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.
Here’s why you shouldn’t be surprised that the England national team aren’t more successful than they are.
Are you ready?
Here it is:
They’re actually not a global footballing power.
Now, this may come as a surprise, given that the guy who coached the soccer team at your high school had an English accent, as do many of the pundits who commentate on football games on TV. And yes, England is home to world’s most popular league.
In addition, as British people may remind you, England invented the game and in 1966 won the World Cup — though it was at home in England and the team benefited from a dubious refereeing decision.
In the half century since then, however, they have won…not a single title.
Brazil have won five World Cups. This is what their ranking — which averages out to three over the years — looks like:
Germany (average ranking: five) and Italy (average ranking: seven) have won four times each. This is what their rankings look like:
Portugal, which have an average ranking of 11, are much more like England:
So, again: England don’t underperform. They perform as they always have.
They’re basically Portugal, except they won the World Cup fifty years ago. And they don’t have a Cristiano Ronaldo.
*My own personal footballing claim to fame: In a college game against the University of North Carolina, Gregg Berhalter scored a penalty on me. I dove the right way, guessing the left footer would blast it to my left, and came absolutely nowhere near it.
And the answer is: No, I did not pose for the photo — like this one — as if I were biting him.
*More to come soon on a remarkable novel I read during my down time.
**By “met,” I mean that I approached him as he strode across the hotel lobby, gestured to my phone, and then stood next to him for approximately five seconds as we had our photo taken together. After which he walked away. It was not a lengthy interaction.