Following my post on the standout books I read this year, here’s the best of what I watched and listened to in 2023:
— “Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street” (Netflix) This documentary series reinforced for me not just how shocking his crimes were, but how much his victims suffered.
— “Wham!” (Netflix) George Michael, Andrew Ridgeley, 80s pop music. What more do you need to know?
— “Beckham” (Netflix) An entertaining recap of David Beckham’s career, including the meme-spawning scene (YouTube link) with wife Victoria in which he presses her to admit that she enjoyed an advantaged upbringing.
— “Better Call Saul.” (AMC/Netflix) Though this series ended in 2022, I’m including it here since I finished it this year. A superb show that rivals even the great “Breaking Bad,” from which it was spun off.
“Oppenheimer.” Of course. Sprawling, ambitious, polished. Incredible soundscapes. Moves along crisply despite its three-hour length.
The Hold Steady, “The Price of Progress.” Soaring rock anthems. (YouTube link)
Runner up: Buck Meek, “Haunted Mountain.” I’m in love with the title track (YouTube link).
⚽️ BONUS 1: Best Goal of the Year
As an Arsenal fan, I have to pick Bukayo Saka’s long-range stunner in a 3-2 win against Manchester United in January. (YouTube link)
🧤BONUS 2: And as a (gracefully aging) goalkeeper, I admired Aaron Ramsdale’s dive high to his right to save a deflected Mohamed Salah shot in a 2-2 Arsenal draw against Liverpool. (YouTube link) (Amazingly, Ramsdale’s now out of the side, but that’s a story for another time. Did I mention I’m an Arsenal fan?)
When the soul suffers too much, it develops a taste for misfortune.
— Albert Camus, goalkeeper and philosopher
When I was eighteen years old, during the fall of my freshman year, I started in goal as my college soccer team faced off at home against a particularly difficult opponent.
I can’t remember the scoreline. We lost either 3-1. Maybe it was 4-1. Or 5-2.
But I certainly remember the two disastrous goals I allowed.
On the first, a teammate played a back pass to me on the left side of the goal, from close range. I was being closed down by an attacker.
Rather than use my stronger right foot to simply play it out of touch, I struck it with my left foot and played a poor, low clearance not far into the midfield.
It went straight to one of their players, who passed it to another, who then scored into the empty goal.
On the second, later in the game — probably still rattled from the first error — I let a well-hit shot slightly to my left squirm under me and over the goal line. I should have saved it.
Near the end of the match I also saved a penalty, diving to my left and steering the shot around the post, but by then it was too late.
The game was lost.
And it was because of me.
Today, more than two decades later, those two errors are still fresh in my mind. They’re right there on the surface of my memory, as if I’d committed them only last week. The many other saves I made over the years, rescuing points for my teammates or winning matches in penalty shootouts, and buried deep down below.
For perspective: I made those howlers my freshman year in front of 21 other players, our coaches and subs, and the students, parents and other members of public sitting in small grandstands.
And he committed them on the biggest stage in club football and in front of an audience of millions, in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. (To be clear, Karius is approximately 1000% better than I ever was. I am in no way comparing myself to him in terms of skill!)
On the first, he was too casual in rolling a ball out of the back, allowing Karim Benzema to stick out a leg and redirect it into the goal.
I think Liverpool wanted to play it quickly out of the back, Karius got the ball and looked to distribute it quickly, and just didn’t expect Benzema to get to him as rapidly as he did.
But rule number one when you have the ball in your hands is safety first; never relinquish possession in the back. He could have just waited a few moments for Benzema to drift away, or he could have faked the throw first to see what Benzema did.
On the second error, Karius let a long-range Gareth Bale shot that was basically coming right at him squirm through his hands and into the goal.
On this one, Karius was attempting to catch it, and the swerve on the ball deceived him. But he could easily have patted it down or just pushed it away rather than trying to hold it. Perhaps he was (understandably) shaken from the first goal, and this shot from distance gave him too much time to think. Hence the mental error.
Liverpool lost 3-1, with the difference being the two poor goals Karius allowed.
(It has since emerged that Karius may have suffered a concussion earlier in the game, which could have affected his performance. At first I dismissed the idea that a head injury may have affected him, because it didn’t seem like an earlier collision with Real’s Sergio Ramos was especially severe, and didn’t seem outwardly wobbly. But I’ve since read that concussions can manifest themselves in various ways.)
I really feel for Karius.
Such were the magnitude of his errors that the final will be remembered more for his mistakes than for Real’s second goal — an overhead Bale kick — that may go down as the best ever scored in the competition.
(It was, truly, an excellent game. There were injuries, fouls, play acting, everything.)
I bet that Karius has played his last game for Liverpool. He obviously has all the physical tools to play at the very highest level, and I’m sure he’ll have a productive career (perhaps outside of England).
But unless he goes on to win the Champions League with another side, or lifts the World Cup with Germany — both of which are extreme long shots — he will be known the rest of his life for his meltdown in Kiev.
If nothing else, goalkeeping builds character. It teaches you, often at a young age, to deal with failure and humiliation in front of your peers and the public, whether it’s a few dozen people at a college game or a global audience of millions.
It was the kind of goalkeeping performance you only see once ever few years: The variety of saves, many late in the game, combined with the importance of securing all three points at home as Manchester United, a team in transition, struggle to succeed.
