David Hirshey Is Your World Cup Historian, Not Your World Cup Closer

David Hirshey wrote regularly for this site about soccer for two years before selling us out to write a terrific book for ESPN. He talked to Emeritus about the book, the World Cup and mustaches.

Let's get right to it. Who are you picking in The Big Game?

I haven't really thought much about Slovenia-Algeria but since you asked, my money is on the Little Dragons unless, of course, Zinedine Zidane, the head-butting son of Algerian immigrants, suits up for the Desert Foxes and…


Glad to see that nothing has changed in the two years since you left Deadspin. I was asking about the USA-England showdown, you mustachioed monster.

Sorry, I was thrown by your use of Big Game. Every one of the 64 is big, though England vs. USA is only significant in terms of Anglo-American relations, which have really gone to hell, as far as I'm concerned ever since Russell Brand slept with Katy Perry. Oh, and there's some thing with BP…


The bottom line is that June 12 is going to be hell on earth. The smug Brits vs. the brash Americans. Wayne Rooney is in the form of his life — he's even more focused than when he was shagging all those grandma hookers in Liverpool — and the Yanks still don't seem like they've found four guys in a country of 300 million who can play solid defense. Which is why my heart says a 1-1 tie would be a miraculous result for us, but my head, my mustache, and my torn meniscus all say England 3, US 1.

Do you think this tournament has some of the great characters and cult figures from past years, like the ones you write about in the book? A guy like Giuseppe Meazza would be on the cover of every tabloid and gossip mag on the planet today. Are players are as interesting as they used to be?

Make no mistake. The great rogues of the past did things that would make Daulerio's nocturnal habits seem positively quaint. Meazza, for example, led Italy to its first World Cup title in 1934 even though his idea of training was to tango all night and wake up the next morning in a brothel with a strange woman on either side of him. He'd often arrive at his team's game just before kickoff, bleary-eyed, unshaven, and wearing his pajamas ... but after he banged in a couple of goals, all would be forgiven. But that was nothing compared with the bow-legged Brazilian legend Garrincha, who fathered more than 14 children (eat your heart out, Travis Henry). And, of course, George Best and Ferenc Puskas, two of the dominant players of the 50's and 60's, were perpetually drunk. Puskas reportedly only knew two words in English: "vhisky" and "jiggy-jig", which I presume a few whiskies often led to at the end of the night. But when it comes to louche immortality, it's hard to beat Diego Maradona. This was a guy who rarely stepped away from the buffet table or a pile of cocaine and used the team's hotel lobby for rifle practice.

Today's players are simply not as colorful, except perhaps for the Brazilians. Robinho was captured on camera asking a security guard outside a nightclub to go and fetch him 40 condoms while countryman Ronaldo, the leading goal scorer in World Cup history, was caught on camera with three tranny hookers. European stars are always trying to keep pace with the Brazilians, but they have the same luck off the field as they do on it. Take the recent scandal in France in which Franck Ribery, the Grand Fromage of Les Bleus, and two of his teammates were charged with consorting with an under-age call girl. In the old days, soccer's rogues would have checked her birth certificate first. That's a rookie mistake.

I feel like the American team needs a "character," and I don't mean a lame Alexi Lalas-type character. If you could pick one player from World Cup history to put on the United States team, someone who would be a crossover Barkley-esque superstar, whom would it be?

I hate to bring up a certain porcine coke fiend from Argentina again, but you gotta admit that Maradona would certainly shake things up on Bob Bradley's boy scout troop. The one problem is that as a disciple of Che Guevara, El Diego would not be too eager to wear the capitalist pig jersey. That's why I'm going with the Mad Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov, a player who should be vaguely familiar to American soccer fans since he was the co- leading scorer at USA' 94 and later came to play in MLS where he distinguished himself by breaking a college student's leg in a SCRIMMAGE. Stoichkov possessed divine skills, the ego of a messiah, and a five o'clock shadow that occurred at eight in the morning. At Barcelona, where the fans adored him, he was so incensed by a referee's call that he stomped on the man's foot and was suspended for two months. He also questioned the parentage of one of the team's executives on live TV but all was forgiven when he scored twenty goals in limited action. Stoichkov took the Bulgarians on a magic carpet ride to the semi-finals of USA '94 where they lost to Italy on a controversial penalty call. "Yes, God was on our side," he said afterwards. "But the referee was French."

Which country has the most unreasonable, annoying fans? My guess is England.

You'd be unreasonable and annoying too if your team hadn't won anything in 44 years. I mean, the last time England lifted any silverware was at the 1966 World Cup, and that trophy was summarily stolen. Pickles, the dog that found it — I swear I'm not making this up — later choked to death when his collar got caught on a tree branch while he was chasing a cat. Would that kind of karma not cause you to act out and perhaps urinate on the person in front of you because he was wearing a different color jersey? That sense of desperation, fueled by room-temperature beer and hideously bad food, can be toxic. But it's not just limited to the Brits. Any country with a maniacal devotion to their flag tends to be spring-loaded. Look for the Serb fans to break through at this World Cup if their riot at a recent "friendly" against New Zealand is any indication. And don't count out the Maradona-inspired ultras from Argentina who like to use their celestial fists to announce themselves to the world just as their hero did when he punched the ball into the England goal in '86.

I've seen all these power rankings of teams and players. Who's the most five likely players currently in South Africa to be busted for solicitation in the next fortnight?

