Summer Vacay for Euro GiantsExpect the world’s top soccer stars to work about as hard on their vacation as you do
by Jeff Maurer | Friday, July 13, 2012
I can tell by the hoard of baffled tourists standing next to the ticket-buying machines in the subway stations that it’s summer, aka “tourist season”. Many of these tourists are European, easily identified by their socks with sandals (excepting the Italians and French) and propensity for sunburns (excepting the Italians). A few of these European tourists are world class soccer players; this is the time of year when big European clubs tour America. Not that I’ve seen Ashley Cole fumbling for quarters in front of a MetroCard machine; the European clubs tend to travel in considerably more style. But make no mistake: this is a vacation for them.
Chelsea, AC Milan, PSG and several other big clubs will play games stateside in the near future. Some of these games will be against MLS clubs. At some point, an MLS club (or possibly the MLS All-Star Team) will beat one of the big clubs. When that happens, we MLS fans will feel pretty good about ourselves but also debate just how much it means to beat a team that is in summer vacation mode. I hate to be the bearer of bad news (in this instance - sometimes being the bearer of bad news is cathartic fun) but beating a big team on summer break means next to nothing.
Put yourself in the mindset of a top player. You recently finished a nine month season. Because you play for a big club, you played league matches, European matches, and probably had a decent cup run or two in there somewhere. That may have been immediately followed by the European Championships. You are in as much of a down period as you are ever going to get: the season is still more than a month away. The player being brought in to replace you has not been bought yet, so you’re not too motivated. You’re in the US, the only place in the world where you can walk down the street without worrying about being photographed (except by that damn Google street van). It’s sunny, it’s hot. Clearly, if there was ever a time to take your foot off the gas, now is it.
A discerning fan can notice the subtle differences in performance. Runs off the ball are fewer. Midfielders don’t get forward. Strikers don’t get back. Fullbacks stay home so much that they are practically agoraphobic. I have seen some truly half-assed performances in my time. I saw Cristiano Ronaldo play a match where he seemed to think you accumulate points just by doing tricks, as if he was playing skateboard vert instead of soccer. I saw Ronaldinho during the part of his career where he was accumulating enough mass that we should have permanently dropped the “inho” from his name. He was nibbling on a chili dog through the second half of that match. The continental plate he was standing on demonstrated more movement during that match than he did.
That Ronaldinho match ended in a 3-2 win for DC United over AC Milan during the season in which United set MLS records for losses and fewest goals scored. DC couldn’t beat a dusty throw rug that season. But they beat AC Milan. In 2010 the Kansas City Wizards, who didn’t make the MLS Cup Playoffs the year before they rebranded, went out and beat Manchester United. And there is always a chance for a poor MLS team like Toronto to pull one over on PSG. But truly and absolutely, these results just don’t mean much.
Of course, the result isn’t the point; the point is to see some entertaining soccer played by some of the best players in the world. Even if some of those players are just killing time between the club and the beach. Even if the only conditioning the players will do involves little bottles of L’Oreal at five star hotels. Even if there’s an inverse relationship between how much you want to see a player and how hard he’ll be trying (Sam Hutchinson will be busting his lungs! Alexandre Pato...not so much). It’s still fun, it’s still a chance to see legendary teams, and it’s still a chance to see Chelsea without John Terry (the best way to see Chelsea!). Let’s just remember that the results don’t mean much.