Galatasaray’s captures and our temporal distortion

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There comes a point in your life when two and a half years seems like “the blind of an eye.” That’s because you’re old. As an infant, two years is monumental – the time you’ll learn to speak, walk, and do basic life tasks that will carry you through the rest of your life. In adolescence, it’s the difference between fifth grade naiveté and seventh grade micro-maturity. In high school, it’s the span between freshman innocence and junior-year consequences.

When you grow up, there’s no difference between 26 and 28, 35 and 38, 62 and 64. The spans that redefined your younger self become worryingly irrelevant. You’re too busy trying to stop time and avoid birthdays to see those small increments dissolve. The type of changes that spanned two teenage years take decades to manifest as adults.

Two and a half years ago, Wesley Sneijder was being billed as one of the best players in the world. He had just let Internazionale to titles in league, Europe, and Inter’s domestic cup. He’d also been a focal point for a Netherlands team that made the World Cup final. Ten months after being deemed surplus to requirements and Florentino Perez’s second attempt to make the Santiago Bernabeu cosmic, Sneijder was completely redeemed. The potential that compelled Real Madrid to pry the savant from Ajax finally manifested its brilliance in Italy.

Memories of 2010 resurfaced last week when the 28-year-old moved to Turkey, a long-rumored link to Galatasaray finally coming good. This weekend, Sneijder made his first Turkish appearance in an Istanbul derby against Besiktas, coming off the bench in Gala’s 2-1 Sunday victory. Though celebrated, the debut was the denouement of a mini-saga born of a huge contract, fueled by a lingering perception, concluded by the paradox of a move both inevitable and surprising.

Sneijder has never really been the player he showed in 2009-10, even if expectations always cast him as such. But it was failure to meet those expectations that  left out of Manuel Pellegrini’s team after the Chilean’s 2010 arrival at the Bernabeu. Failed hope led him to be sold to Inter at a loss, to get one of the biggest contracts in Italy after one breakout season, and to being one of the worst deals in Serie A when he couldn’t maintain his outlying form. They also let to the gasps, awes, and shock of fans when Sneijder’s Turkish move was finally confirmed, Inter also taking a loss.

source:  Nerazzurri fans who followed the Sneijder saga weren’t surprised by the move, but for others whose relationship with Wesley was still anchored in South Africa, the transfer illustrated our flawed perceptions – two-year-old images subject to the same dilations that separate our infancy from adulthood. As far as time is concerned, professional soccer players may as well be infants for whom and a half years is huge. The time can make Arsenal snipers into Manchester United linch pins, modestly competitive Bundesliga club into enviable projects, and talented right wingers into the best player of all time.

They can also defy our assumptions and make Serie A’s best player into a competitive irrelevancy. Some memories want to hold on to visage of Sneijder as an elite player, but with that player now lodged in the annuls of Nerazzuri history, the move to Turkey made sense. The world in which Sneijder was a poor fit for Gala was a reflective, mental one – outdated knowledge that reminds us how old we’ve become. Too expensive for his talent, too young to be giving money back, Sneijder was always destined to end up somewhere that would defy his reputation.

Today comes word that Gala’s made another perception-challenging splash, the Turkish champions reaching an agreement for Chelsea icon Didier Drogba. Given his age and the fact that he’s been away from Europe for eight months, Drogba’s no longer a bank-breaking capture. With Shanghai Shenhua having reportedly failed to pay Drogba for three months, the Ivorian becomes a bargain for the Turkish champions who will reportedly not have to pay a fee for his services. A $5.4 million signing bonus on top of a $2.7 million annual salary makes Drogba’s signing worth the marketing alone.

MORE: Former Chelsea star signs with Galatasaray

As the news gets assimilated, expect the same bewilderment the met Sneijder’s capture to greet word of Drogba’s new home. On one level, fans newly interested in the Super Lïg will not only wonder how Gala captured the duo but how good the team can be. How were they able to get two of the world’s biggest stars? And matched up against Schalke in Champions League … oh just imagine how far they could go.

On another level, that kind of reaction is just another of the same temporal distortion that portrayed Sneijder’s move as a shock. The Dutch midfielder is too good for Galatasaray, the thinking goes, because of the player he was two years ago. And despite the fact that few have seen him play in the last eight months and he’s yet to have an impact on the Africa Cup of Nations, some will let perceptions from last May convinced them Drogba can buttress a Champions League threat. There is, after all, a reason a club like Juventus was thought to be pursuing him (or not).

source: Getty ImagesIt’s a vision of Drogba that overlooks that mere 13 goals in 35 all-competition games he scored last season. Or the 13 in 46 he scored the season before that. We think of his header in the Champions League final and his Europe-winning penalty kick and remember Drogba as the player who scored 37 in 44 during the 2009-10 season. But as is the case with Sneijder, our image of Drogba is nothing more than a strange distortion that’s prevented us from recasting our heroes.

