Tag Archive for Spain

Euro 2012 gives us a new noun: the “cassano”

Euro 2012 has so far been an extraordinary tournament, for so many reasons. We have seen passing, playmaking and finishing of the highest order; we have seen two of the game’s elder statesmen, Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko, at their most lethal; we have seen the Dutch undone, the Spanish stymied, the Germans surging. And that’s only on the field. Off the field, we’ve seen civil unrest, and vigorously-denied allegations of racism. But that’s not all. Euro 2012 has also given us a new noun: a “cassano”.

This noun is named after Antonio Cassano, the Italy forward who this Tuesday was asked what he thought of the rumour that there were two metrosexuals and one homosexual in his squad. He was somewhat wary of the query – “the (national) coach had warned me that you would ask me this question,” he said – but was still game enough to give an honest response. “If I say what I think … I hope there are none”, he replied. “But if there are queers here, that’s their business.”

These comments had the predictable effect. Cassano, seeing the media ablaze, quickly issued a fire blanket of a press release. “I am sincerely sorry that my comments have caused controversy and protests among gay groups”, he said. “Homophobia is not a point of view that I share. I didn’t want to offend anyone and I absolutely don’t want to put a person’s sexual freedom under discussion. I only said that it was a problem which was nothing to do with me and I don’t let myself express judgments on other people’s choices, which should all be respected.”

This press release is a textbook cassano: a retraction of an offensive statement, a retraction which occurs even faster than that very famous Dutch dragback. Typically speaking, a cassano is beautifully drafted, yet strangely unsatisfactory, as if it did not truly acknowledge the degree of offence that was caused. It wasn’t only “gay groups” – read, special interest whingers – that were put out by the forward’s words. It was a whole lot of regular people. What’s more, the presence of gay people in a football squad should not be “a problem”, as was implied in the cassano; and given the apparent contempt with which the Italian used the word “queer”, it seems unlikely that his press release was prompted by a genuine change of heart.

This is not his finest few hours, it must be said; and most people seem content to let the matter rest there. In the wider scheme of things, then, let’s look on the bright side. This forward, who has produced several memorable moments since he first emerged at Bari, has given us a new word, and has thus added to his legacy in the unlikeliest of ways.

The New York Times: A tale of two Spains

This piece originally appeared in The New York Times Goal blog, on 1 July 2010.  The link is here: http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/01/noble-spanish-are-also-masters-of-games-dark-arts/


This World Cup has been the tale of two Spains.

The Spanish are the best of sports: they went through the entire group stage of the World Cup without a yellow card – the only nation to do so at this tournament.  Yet they are also the worst of sports. Against Portugal, Joan Capdevila schemed, as had his teammate Fernando Torres against Chile, and like Torres ensured that an opponent was unfairly sent off.

Perhaps Capdevila would argue that he had merely wised up to the fact that sometimes a game must be won ugly: that those in the winner’s enclosure carry a necessary nastiness within their guts. After all, Capdevila is best known for his successful years with Deportivo de La Coruña, the Galician team that immediately before his arrival was famed for its gallant football and equally gallant failure.

Perhaps Torres, too, was making a point about needing a more devious edge. A brilliant striker in his second full season at Liverpool, he has won the approval of a nation but not its league championship. As with La Coruña, Liverpool’s ultimate problem was perceived as being a lack of ruthlessness at key stages in key games.

Perhaps, and perhaps not. All we know for certain is that against Chile, Torres fell forward as he ran toward its penalty area, his heels either clipped by Marco Estrada or – equally likely – by each other; and that when he fell to the ground, he lay there as if he had been assailed by an angry chainsaw. And all we know for certain is that Capdevila, in response to the arrival of Ricardo Costa in his penalty area, tumbled to earth as if thumped by an invisible anvil.  In both cases, red cards swiftly followed.

Yet this World Cup is the tale of two Spains, and Xaví and David Villa typify the other. Against Portugal, Xaví completed more passes than anyone else on the field. In fact, accompanied by Andres Iniesta, his impish apprentice, he passed the ball almost a hundred times, and more than the opposing midfield trio of Meireles, Tiago and Pepe managed among them.  David Villa, meanwhile, has helped himself to four goals, two of which – his tiptoe through the Honduran defense, and his chip from distance against Chile – should be on all sensible shortlists for the goal of the tourmament.

Villa and Xaví have built that other Spain, the one that plays with such elegant economy, in a spirit of sportsmanship. They look like nice boys. Pep Guardiola, Xaví’s manager at F.C. Barcelona, said of him that “when he has a day off, he goes and picks setas [mushrooms] in the countryside, and someone who picks mushrooms can’t be a bad bloke.”  But this is the thing.  Mushrooms or not, Spain isn’t nice.

Spain is becoming reminiscent of another attack-minded yet defensively sound outfit that had high World Cup hopes – the Brazil team of 2002.  Like Spain, that team had players (Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo) whose invention with the ball was thrilling. Like Spain, that team had players who were happy to seek free kicks at the slightest sign of interference, as Rivaldo infamously did in a group game against Turkey. Maybe Spain has surmised that to win a World Cup, you need a full array of the footballing arts, including some of its dark ones; the truth is hidden somewhere behind Vicente del Bosque’s Great Barrier Reef of a moustache, and it isn’t emerging anytime soon. What we can reliably say is that the Spanish, with their careful manipulation of both ball and referee, are in the World Cup quarterfinals.  And to paraphrase Charles Dickens, they are currently fighting a far, far better campaign for the trophy than they have ever fought.