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Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World's Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper

Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World's Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper

Author:Simon Kuper
Language: eng
Format: mobi
ISBN: 9781568584591
Publisher: Nation Books
Published: 2014-04-21T18:30:00+00:00


STAGE 5: ELIMINATION WITH ENGLAND

In the spring of 2000, Gerrard gets his first experience of England’s locker room. The occasion is only a friendly against Ukraine, but you wouldn’t know it: “As kick-off approached, the players talked louder and louder. . . . Battle-cries began. Each player was made to feel that nothing else in his life would ever matter as much as this. Club affiliations and expectations were irrelevant.”

Shouts come from all corners of the locker room. “This is England!” “Our country!” “Don’t miss a tackle!” Fucking deliver!” Alan Shearer and Tony Adams stand in the middle of the room, Shearer screaming and Adams walking up to each teammate in turn to ask, “Are you fucking ready for this?” Gerrard looks Adams straight back in the eye and says, “You bet I’m fucking well ready.” In fact, he is “so hyped up I almost couldn’t tie my laces. Fucking let me at Ukraine. Where are they?” He has never experienced anything like this at Anfield.

The golden generation will forever be associated with failure amid hysteria. Yet reading these five players’ accounts of international soccer, you see that they also have an artisan’s interest in their time with England. To them, playing for their country means close encounters with the best practitioners of their particular craft.

For most of the five, the international debut is a source of anxiety. Lampard is lucky. Not many of us get to make our England debuts playing in midfield besides our beloved elder cousin, who guides us “through every step and pass.” During the game, Lampard even briefly thinks back to the old days in Jamie Redknapp’s garden, when the two of them would kick balls at Grandpa’s birdcage.

Gerrard is so nervous before his first meal with England’s squad that he doesn’t dare go into the dining room. Happily, Jamie Redknapp (who emerges from these books as a thoroughly good egg) rounds up the other Liverpool players, and they all walk in together. Then they introduce Gerrard to his new teammates. Shaking hands with the United players, he discovers that they don’t have horns.

The quality of training startles Gerrard. The other players pass the ball around much too fast for him. Shearer hits every ball into the top corner. And when Gerrard first runs into a Beckham cross in training, “It was a goal before I touched it. Honestly. Beckham puts his crosses in just the right place; it is in fact harder to miss.” Whenever England gets knocked out of yet another tournament, the players get depicted as buffoons, but if you have actually played with them, you probably can’t see it like that.

Internationals know that a newcomer in their world needs help, and so almost everyone rallies round—sometimes even the opposition. When Gerrard comes on as a sub against Germany at Euro 2000, and hits a few passes, Germany’s Didi Hamann, his teammate at Liverpool, runs past and says, “Keep doing what you are doing.” When the ball goes out of play, Gerrard turns to his opponent and confides, “I am shitting myself here, mate.



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