The persistence of legends

By Anthony Lopopolo

This time, Franco Baresi would play.

He was there with the Italians and the Portuguese, all legends from their country, descending on a pitch in Toronto.

For all of them — Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio, Pauleta, Maniche — the chase of the game is gone, the roars faded, the final whistle blown. But on this Monday night the cheers were loud, and the fans cared and the goals mattered. It was only an 80-minute game, and you could forgive them. This was an aberration of so many kinds, and they all embraced and smiled at the end. It was a taste of the life they once had.

Baresi was here just a month ago with Milan Glorie, the globetrotting icons of the famous seven-time European champion. Then he did not play. He didn’t look like he could.

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A Dispatch From The Milan Derby

Il Derby della Madonnina is not what it once was. It is still about the pride of Milan, but it is no longer the hottest city in world football. 

Still, AC Milan and Inter share a lot of history, and the rivalry never dies. They have played each other almost 300 times over the past 100 years. The latest match wasn’t a classic, a Nigel de Jong header winning the game for the Rossoneri, but you could still see the passion in the stands. [Photos and Words by Anthony Lopopolo, sent our way while sipping on an espresso]

Milan in Freefall - AFR Voice Ep.32

‘Crisis’ has been the buzzword this season for the pod, with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and even Barcelona getting blasted with the dreaded ‘c’ word. But finally we have turned our audio attentions to a club that deserves it more than most – AC Milan.

The Rossoneri are a shocking 40 points adrift from league leaders Juve and we discuss where it all went wrong. Is rookie manager Clarence Seedorf ripe for the sacking in the summer, and will the struggle for power in the boardroom be resolved anytime soon?

Elsewhere, we look at Europe in more positive tones, heralding Bayern’s 50-game unbeaten run, ruffling the hair of little Lionel Messi for eclipsing recent AFR profilee Paulino Alcántara as Barça’s all-time record scorer, and bow down to the mighty Zlatan for making his own little bit of Parisian history.

All that plus a quick fire witness report from Chelsea’s Champions League clash against Galatasaray, a report on Jermain Defoe’s perfect MLS debut and an evaluation of Rivaldo’s career which came to an end this week. He was arguably one of football’s all-time greats, but why won’t he be remembered as such?

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Already a great in Milan, what is Kaka looking for?

By Anthony Lopopolo

Even journalists asked for his autograph, the ultimate sin. Even the fans who make the most intimidating stadium in Europe stood and applauded for Kaka. He dashed across the field at Celtic Park in November like he did on that famous night in 2007 against Manchester United when two defenders ran into each other as he headed the ball by them. 

What’s always present is his composure. Kaka stands tall and scans and navigates the field while running with perfect posture. (That’s all the more remarkable given that he was almost left paralyzed after slipping off a slide at a swimming pool.) Not all of the passes hit the target, although not much is hasty either. And when it’s just him and the ‘keeper, he often rolls the ball into the net, gently.

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No challenge too big for Clarence Seedorf

By Anthony Lopopolo

In the gym was Clarence Seedorf, arms still bulging, abs still firm, and yet old enough to be the father of the kids around him. Just off Rio de Janeiro, his favourite city, the 37-year-old would teach the things he learned over the course of his 22-year career. He’d ask them questions. He encouraged them to think for themselves. It was a two-way conversation off the field; orders and lectures saved for the field. They’d talk about positioning, footwork, little details, shaping the body to receive the ball, opening up, preparing for it, moving this way instead of that. 

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The Reality of Racism

"He was born in Italy. He grew up two hours from Milan in a little town named Concesio, taken in by a white Italian couple when he was 3 years old. Balotelli’s birth parents are immigrants from Ghana, and although he looks like them, he sounds like his provincial neighbors, speaking with the well-known Brescian accent… An old underground cartoon sums up the local attitude. It shows a deep trench at the edge of Northern Italy, with a clear message: Let’s get rid of the Africans."

