Brek Shea

Thoughtful Olympic rehash: So much style, but what of substance?


Hipsters, models and fashion mavens step over one another to set the next trend in clothing style. Kids kick it “street style.”  Weather may dictate seasonal style. And lest we forget that fashion fades, but style is eternal. Or so I hear.

At the end of the day, of course, we’re really just talking about composites and material to protect ourselves from sun, from the nasty elements and from strangers seeing our tummies. At some point, it’s not “style,” it’s just essential coverage.

It’s a good thing to remember about our soccer, too, this pursuit of “style.” Especially on the “mourning after.”

Did the U.S. under-23 soccer team, along with the rest of us, lose the plot along the way, paying a little too much attention to style while paying improper heed to time-tested tenets of athletic competition?

Perhaps. Maybe it’s just a learning curve as the U.S. search for its soccer style slogs inexorably forward – whatever that means to everyone individually.

There’s really no problem with these discussions, nothing misguided about scouring the lands in search of our passing-and-trapping brand, so long as this elusive fox hunt remains rooted in a simple concept:

Style is a means to an end … not the finish line itself.

Anyone think maybe that simple notion got misplaced along the way to Nashville?

In domestic soccer circles, talk of style became de rigueur as Jurgen Klinsmann inherited the top U.S. post eight months back. Klinsmann never imagined we would “style” our way to soccer’s promised land; he’s no dummy that way. But he did want to influence a better way forward, a methodology with a further view up the field, so to speak. (Never mind that his biggest win, last month in Italy, tilted smartly back toward a pragmatic approach.)

So it was with Caleb Porter’s 4-3-3, stylistic and dynamic as it was for his under-23s. And it was so pretty to watch!  So very Ajax-in-the-day. Especially against Cuba in the American Group A opener. The geometric triangles inspired by the great Dutch sides under Rinus Michels were being drawn up like so much chalk talk in the locker room.

But Cuba, defensively disheveled and chronically unfocussed, was never a barometer. Then came the crushers, which were. Barometers, that is.

While some of us debated merits of “style,” Canada and El Salvador (big credit to both, by the way) reminded everyone that so much of the game is about desire and passion. It’s about leadership and chemistry. It’s about roster balance, with a few technically competent mudders who don’t give a hoot about style so long as they get to leave a mark here and there.

It’s about identifying the men who can rise to the moment (young men though they are).

I like and appreciate an attractive match as much as the next guy. It is the “beautiful game,” after all. These are important discussions in U.S. soccer circles, about playing a better brand, etc. – but the talks always deserve rooting in a foundation of something bigger.

Style in itself can never win a match – and at some point that’s what it’s all about.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.