Yeah, where are the Czechs when we need them? Probably in the same brothel where six of their players were given red cards for cavorting with prostitutes following their losing World Cup qualifier to Slovakia. With the Czechs absent from South Africa, the 40,000 sex workers who are reported to be displaying their national pride (and other body parts) during the tournament might cast a come-hither glance in the direction of oiled up Vanity Fair cover boy and world-class diver Christiano Ronaldo. The preening Portuguese pouter goes down faster in the box than, well, than a streetwalker in Jo'berg's red light district. Expect to see his CR9 logo branded on the ass of some unfortunate hooker in 2010 and to hear tales of five-on-two hot tub drills that include his teammate Nani. Beyond that duo, you have the aforementioned Robinho and Ribery. Plus, you have to like the chances of a couple of well-known English horndogs: John "Lock Up Your Girlfriends" Terry and Ashley Cole, who managed to blow up his marriage to this pop vixen by getting caught offsides one too many times.

Every time I read something about Team USA by an American writer, I get all excited that they can break through to the quarterfinals or more, and every time I read something about Team USA by a European writer, I think Team USA is a total joke. Who's right? Are they all laughing at us?

The English do snobbery better than anyone — how else do you explain Hugh Grant's career? — but when it comes to soccer, their noblesse oblige is even more insufferable. They see winning the World Cup as their divine right and regard the US as annoying, little stepchildren who sometimes forget their place and offend their more sophisticated elders by beating the crap out of them. The English still think we feel about soccer the way they feel about good teeth.

Is Diego Maradona the worst coach in the World Cup?

What would give you that idea? Just because he ran over a reporter en route to a press conference and shouted "what an asshole you are" at the injured man or demanded a pair of state-of-the-art bidets in his two bedroom suite (you know, like the ones Daulerio had installed for your bachelor party, only with front and rear wands) or tried out 108 players for 23 spots on his squad, or snubbed world-class players like Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Juan Roman Riquelme or has no clue about tactics or formations ... that doesn't necessarily mean he's the worst coach, just the most batshit insane. Besides, Argentina has so much firepower, including the incomparable Lionel Messi, that even Maradona's eccentricities might not be enough to stop them from going deep into the tournament, if not all the way. Should that happen, Maradona has promised to run naked through the streets of Buenes Aires, which raises the very real possibility that his players may tank the final so as to save the world's children from the sight of a fat coke-addled cheater in his birthday suit.

Yet Maradona is no lock for worst coach in South Africa. He will be pushed hard by the Ivory Coast's Sven-Goran Eriksson and France's Raymond Domenech. A serial coach-hopper who crashed and burned with England in 2006 after allowing the WAGS to run amok in Germany, Eriksson took on the job in Africa less than six weeks ago and inherited an Ivory Coast team plagued by ego and a weak defense but one still touted for great things as long as it had Didier Drogba in the lineup. But last week Drogba broke his elbow — and the hearts of a nation — and even Sven was moved to say he was "concerned" by this latest blow to his team's chances. He's also thinks "American Idol" will be fine without Simon

And then there are the comedy stylings of Domench whose French team stunk up qualifying like a piece of stale Roquefort. That they squeaked through, thanks to Thierry Henry's hand ball, only made the stench worse. With his long-derided practice of consulting astrological charts before picking his team and over-reliance on the aging Henry as his coach on the field, Domenech was so unpopular in his own country that the French Soccer Federation finally bowed to public pressure and announced he would be replaced after the World Cup. It is doubtful, however, that Domenech's lame-duck status will galvanize Les Bleus to win the tournament for him. Au contraire. It will only reinforce what everyone already knows — that France's unlikely march to the 2006 final was all about the transcendent talent and ferocious will of Zidane and had nothing to do with their ass clown of a manager.

How has the process of doing the book for ESPN been? You have a co-writer. I think it would be hard to have a co-writer.

You know, I was surprised that ESPN kept asking me to insert more dick jokes in the copy. But seriously, the process was not all that different than when I worked for Deadspin except they insisted the facts be accurate and that I not mention Arsenal more than once every 48,000 words. Plus I had a British co-author who's a lifelong Everton fan so he demanded equal time for his beloved Toffees.

It was odd, for some reason, seeing you on Bill Simmons' podcast.

Luckily, Simmons had Steve Nash on right before me, so he was able to trot out his theory about how similar basketball and soccer ar e— the footwork, the angles, the telepathic connection between players, and of course the appreciation for high-end escorts. And I basically agree with that analogy except having seen Chris Bosh play soccer at one of Nash's charity games, I think it helps if you can kick a ball.

Meanwhile, Simmons admitted that he's only been following the World Cup since 1998, which happened to be the tournament in which the US finished dead last in the field of 32. The fact that he didn't give up on soccer after that debacle is a testament to his curiosity about any sport that can draw a television audience of 26 billion people around the world, which I'm fairly certain is even more than watched his beloved Celtics beat the Lakers in Game Two of the NBA Finals. And while I'm thrilled that he is bringing his incisive commentary and enthusiasm to the World Cup, he is hopelessly misguided when it comes to the EPL team he supports. I can only assume that he once heard that Bill Russell was a fan of Tottenham because otherwise he's basically following the Washington Generals of British soccer.

Where are you watching England-USA? Want to invite some readers, old school wise?

I'd love to invite all Deadspin soccer weenies to bring their Vuvezelas and Brazilian supermodel girlfriends to join me in cheering on our plucky warriors against those pompous English bastards, but I'm afraid that the bar where I'll be watching — Keeley's on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — is all sold out. My friends at the soccer blog Unprofessional Foul rented it out for the game and tickets were snapped up a month ago. But for the rest of the Cup, I'll be in my accustomed seat at the Arsenal end of the bar at Kinsale Tavern (94th and Third), my home away from home for the last five years, where the Stella and the bonhomie will be flowing non-stop and the bartenders have been instructed to serve cat piss to anyone in a Tottenham shirt. You're all welcome to join me there ... even you Leitch, if you can crowbar yourself out of the marital bed by noon. Go USA!