I may have been wrong about Messi going to MLS in 2015

The past few years when Barca wasn’t winning everything all the time I’d occasionally tease Otto that “Messi will play in MLS by the end of 2015”. That prediction isn’t looking so good right now.

As a side note I never meant that Messi wasn’t one of the all time greats, only that our expectations nowadays of top athletes performing at their best for such a long time are actually quite new – basically since the so called steriod-era. The achievements that made legends out of players like Sandy Koufax, Johan Cruyff or Magic Johnson were how good they were at the top of their game, not that they stayed at the top of their game forever and ever.

In Peru Messi is seen as one of the greatest, if not the greatest player of all time but in terms of pop culture legend in all of South America it’s doubtful that any athlete in my lifetime will come close to Diego Maradona.

Red Sox win World Series: why Peru should care

The Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series last night. Strange how the North American sports refer to the winners of their big leagues as “world champions” when their league only spans the US and a few Canadian cities but that’s a subject for another day.

It’s the Red Sox 3rd World Series win since 2004 and also their 3rd since 1918. Did you know the Red Sox didn’t win the World Series for 86 years between 1918 and 2004 because of the Curse of the Bambino? I remember after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, a Yankee fan made a sign that said something like:

“Hey Red Sox fans, there was never a curse, your teams just sucked for all these years!”

Like those Red Sox of days past, the Peruvian national soccer (futbol) team has been long suffering, the last time Peru qualified for the World Cup (Mundial) was 1982. Peru suffers badly for their national futbol team, as Otto rightfully says, you people up North have no idea just how big of a deal futbol is down here in South America.

But to the point of that Yankee fan: perhaps those Red Sox teams were bad for all those years because they believed in the curse. They had a culture of losing. Similarly, I would make the case the Peruvian futbol team is bad because they believe they are supposed to be bad. Peru has this sort of feeling of national tragedy anytime their team takes the field. The coaches, the players, the fans have been disappointed for so long that they don’t want to get their hopes up high.

You won’t win if you don’t believe you can win.

Don’t get me wrong, no amount of delusional bravado could make Cienciano beat Barcelona right now (or ever?) but at the top of any professional sport, the teams are so competitive and differences between teams so small that you must take the field believing you can win, or you simply won’t. A winning culture matters as much as talent does.

Peru has a lot of talented futbol players but when they give up a goal or fall behind you can usually see the team packs it in right away. The fans are worse than the players. Watch your Peruvian friends on Facebook when their team gives up a goal. You don’t think it matters, down a run with 2 outs in the ninth, the difference between 40,000 fans hoping and praying or 40,000 people heading to the exits saying “we’re losing again might as well go home now”.

Look at the Miami Heat in game 6 of the 2013 NBA finals. The league had started to roll out the trophy to give to San Antonio with only a few seconds left in the game. Miami got some lucky bounces but if those players didn’t still believe they could win, they would’ve never chased down those loose balls, made those second shot attempts.

The good Belgian soccer teams of the 1980s, they had to know deep down they weren’t as talented as some of their opponents but they always believed they had a puncher’s chance. They played very strong defense and had a goal keeper with the character of a Jack Russell terrier (ie. you’ll have to kill me to get past me). They knew they didn’t have the best talent but as long as they kept the other team to a big goose egg, all they needed was one goal to win. The best team doesn’t always win, the team that scores the most wins.

There’s probably a lot of reasons why Peru’s futbol team doesn’t play up to their potential. The national organization is weak, the agents take advantage of the players, the players are reluctant to play for the national team for fear of getting hurt and then being left on their own, etc.

Frankly it’s a bit of a thankless exercise to be a player on Peru’s national team. On top of all the other stuff, Peru has a sort of weird pretentious prude attitude: the players constantly end up on Magaly TV when they go out drinking or partying as if it’s a big scandal.

It’s the culture stoopid.

Somewhere in 2004 the Boston Red Sox shook the curse and started a winning culture. Peru won’t have a chance to go to another Mundial until Peruvian players, fans, coaches and media all start to believe the team can win and the culture becomes a culture of winning.

* * *

Hey Otto, remember when Belgium beat Argentina in 1982?

Belgium is supposed to be have a really good team for the 2014 Mundial but here’s a few things you should know about their qualifying group:

  • 3 of the countries in our group didn’t exist when I started high school.
  • 2 of the countries in our group are only countries when it’s time for futbol, the rest of the time they’re part of a Commonwealth. Or something.

Partido robado

Unfortunately, when you sit down to watch Peruvian soccer chances are you’re not going to have a very good day – and that’s coming from a Belgian, we haven’t had a good team since Jean-Marie Pfaff in 1986. But last night, things got really ugly when riot police got out onto the field during the Copa Libertadores match between Alianza Lima and U de Chile:



Original photo here.

El Comercio has the video, but I can’t seem to embed it here.

Bottom line futbol-wise, the play should have been whistled dead when the line judge flagged offside. But drama sells, and sadly the media and powers that be in these parts seem to love nothing better than a good Peru-Chile controversy.