best two team square off in a top of the table confrontation in which there should actually be decent football played. Peter Vermes will yell. Graham Zusi will do cultured left foot things. And Marco di Vaio will be offside (drink.). An addendum: Watching Nesta’s game evolve as his body slows is a real treat, some of the best positioning in the world will be on display. For any young defenders: track his movements and learn.
  • July 31th: MLS All-Stars v. Roma (9:00pm EST) These kind of suck, generally, and Roma is in the midst of a fire sale, but people seem to enjoy them, you can see all of MLS’s biggest names on one stage, and I feel somewhat obligated to include it on the summer calendar. 
  • August 2nd: Sheffield United v. Notts County (English League One, 2:45pm EST) Two of England’s better supported lower division clubs start the countries football season of a friday. Sheffield United produce a ridiculous amount of talented fullbacks. Notts County is no longer managed by Hans Backe or Paul Ince
  • August 3rd: The English Football Championship begins. (Mostly 10:00am EST) And hope of that sweet sweet TV gold springs eternal for 24 clubs. The premier fixtures of the first matchday are Burnley v. Bolton (the 7:45am fixture), Birmingham v. Watford (watching the Blues get stuffed will be Christmas come early), Leeds v. Brighton, QPR v. Sheffield Wednesday, and Reading v. Ipswich.
  • August 9th: Bayern vs. Monchengladbach or Montpellier v. Paris Saint-Germain (Bundesliga and Ligue 1 respectively, both 2:30pm EST) Pick your poison. 
  • August 10th: Bayer Leverkusen v. Freiburg (Bundesliga, 9:30am EST) Can Freiburg build on last season’s shock success without the amazing Max Kruse? Will Robbie Kruse and Son Heung-Min be able to replace Schürrle’s production? Will be a good and exciting early season encounter between two teams with Champions League hopes. 
  • August 10th: Bordeaux v. Monaco (Ligue 1, 2:00pm EST) Should provide an early barometer as to the state of the Monaco project, which, regardless if it succeeds, fails, or does something in between, I cannot take my eyes off of. How many goals will the core of the 10-11 Porto side, with the exception of Hulk (Moutinho, James Rodriguez, and Falcao) score in Ligue 1? My prediction: Many.
  • August 11th: Manchester United v. Wigan (Community Shield or whatever it’s called these days, 9:00am EST) Let’s be honest here. You don’t want to watch this. It’s a glorified friendly. You thought you’d never have to watch that mickey mouse club from a rugby town again. And the pomp of David Moyes managerial debut will surely be a bit much. But you’re going to watch it. Because you say something to this effect every year and every year you’re on the couch, talking about how Wayne Rooney’s hair transplants look ridiculous with a buzz cut. 
  • August 13th: Boca Juniors v. Newell’s Old Boys (Argentina, TBD) The old champions take on the new ones in what should be a good showcase for the Argentinian game. There’s a joke about Juniors and Old Boys here. 
  • August 14th: Belgium v. France and/or Italy v. Argentina (International Friendlies, TBD and 2:45pm EST respectively)
  • August 17th: The Premier League returns I’ll be contemplating the meaning of life after Villa lose 2-1 to Arsenal despite playing good football and having a decent amount of chances. 

Reading: I get people asking me what books I would recommend all the time. Here’s a list:

  • The Ball is Round - David Goldblatt: The best football history bar none. Provides the social, economic, and political context for some of football’s greatest advancements and achievements and is quite the page-turner. Written with panache by a personal friend and scholar of the game. Can’t recommend this enough.
  • Among the Thugs - Bill Buford: As much a text of sociology as football, those with a passing interest in the game will get as much out of this as fanatics. Buford chronicles his journey as he is absorbed into English hooligan culture in the late 80s, specifically Manchester United’s “Inner City Jibbers”, and discovers what being a football supporter is all about. A brilliant bit of journalism that helps one get into the mind of a “thug” and is able to portray them as complicated people, rather than the simple “violent criminal” that one might typically get from the media.
  • Inverting the Pyramid - Jonathan Wilson: A thoroughly researched and well written history of football tactics that helps elucidate upon the changes to the game from the early 7-2-1 to W-M, Catenaccio, Total Football, and beyond. If you read this and The Ball is Round you’ll be able to talk about football with anyone. 
  • Soccer in the Sun and Shadow - Eduardo Galeano: The most poetic football writing I’ve ever encountered. Written by the Uruguayan luminary, Galeano, who I think is probably better suited to writing football than he is to politics (the field in which he’s published his most famous work).
  • Brilliant Orange - David Winner: Winner’s history of Dutch football separates itself from the other country specific texts in that he can flat out write. As engaging and enjoyable as it is well researched and interesting. 
  • The Damned Utd. - David Peace: David Peace’s work illuminates the frustrating genius of Brian Clough and, like Buford, achieves a complexity in character that really carries the narrative. Love this. Love Clough. You can also watch this one too, the film is not bad, which brings me to…

Viewing:

  • Me, Myself, and MartinThis film was supposed to be about Martin Laursen, but quickly became about the director, a decent player in his own right, and why Laursen was able to become a top professional and he was not. Provides great story-telling, interviews with some of the games top players (Ibra and Pirlo), and insight into what differentiates a top footballer from the other 99% of the world. 
  • Looking for EricI love Eric Cantona, and this certainly has Cantona. More than that though, its a story of someone who’s lost everything looking for greatness in someone who inspires him and getting some of it back. Touching. Even if Cantona’s acting is a bit like Nic Cage’s. Ham. 
  • Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait - The first football film that I saw at time of release. I don’t know what it is about French players and football films, but this Mogwai scored look at Zidane is perfect. It tracks him over the course of one match against Villarreal and helps one understand what made him so special on the pitch.
  • Once in a Lifetime (New York Cosmos, full film in link) - For those of us weren’t around when the Cosmos were. 
  • The Four Year Plan (full film in link) - And, finally, my favorite football film, The Four Year Plan, is everything that Being Liverpool wanted to be and more. The fly-on-the-wall documentary catalogues QPR’s quest to become a top club and its successes and pitfalls on the way. The drama captured here is fantastic and it helps one understand the underpinnings of what the supporter sees on the pitch. 


P.S.: To be fair Bend it Like Beckham and Green Street Hooligans, despite some of their criticism in the football community, are very watchable. Anyway, go ahead and share your personal survival guide. [GIFs via DCC]

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