I think Alexi Lalas was speaking about the Algeria game when he said it first. At the time I took it as confirmation that he was a robot come to torture us. Well, I wish to publicly rescind that: I think Mr. Alexi Lalas made an exceptionally eloquent distinction when he attempted to explain the different desires of his “soccer heart” and his “human heart.” What I liked about his mumbled, attempted differentiation was that it wasn’t just a lazy breakdown between thinking and feeling, or between head and heart. What he seemed to be attempting to express was that different parts of your heart can long for different things, and find beauty in different things, and need different things to satisfy it. And so last night I watched - just as I had exactly two years ago when Spain decimated Russia, the first team I ever fell in love with- my human heart be broken while my soccer heart nearly exploded with joy.
When Spain is playing well, I am reminded of why I watch football; the infinite possibilities of space. A few times, when I’ve concentrated hard enough, I can see them as points in space, and not people. It’s difficult for me, but it has happened. Watching them beat Germany yesterday made me understand football better. And in no way is it only “intellectually rewarding”: it’s guttural, alive, immersing. And when it was through I was devastated that it was over: I knew with another half an hour, there was more they could teach me. When I’m watching Spain spin their web, well, it’s like being in love.
The problem is that watching Germany 2010 (or that team of Russian imps) is like falling in love. These past two weeks have made me realize that what I long for in a football team- no, it’s worse- what I need from a football team is fearlessness, recklessness. even. This offends me about myself; I wish I pined for something less excruciatingly obvious. And yet: that’s the human heart part. I can’t help myself. I especially like to watch teams that haven’t played together very long. That jittery negotiation of overlapping spaces, the bartering of bodies. It’s becoming in motion, it’s heady and makes you stupid and fills your head with ridiculous ideas. It’s not built to last. But it is the thing that made me sit down and write about soccer for the first time (and then abandon it until, well now.) I decided to dig out that piece the other day because realized I was using all the same words. They’re just the words you need to use.
Spain 2010 makes me want to take out colored pencils and graph paper; Germany 2010 and Russia 2008 made me take out calligraphy pens and parchment stationary and a wax seal. When I watch Spain, I want to watch the games again and again, I want to isolate and examine everything they did. I’ll have a Spain game on when I’m just around the house. Each viewing builds on itself, reveals another layer. Makes me feel like I know more, and less, at the same time. Right now I’m following Iniesta through each game. It’s hard as hell, he’s like a ghost thru those channels. But it’s worth it.
But with Germany 2010, I’m like a teenage girl watching “Twilight” (again with the “Twilight”). After both the England and Argentina games I rewound the goals over and over again. Late at night, close to the television, volume turned low, so no one would know I was watching again. In thrall to this group of boys that look like bunch of prep school outcasts playing while their parents are away, assigned to the-not-so-watchful eye of their cool uncle Klose. Look at it- It’s redemption and becoming all the same time. I can’t even tell you how many times I watched the last 2 goals against Argentina. Ozil’s rainbow of a cross. Schweinsteiger’s animal run. Martin Tyler absolutely losing his cool at the last Klose goal. Brilliant wonderful glorious Gerrrrrrmany. The way his voice drops about 5 octaves when he roars Gerrrrmany, suddenly conscious of being sure to not sound too nationalistic and yet too thrilled to care. Everything’s contained in that moment of confluence. I felt drunk.
As I’m writing this I have the game on repeat. It’s just ended. Two German players look the most upset- Ozil and his sad sad sad eyes and Schweinsteiger, who is disconsolate, in a heap on the pitch. Their heartbreak is a credit to them both, since these are probably the two players whose personal stock rose the most in this World Cup, and yet they still wanted the win for their team this badly. All over the field, I’m struck by the post-game interactions between the players. There’s a rare gentleness to them (The 2008 conga line will not be discussed here. I choose attribute it to the sheer shock of finally winning.) Villa and Klose and their gentlemanly negotiations of a shirt swap. Several Spanish players come over to Schweinsteiger, caught in his personal moment of dejection, and touch him- a hand on the back, an offer of a handshake. On the sidelines, Llorente hugs the backroom staff, bending his tall body for an equal embrace. This is Spanish footballing culture at its loveliest- you’re instantly reminded that even though most of the Spanish players play at the biggest sports club on earth, none of them cultivate a larger than life ego. There’s a sense, even after a performance this astonishing, of gratitude. And with that, my narcotic teenage crush on the counterattack evaporates quickly as it appeared, and I'm safe, for the moment.