Every four years the world is blessed with the World Cup and every four years we struggle with how to watch every single game and remain productive, or at least pretend to be productive. How, for example, should we adjust our sleep patterns? How can we watch a 3am game as well as the following 8am and 11am matches? Should we go to bed early? Nap between matches? Or, forgo sleep all together?
While we can’t offer any solutions for being productive or help you convince your partner that watching 22 grown men kick a ball is the most important thing you’ll do this entire summer, we’d like to offer some insight and speculation as you anxiously await the first game.
1 vs 1 takes inspiration from impromptu pick-up games played on the block, in vacant lots, and backyard parties. In these games the general rules of soccer still apply: there is a goal and two opposing sides and there are winner and losers. Like these informal games, 1 vs 1 brings together folks with varying degrees of skill, experience with and knowledge about soccer. Through this new series of interviews we hope to create a space for everyone to enjoy the beautiful game.
Our first pairing brings together Joshua Nadel—a historian of soccer in Latin America—and Manuel Guzmán, known to his nephews (including this one) as Tio Lobo.
Born in Garcia de La Cadena, Zacatecas in 1956, Manuel grew up on a small farm and did not begin playing soccer until his family moved to Guadalajara, Mexico. As a seventeen-year-old, he joined the neighborhood team Botafogo and was promptly told by the coach that he would never get any playing time. Running for this young man was so new that his awkward movements baffled most spectators. He was undeterred and found his way onto the starting 11. When he migrated to Santa Barbara on July 10 1989, he brought his love for the game with him. In Santa Barbara he is known as the old dude who drives a taxi and juggles the ball in front of 7-11 stores. You can read more about him in the short story titled “Lobo.”
Born in the Bronx, NY in 1970, Josh grew up in Summit, NJ, where he played soccer until his 9th grade coach told him he was too small to play. He immediately switched to ultimate frisbee. When he began to work on his first book Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America(University Press of Florida, 2014), he decided it was time to take up the game again. His only asset on the field is speed; his touch betrays him every time. But he enjoys pick-up in Athens, Greece and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He has been fortunate to watch two children (Sofia, 13, and Rafael, 10) enjoy playing soccer, and has passed his love of its history on to them. His next book, co-authored with Brenda Elsey, is Futboleras: Women in the History of Latin American Sport. It will be published by University of Texas Press in 2019.
We’ll start with Tio Lobo.
RG: Tio, what is fútbol?
Lobo: It is simply a sport, but one that influences society profoundly. It helps us forgot about things we don’t like. If there is something we don’t like in life, we can watch a game or play or even just juggle the ball. You can say it’s a haven.
RG: As Mexico gets ready for the world cup, I was thinking about some of the old players like Jorge Campos and wondered who you think are Mexico’s best five players for all time.
Lobo: Mexico has been playing for more than 100 years and 100 years is a long time. Five is a small number; it’s not even half of 11. But the five would be these.
Luis de la Fuente (1914-1972) the midfielder who played for Veracruz and the national team and played in Spain, Argentina, and Paraguay. He is buried next to the stadium of the Tiburones de Veracruz.
The great passer and technical player Antonio “Güero” Jasso (1935-2013). He played for America and the national team.
Salvador Reyes Monteón, who won a champion with Chivas and was a Campeon de Goleo.
Many people don’t know this, but he also played in the United States, with the Los Angeles Toros in 1967 or 1968. Of course the gringos didn’t know how to use him—some things don’t change—so he went back to Mexico after one season.
The other two—which you have seen play—are Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Hugo Sanchez.
Rafael Marquez needs to be there too. See mijo we need more than 5.
RG: How do you think we’ll do this time around?
Lobo: This world cup is going to be very special for Mexico. Either very great or very disappointing. I think Vela and “Chucky” Lozano can do big things this time around. Herrera too and maybe “Tecatito.”
RG: Who do you think will win the World Cup?
RG: Who is this cup’s Dark Horse?
Lobo: If there is a surprise, it will be Mexico. A big surprise or a big disappointment.
RG: Josh, what can you tell us about Mexico’s head coach? What can we expect to see from Juan Carlos Osorio?
Josh: Osorio wants flexibility. He’s coached in England, the United States, Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. He’s kind of a tinkerer, so likely will not have a fully firm starting 11 going into Russia. Instead he’ll alter the lineup based on the opponent.
RG: We’re a few weeks away and there are still some questions about the final roster. Who do you think will stay home and why?
Josh: Assuming that everyone other than Nestor Araujo is healthy (which is a bit of a worry for Andrés Guardado, Reyes, and Gio), Osorio still has to cut 4 players to get to 23. Here’s three that may not make it, with the caveat that I’ll be wrong on at least one.
1) Jürgen Damm. Nothing against his play, but the other forwards on the preliminary list are either better, more versatile, more experienced, or some combination of those three.
2) Edson Álvarez. The question of versatility goes for defensive cuts as well. Who can play in the center or on either flank? Who can push up the field as a midfielder in a pinch? Álvarez certainly can. But is he markedly better than others who bring more experience to the table? No. That said, if the decision comes down to Álvarez and someone like Hugo Ayala, perhaps youth will be in Edson’s favor.
3) Erick Gutiérrez will likely miss the cut as a midfielder. There’s one more player to cut. Maybe Molina. Maybe—though I seriously doubt it—Gio (cue the polemics).
It’s certainly nice that Osorio believes he’s got a free roster spot give to Rafa. I’ve got to believe that the only reason he’s on the roster is for his off-field influence. Márquez is a legend, and I love him, but he was a step slow as a 35-year old in 2014.
One other thing: I’m pretty sure that the final cuts will all be Mexican-based players. That’s going to piss some people off.
RG: In your book Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America you describe Mexico as a team that has yet to reach its potential. A team that is destined for greatness, but consistently misses the mark. Will Mexico finally break through?
Josh: I hope so (to the shock and dismay of my compatriots I’m a fan of el Tri), but probably not. We’ll make it out of our group (which is a tough one to predict—other than Germany). After that, we need luck in the draw. Unfortunately, my son, who is a bit of a stats geek and soccer savant, has us losing to Brazil in the round of sixteen. I’ll go with that. For context, Mexico has had 6 straight round-of-sixteen exits, and its two higher finishes—both quarterfinal losses—came at home.
RG: There are a few teams from Latin American going to Russia. Who do you see going the farthest?
Josh: Of the eight going, we can cross Panama and Peru off without a game played. Panama is a first-time qualifier and just happy to be there. Peru will play without their captain, Paulo Guerrero, though their group is not so bad. That leaves Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. Any of those—and maybe all—can get to the round of 16. But that’s the cap for most.
The easy answers are Brazil and Argentina. At least one will make the semis. They have incredible talent and relatively good draws. But each has some nagging questions. For Brazil: will Neymar be healthy. This matters only for team psychology, because honestly I don’t think that they need him. They’re that good. They imploded without him in 2014, but if they are prepared for his absence, then look out.
Argentina’s challenges are more: Romero’s injury, its back line, and Di Maria. Willy Caballero is perfectly fine, but he’s not Romero (and Romero is no Da Gea). Argentina produces great midfielders and forwards, but is often suspect on defense. In this iteration of the albiceleste, Di Maria is the least appreciated of Argentina’s stars. In 2014, they got bogged down without him in the semi-finals and finals. That (as well as Higuaín’s inability to finish) was the difference between Argentina and Germany lifting the cup.
Colombia could also do something, but if they make it past the 16, they come up against Germany in the quarters. Few (if any) teams have what it takes to beat Germany.