Welcome to Heroes and Villains, a place where we look back at the Premier League action and try to figure out where our favourite footballers would fit in the storytelling universe. It would be super boring to just list a bunch of people under those two categories, so for this, we will be incorporating more than just the protagonist/antagonist labels.
I’m from Philadelphia so I’m a pretty big sucker for an underdog story. The key to a great underdog story is that things need to go horribly wrong at the start, only for a miraculous comeback towards glory.
Being an underdog in Philly will earn you eternal sports glory. 5 foot 11 inch Allen Iverson is considered one of the cities greatest athletes for the immense pounding he took from the Sixers’ 2001 NBA Finals run. 2nd baseman Chase Utley is beloved for his inexhaustible grind during the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series win. Our last major sports champion, the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, wore dog masks during warm-ups, throwing major shade at the sports bookies doubting them, even in home games.
But the most famous Philadelphian isn’t even a real person, it is the Italian Stallion himself – Rocky Balboa.
Rocky is such a big deal that we have a statue of him outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A statue which stands next to a building holding the work of Salvadore Dali, Cezanne, and Pablo Picasso. The statue brings more tourism than these icons of the arts.
This might sound sacrilegious but a few years ago Rocky’s schtick was getting old. After Sylvester Stallone’s character ended the Cold War in 1985’s Rocky IV, it wouldn’t have bothered anyone to see Rocky permanently hang up the gloves. Instead, we had to watch a geriatric version of the boxer get in a street fight and take on a character with the lamest name, Mason Dixon. Truly awful stuff for this once proud film icon.
People are sometimes under the impression that comebacks have to happen all at once, and sometimes that is true. But the more exciting ones have a slow build, full of moments you can point to as the catharsis. And they usually involve an injection of youth into the fold.
It wasn’t until Creed was released in 2015 that Philadelphia fell back in love with the Rock. You see, Rocky was still great, he was funny, full of wisdom, and still a real tough S.O.B. But he wasn’t a leading guy anymore, he needed a bit of help from a charismatic, engaging star. Enter Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s deceased BFF and athletic rival. Creed was a massive hit. A re-telling of the classic underdog story. All it needed was a little youth.
In the Champions League, after destroying Red Star Belgrade 9-0 over the span of two matches, Tottenham Hotspur has made me believe in the comeback.
Wednesday’s match marked the first time summer signings Giovanni Lo Celso, Ryan Sessegnon, and Tanguy NDombele all played at the same time, albeit for 11 minutes. More importantly, it was so obvious the breath of fresh air they each bring into this stale Spurs side. Ndombele is the veteran of this trio, having been involved since August. It is clear that he can dazzle with the ball, disrupting opponents with his elusiveness and vision. Sessegnon, in his Champions League debut, entered as a sub in the 75th minute using his pace and crossing vision to set up two goal-scoring opportunities for the away team. Lo Celso, earning his first start in a Tottenham kit, smashed home a rebound to give Spurs a lead they would never give up. His passing was breathtakingly crisp and accurate as he looks poised to take on a bigger role moving forward.
If this isn’t a sign for Pochettino that he needs to roll with the youth, there might not be much hope for him. I understand why he keeps throwing his veteran players onto the pitch, especially against a team like Liverpool. But, like the Rocky series, it might be time to start shifting the focus. Let’s move on from Danny Rose, Serge Aurier, Victor Wanyama, Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Hugo Lloris, and Toby Alderweireld – all players with a lot to still offer.
We can always remember the memories they provided and the important groundwork they set. Spurs can even commission a statue or mural to celebrate their contributions outside of Hotspur Way. We are all forever grateful. Rocky will always be the one who paved the way but at a point, you have to move aside.
It’s time for the youth to take over.
James Bond is lame
Is there anything more cliche in the world than watching a Liverpool match? Can we all just agree to skip the entire 90 minutes and just give them the 3 points? In yet another astonishing comeback that astonished absolutely no one, Liverpool put two balls in the net within 7 minutes, one 4’ into stoppage time to defeat a plucky Aston Villa team that deserved something for their effort.
For some strange reason, things just seem to work out for this club over the last year. Since 2019 began, Liverpool has won 51 games, drawn 11 times, and lost on only 8 occasions. In matches that Liverpool trailed, they have the best record in Europe, earning more points from a losing position than any club team. But the most frustrating aspect of being a non-Liverpool supporter isn’t that they win, it is HOW they win.
Liverpool’s worst annoying trait is that they are able to pull out victories in ways that your club never could.
