Oblak and the antidote. In the defensive chain of Atlético de Madrid, which is famed for its consistency and roughness, the most solid link is Oblak. A modest, agile goalkeeper, he is more imposing for his ability to transmit security than for his size. His wise spatial awareness has two effects: it makes the goal smaller and his rivals more reckless. He is not one of those who manages his feet as well as his hands. Oblak is classic, with strong legs and big hands to stop the ball; he has the ease of a bureaucrat to work miracles between the woodwork and the integrity of a priest to deactivate the sense of danger. You have to be strong psychologically if you are going to avoid the severity of Godín and Giménez and end up facing off against the majestic figure of Oblak. Or you need to be Messi, and, without even looking up, float the ball into the place where you imagine there to be a net and no goalkeeper, as he did last Sunday.
Eriksen at Tottenham or the revived Cazorla in Villarreal play divine soccer with an insulting ease
Essence of soccer. Eriksen at Tottenham or the revived Cazorla in Villarreal play divine soccer with an insulting ease. Their technical purity gives them the precision of a surgeon, and a shining criteria allows them to simplify and improve every ball. With one touch, or two, or after a drive of the ball with their heads held high… In all cases, the ball will always find a better destination than it should, a lot of the time defying logic. They are not fast, athletic, tall nor strong, but those who do have those characteristics are made to pass by. They remind us that great soccer is stored in a tank that genes and practice have filled with wisdom, and which is released when inspiration strikes. They need to be judged more for their appearances than for their continuity, but they win games. Even better, they ensure they are won, because they enjoy making the last pass more than scoring the goal. Like the quarterbacks in American football, they handle the ball as if they were using their hands. Divinely, don’t forget, and with their feet.
Cruyff’s grandchildren. Talking about Ajax is obligatory. This generation appears to have been reincarnated from other generations from the club in terms of its unprejudiced and seductive way of playing. This almost irreverent freshness in the face of rivals who, like Real Madrid and Juve, represent grown-up soccer, reconcile us with a pure style of play, innocent if they want to be, but fascinating even in their imperfections. On Wednesday they went all out but were victims of that serial goal-scorer Ronaldo. They drew and will now travel to Turin, to play like kids who scare the big boys. It doesn’t matter if they lose. We should have a less-aggressive perception of success, that what they are doing has a purpose and contributes to improving society. In soccer schools, for example, they teach to win. That’s not how it should be done. First you have to teach how to play, and then how to win. Ajax has been working that way for 50 years.
“Goodbye.” I remember the enthusiastic pilgrimage of thousands of Real Madrid fans to the Bernabéu when Bale was presented after being bought for a huge sum. No one can doubt his virtues on the pitch, because they are there for all to see: unstoppable runs, powerful jumps and deadly shots on goal. But soccer is also made up of what can’t be seen: heart to inject passion, intelligence to make your natural conditions efficient, empathy so as to not feel like a foreign body within the team… I don’t know how many of those fans who went to receive him will return to defend him. But after the latest whistles, Bale is no doubt unenthusiastic about the idea of setting foot in the Bernabéu once more. Like those gambling addicts who sign up to a register that precludes them from entering a casino, he doesn’t want to go through another unpleasant experience nor does he have the chance to get back what he lost. Six years later, he will leave without having fulfilled expectations and without knowing how to say goodbye.