Whether through oversight or sheer indifference, there’s a tendency in soccer to minimize the significance of racism. Sure, we constantly see headlines outlining the latest incidents, and of course, there are those journalists, fans and players who refuse to let the issue rest, but for every Kevin-Prince Boateng or Mario Balotelli who makes a stand publicly, there are countless other members of the community who unwittingly rationalize bigotry.

"Those fans aren’t representative of the fan-base." 

"Every community has a few idiots."

"You wouldn’t understand, it’s a cultural issue."

While each of those statements may be true, they nevertheless downplay how each incident is indicative of social trends. Are those Ultras who use Nazi-insignia part of a fringe group outnumbered by the perfectly reasonable members of the fan sections? Of course. Does their willingness to show their political allegiances in the terraces hint at changing cultural realities? Definitely.

Unfortunately, most works on the topic of racism in football begin and end in the stadium, and rely on simple assumptions as explanations. The number of Neo-Nazis in the fan group is small. Let’s ban them from the stadium, and we’ll have fixed the problem. But the problem goes beyond the pitch, into the homes of every ethnic minority who deals with the stresses of discrimination on a daily basis. 

Which is why Wright Thompson’s recent piece investigating the root of racism in Italian soccer is so significant. From sitting with Ultras who still revere Mussolini, cringing under a variety of curse words and Nazi chants thrown towards African players, speaking with Africans stranded in Italy pursuing long impossible careers in soccer, discussing the importance of a new Italian cabinet member, an immigrant from Africa, to the role of nascent political parties and unemployment trends, Thompson tells a complicated story, but one that must be read.

The roots of racism are bubbling to the surface; it’s time we acknowledged them. [Posted by Maxi]

Thanks for the memories, Becks

We could rattle off a list of all the achievements that David Beckham has won throughout the course of his career, but the truth is, you already know. From the free kicks to the H&M advertisements, David Beckham quickly became an ever-present, unrelenting force in sports and style, one of the first footballers to be embraced and recognized on such a global scale. And while some may maintain a cynical perspective on the trajectory Beckham’s career took, we here at AFR HQ will always remember his ability to transform a monotonous, insignificant match, into a spectacle.

As Becks hangs up his boots, here are some thoughts from the people who knew him best, his peers.

"David was different - he was a crosser of the ball, a passer of the ball, he was a joy to play with… He has probably been the most influential player out of England in transforming football. The impact he has had is enormous." - Gary Neville

"On the pitch, Beckham sees everything before everyone else." - Carlo Ancelotti

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Flipping Ronaldinho

The magic of the man with golden feet and terrible teeth has been captured in flipbook form, and we’re still stunned by what Etoilec1 has created. Ronaldinho’s finest moments in all their aesthetic brilliance have been condensed to a few sheets of paper, but the final product only blows us away just as much as the original masterpieces. You can almost hear the “Olé” as the paper skips.

Sometimes, things fall exactly where they should

By Anthony Lopopolo

The stats didn’t give Barcelona much of a chance. The oddsmakers turned on them. The people criticized the club, virtually preparing for their burial. No team had managed to overturn a two-goal deficit in the Champions League without the benefit of an away goal. Barcelona had never capsized a 2-0 deficit in Europe. And Lionel Messi had never scored against an Italian club from open play. Not often do Barca, and Messi, need a game to silence critics, but if there ever was one, it happened Tuesday night.

Presumably, only Barca could’ve played so confidently with all that racket. They’re so strong-willed. They didn’t want any negative energy: come support us or go home, Gerard Pique insisted. And just when some were starting to believe they were losing their lustre — they had lost, before the second leg against AC Milan, three of five games — the Catalans put on a performance to remind the world they are still capable of greatness.

This was not just a case of Barca being Barca. Jordi Roura said so. “Beating Milan 4-0 is not normal for anyone, not even Barcelona. They are a great team and made life very difficult for us,” the club’s assistant manager told reporters. The match was much more than a blowout. It was a game of stark conclusions, one in which we saw true reflections of both clubs: that Barcelona can still play, and that Milan still have much work to do.

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