I might catch some heat for this but James Bond never really did it for me. Sure, I have to admit that he looked cool, was slick with the ladies, and had the neatest gadgets and toys. The flair, the charisma, the luck, all of it added up to a total package that could handle every scenario. Even in the worst situation, against the most evil of villains, James wiggled his way out and came out on top. With all due respect to Ian Fleming, I think we can collectively say that this character and the storyline, after 25 films and 7 actor portrayals, is plain tired.
(The best Bond-related item in history is easily Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, possibly the best video game ever created. In keeping with the football theme, Shaqiri makes a pretty good stand-in for Oddjob).
Am I being cynical that this whole Liverpool winning in the last second thing fatigues me? Maybe, it’s too personal. I hate them. They have gutted me too many times. But the question still needs to be asked: why do we need Liverpool to somehow pull off these victories week after week? Did we really need them to get a bogus penalty against Leicester in the 95th minute? Which footballing god felt the need to resurrect the corpse of Adam Lallana after three years to save a point against United? Why does Serge Aurier have to flail his limbs in uncontrollable fashion each and every play? I mean, even Genk was in the game Tuesday until Ox decided to kick the ball with his eyes closed and it somehow went in.
This magic has to run out. It always does. Hell, people barely see James Bond movies anymore…
(Looks up box office numbers and realizes that people definitely still see Bond movies)
Here’s hoping that 2019 is just Liverpool’s version of Skyfall, the 27th highest-grossing movie of all-time, and 2020 brings us a nice 300 million dip like that bust of a film, Spectre, the 63rd highest.
Mauricio Pochettino must be thanking the stars that Unai Emery exists. While the Spurs manager has earned his fair share of criticism, it is nothing in comparison to the heat the other North London club are feeling.
This week has brought about peak-#NotMyManager vibes from supporters, reminiscent of every Arsenal-hater’s favourite time in Gunner history, the #WengerOut era.
It makes me start to wonder if any manager will be able to meet the expectations and standards once set by Arsene. Emery certainly hasn’t transformed the club into the powerhouse it so desperately wants to be. But he hasn’t made things that much worse either. It certainly isn’t easy to replace a club legend.
This makes me wonder about the role of expectations and how we have such a hard time when something doesn’t meet them. I can still remember how important the 1999 release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was. It was possibly the most hyped movie in history. People waited close to twenty years to re-visit a galaxy far, far away. And the majority of them left the theatre very, very, very disappointed.
Yes, the movie has problems. Not going to debate that. But what if The Phantom Menace hadn’t been the 4th movie released in the franchise and instead it was the first? Wouldn’t it have captured the hearts, imagination, and attention the same way that A New Hope did for all those people in the 70s? Imagine if this was the first exposure you had to this fantasy universe as a kid. A young Ewan McGregor cutting robots into pieces, Liam Neeson with a sweet robe and an Ibrahimovic-esque ponytail, Samuel L. Jackson making typical Samuel L. Jackson faces, a bad-ass Sith apprentice twirling around in a battle with face paint and a double-lightsaber. Hell, things are so crazy in this movie that George Lucas decided the main event should be a deadly go-kart race for close to thirty minutes featuring alien degenerates gambling children’s slave rights. If that doesn’t sound like the most entertaining movie in history, you might want to check if you still have a pulse.
Arsenal have some nice players on their team. They have goal-scoring machines in Aubameyang and Lacazette, new signings with great potential in Pepe, Tierney, and (eventually) Saliba, and, despite the defensive woes, some interesting midfield pieces in Torreria and Guendouzi.
I know this is a scorching hot take but maybe Episode I really isn’t all that bad? There is definitely enough there to overlook Jar Jar Binks, right?
Speaking of Jar Jar, there is just absolutely no reason for his involvement in the movie at all. He is supposed to guide the Jedis through the core of his home planet of Naboo but instead cries and freaks out the entire time. My guy can’t walk down the street without accidentally tossing grilled reptiles into people’s soup or standing near a podracer without getting his entire head numbed by the plasma propellers. He is the definition of a liability. Even when he somehow destroys a bunch of battle droids, it is simply a result of his own clumsiness. Somehow, beyond all belief, he becomes a freaking representative of the Galactic Senate?? I mean, Jar Jar seems like a nice guy and all but is there any wonder that the Dark Side took over when we have someone like him making decisions for us.
If Emery had come before Wenger, we wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss him as a bumbling fool. So what he refuses to utilize the right tactics or constantly switches the lineup or pretends like Mesut Ozil doesn’t exist? Can’t we overlook these little things and give the guy a second chance?
Wait. OMG. Emery is Jar Jar. Jar Jar is Emery. Wow, Arsenal is a disaster.
Until next week, just remember that we can all be a hero. Even you, Xhaka. But, maybe, you might want to start fresh at a new club…