Maybe we’re all getting lazy. Maybe we’re tired of trying to stay up-to-date or we’ve run out of room in our imaginations, space that could had conceived a world with a changing Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. Perhaps the metronomic consistency of the Lionel Messis, Cristianos Ronaldos, and Xavi Hernándezs deceived us into believing soccer’s stars are immutable, a notion that explains our continued fascination with Kaká and Steven Gerrard.

But as we move farther and faster from the world that created Sneijder and Drogba’s stars, we fall deeper into this time dilation. The last World Cup cycle speeds farther from us, we allow ourselves to dwell on the outdated images that lead to our empty shock. If our minds were in 2012 instead of 2013, we’d take Sneijder and Drogba’s captures in stride. Our stubborn focus on that retreating world means we’ll never have an accurate view of yesterday’s stars.

Maybe all of us, as a soccer culture, have become so old that two and a half years still seems like a yesterday. Our younger selves would have never got hung up on this before. Maybe a less mature soccer culture wouldn’t have gotten hung up on why stars are moving to Istanbul.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.

 

Serie A: Napoli’s perfect season ends after draw with Inter

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MILAN (AP) Napoli’s perfect start to Serie A finally came to an end on Saturday in an enthralling 0-0 home draw with Inter Milan, the only other unbeaten side in the Italian top flight.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

There were plenty of chances at the San Paolo, and Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was kept busier than his Napoli counterpart Pepe Reina.

It was the first time since April and a 2-2 draw at Sassuolo that Napoli has failed to win in Serie A.

Napoli remained top of the standings, two points above Inter and six above Juventus and Lazio, which face Udinese and Cagliari respectively on Sunday.

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

Napoli was looking for a ninth successive league win. It was boosted by Lorenzo Insigne passing fit to start after injuring a thigh on Tuesday in the Champions League defeat at Manchester City.

Inter was full of confidence after Mauro Icardi’s hat trick helped it win last week’s derby against AC Milan, but it hadn’t won in Naples in 20 years.

Napoli almost went in front but Handanovic pulled off a stunning double save to deny first Jose Callejon and then keep out Dries Mertens’ rebound attempt from point-blank range.

Handanovic then kept out an effort from Insigne following a great ball over the top from Marek Hamsik.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

Inter went close shortly before halftime but Reina did well to fingertip Borja Valero’s close-range attempt over the bar.

Insigne had more chances after the break, going closest with a curling effort just past the right post.

Hamsik also fired narrowly wide, and Handanovic parried a powerful shot from substitute Piotr Zielinski.

Mertens should have won the match for Napoli in the final minute but Handanovic was again on hand to keep out his close-range volley.

Tactics Session: Inside the mind of Kevin De Bruyne

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If not for Harry Kane‘s prolific scoring of goals during the early days of this season, Kevin De Bruyne would almost certainly be the early runaway favorite for 2017-18 Premier League Player of the Season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

Alas, Kane, the one-season wonder that he is, seems hellbent on cracking the century mark in the PL this season, rather than waiting until 2018-19. This sets up what should be a thoroughly exhilarating seven-month battle between two polar opposite players — Kane, the goalscorer; and De Bruyne, the assist machine.

On Saturday, NBC Sports’ Robbie Earle delved into the mind of De Bruyne (above video) in light of last weekend’s 7-2 thrashing of Stoke City, during which De Bruyne notched another pair of assists to take season tally to five through eight games. Later on Saturday, De Bruyne added another in Man City’s 3-0 victory over Burnley.

[ MORE: Matchday experience — behind the scenes at Southampton ]

The first thing pointed out by Earle is the recovery — though deployed as more of a central midfielder on the day, De Bruyne sits wide with City in possession high up the field, just waiting for the opportune moment to surge forward and join the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero (now that he’s back from injury). When Jesus’ ball is too lightly weighted, De Bruyne reacts quickest to make the recovery.

From there, his head is up and scanning the entire field. One touch forward, and he’s already accounted for the positioning of each of his teammates, as well as the Stoke defenders, and every pocket of space into which he’ll either carry or play the ball. He knows the precise spot on the field he must get to in order to pull the defense to him, thus opening the necessary space (and time) for the final man — Sane, in this instance — to make his run in behind.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

This is the part of De Bruyne’s game which he does better than anyone else in the world right now; no one can hold a candle KDB’s timing and vision — not Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not Isco, not Mesut Ozil, not even his brilliant teammate (and fellow six-assist man) David Silva. He’s almost operating at peak-Andres Iniesta level right now, which makes KDB and Co. appointment viewing every weekend.

Even now, after creating the passing lane and providing Sane the extra half-second to get level with his man before accelerating past in the blink of an eye. Even then, having seen the pass he has to play, there’s still the (major) matter of threading the needle through and around four defenders. On this occasion, the perfect pass is nearly 15 yards in front of Sane, and far less than that distance in front of the goalkeeper. An inch or two too short, it’s cleared by the right back; and inch or two too long, and the goalkeeper collects it easily.

As usual, no player in the world comes close to matching De Bruyne’s genius.