As the Vine below illustrates, there was the Spaniard’s fantastic penalty save — De Gea guessed correctly, diving to his right and parrying the shot well away from danger. And then there was the instinctive save late in the game, sprawling to his right again, followed by the last minute wonder-save, to his left, which is drawing most of the plaudits.
Here’s another look at that last one:
The final save, as I also Tweeted, was reminiscent of this classic stop by Fabien Barthez for the Red Devils years ago:
But there was another save that appeared to be routine that also stood out to me because of the agility it took for De Gea to get down quickly to his right and catch the ball just outside his right foot. Always difficult, and he did it perfectly:
Given my obsession withinterest in soccer and goalkeeping, I would be remiss if I failed to point out a story in today’s New York Times on Asian goalkeepers.
From the lede:
Two years ago, Park Ji-sung grabbed headlines when he became the first Asian to play in a Champions League final.
Asian players like Park, a midfielder, and Atsuto Uchida, a Japanese defender with the German team Schalke 04, which United beat in the semifinals, are not the rarity they once were. They can be found playing in all positions in the major leagues of Europe, except one: goalkeeper.
That situation may be starting to change, albeit slowly.
A few thoughts:
Ali Al Habsi (pictured above), of Oman and the English Premier League’s Wigan Athletic, is cited as one of the few Asian goalkeepers who is playing in one of Europe’s top leagues. And while Asian goalkeepers’ shorter height is mentioned as a factor holding some back, Al Habsi’s stature isn’t mentioned. He’s roughly 6’4″ tall, and is about as non-diminutive as you can get.
I imagine that language is another a challenge. Non-English speakers playing in the outfield who can’t talk to their teammates aren’t as hindered as a goalkeeper who can’t communicate with his defenders.
If memory serves, the authors of the excellent 2009 book Soccernomics ((The full title is: Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey–and Even Iraq–Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport.)) point out that European soccer managers are not rewarded for making unconventional decisions regarding players and managers.
Thus, suppose a manager were to recruit a Japanese or Korean goalkeeper who has all the tools needed to succeed. If the goalkeeper fails, the manager is likely to be blamed for trying something different. Better to stick with a British or northern European goalkeeper, then, since conventional wisdom says they’re better suited to the English game. That way, if the player doesn’t pan out, the boss won’t be blamed for his crazy ideas. It will simply be the player’s fault.
Great to see the 21-year-old Thai goalkeeperKawin Thamsatchanan, who plays for Bangkok’s own Muangthong United, getting a shout out. You can see him in action in this YouTube compilation.
I didn’t have time to note this sad news yesterday, but wanted to point it out since I’ve blogged about soccer and goalkeeping in the past.
Robert Enke, the goalkeeper for the German national soccer team and club side Hannover 96, committed suicide on Tuesday. He was 32 years old. Enke was in the running to be Germany’s starting goalkeeper at the World Cup this summer.
He leaves behind his wife and their eight-month-old daughter. Enke had battled depression, his wife says. He killed himself by stepping in front of a train in Hannover.
The New York Times/IHT has a story about his death. There’s more from the AP and CNN.
As I may have mentioned in the past, I’ve been a soccer (football) goalkeeper since the age of 7. I can’t get enough of the game, and I absolutely love goalkeeping. (I still play regularly today.) ((A few of my favorite goalkeeper-related Web sites include The Glove Bag — an exceptional online community of goalkeepers — and the news blogs The Goalkeepers’ Union and JB Goalkeeping Blog. And if you’re seriously into the philosophy of goalkeeping, I recommend this manual: “The Art of Goalkeeping or The Seven Principles of the Masters.”)) So I was delighted to see that, according to the New York Times, one of 2008’s big ideas that begin with the letter “g” — along with topics like genopolics, gallons per mile, and the guaranteed retirement account — is goalkeeper science:
What’s the best way to stop a penalty kick? Do nothing: just stand in the center of the goal and don’t move.
That is the surprising conclusion of “Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The Case of Penalty Kicks,” a paper published by a team of Israeli scientists in Journal of Economic Psychology that attracted attention earlier this year. The academics analyzed 286 penalty kicks and found that 94 percent of the time the goalies dived to the right or the left — even though the chances of stopping the ball were highest when the goalie stayed in the center.
If that’s true, why do goalies almost always dive off to one side? Because, the academics theorized, the goalies are afraid of looking as if they’re doing nothing — and then missing the ball…
(To read the rest of the entry, visit the link above and then choose “g” in the navigation bar. Sadly, there’s no direct link.)
For more on this subject, I recommend this blog post: “The Rationality of Soccer Goalkeepers” ((Insert joke about all goalkeepers being necessarily — and perhaps genetically — irrational here.)) ((And if you want to see a photo of yours truly saving a penalty kick several years ago in Taiwan — and I apologize in advance for the tight goalkeeping pants, but it was cold and the pitch was terrible — click here.))
This study illustrates the tension between internal(subjective) and external (objective) rationality discussed in my last post: statistically speaking, as a rule for winning games, to jump is (externally) suboptimal; but given the social norm and the associated emotional feeling, jumping is (internally) rational.
(Hat tip to B.L. for the NYT link. Image credit: Flickr.)