David Hirshey writes regularly about soccer for Deadspin.
Even though I once stood inches away from David Beckham in a white, silk jump suit (he was wearing it, not me), debating the relative merits of whether we should call his book "Beckham" or "David Beckham," I never felt closer to the Future Savior of American Soccer than I did on Saturday. You see, neither Becks nor I were able to attend TomKat's wedding in Italy, albeit for slightly different reasons. Beckham was ordered by his current club Real Madrid to rehab his injured left knee back in Spain and then show up at Real's game ... not to play, mind you, but to sit in the stands where the fans can see him and hopefully be sufficiently moved to buy a few more jerseys before he takes his brand elsewhere.
As for me, I was forced to rebuff Leitch's generous offer of using the Deadspin corporate jet, festooned with nubile flight attendants wearing sheer Cardinals jerseys and brandishing jereboams of Cristal to whisk me to Castello Odescalchi outside Rome — as some of you may have heard, I signed up Will to write a book, and this is part of our quid pro quo deal — because I felt a moral obligation to be at Kinsale Tavern in Manhattan to inaugurate the First Weekly Deadspin Premiership Drunkathlon.
Regrets? Well, minutes before the 9:45 am kickoff of the three games — ManU-Sheffield United, Chelsea-West Ham, Arsenal-Newscastle — that were being simultaneously telecast above the bar, I did turn to Frankie, Kinsale's owner, and remark, "Perhaps I made a mistake passing up all those famous Scientologists in Italy, because it looks like my fellow Deadspinners are too hungover to start drinking again this early." And wouldn't you know it? Just as I was resigning myself to another morning of abuse from the bars' regulars who don't necessarily relish hoisting a pint every 15 minutes in honor of the Grand Fromage that is Thierry Henry, the saloon doors suddenly swung open and in walked the Deadspin Three — Adam, Mary and Michael — to save the day, if not Arsenal's championship hopes. I immediately plopped a $20 bill (Will had recently agreed to pay me that amount per word, which explains the interminable length of this post) on the bar and asked Joanne for a Stella and "whatever my Deadspin friends want."
The rest of the tale is after the jump.
Much to my surprise they all ordered coffee, which, for a moment, led me to think they were Deadspin imposters. But it soon became clear that they were, at the very least, card-carrying soccer weenies, if not necessarily as Anglo-centric as I might have hoped. Adam, for instance, is much more focused on the state of American soccer as befits someone who writes a blog entitled thisisamericansoccer. ("Look for Klinsmann to be more of a big picture technical director and leave the day-to-day coaching stuff to Sigi Schmid," he confided) Mary, who hails from Clifton, N.J., and has a Czech father, turns out to have more of a rooting interest in players who either come from her hometown (Giuseppi Rossi of Newcastle) or the old country (Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal). And Michael is a rabid Roma fan who is delighted with Totti's return to world-class form and his team's return to the top of Serie A.
Perhaps because it never easy to concentrate on three games, let alone one, when a couple of German guys bedecked in Bayern Munchen scarves, jerseys and lederhosen who look to have been up all night getting stoked for the big Bundesliga clash with Stuttgart are swaying behind you and singing the Bayern fight song — whose lyrics can be loosely translated as "beat the inferior human races, skin them alive and use their children for medical experiments, OliverKahnOliver KahnOliverKahn" — we missed most of the goals in the Chelsea and ManU matches.
The Deadspin Three were kind enough to indulge my Arsenal jones, and when Henry bent in a glorious free kick in the 70th minute to tie the score at 1-1, we all agreed that the Gunners would now lower the hammer on plucky Newscastle. Of course, none of us could have predicted that Adebayour would do his Kanu impersonation in front of goal — what Gunner fan doesn't remember Kanu comically flubbing one sitter after another before morphing into a cool gunslinger for Portsmouth? — or that Newcastle goalie Shay Given would stone a fusillade of shots from Henry and Fabregas. The result (and this is as painful for me to admit as Given's recent bowel surgery must have been for him) is that Arsenal is no longer part of the Premiership title conversation.
There are now, officially, only two contenders and, as luck would have it, they collide next Sunday at Old Trafford. It's No. 1 Manchester United vs. No. 2 Chelsea. A resurgent Rooney (two more venomous finishes on Saturday) vs. a rampant Drogba. The seeing-eye passes of Scholes and Carrick vs. the muscle and bustle of Essian and Lampard. The razzle-dazzle brilliance of Ronaldo vs. the jinking, electrifying runs of Robben. England captain John Terry vs. his fellow England centerback/chanteuse Rio Ferdinand.
And, of course, the Purple One vs. The Special One, whose warm and fuzzy relationship goes back to Mourinho's in-your-face celebration of Porto's Champions League elimination of ManU in 2004. How big is this game? Well, rumor has it that Cardillo is threatening to make the trip down from Fairfield, Conn. to join us at Kinsale for what promises to be the Premiership equivalent of Ohio State-Michigan. I wouldn't put it past either Mourinho or Fergie to pull a Bo if they thought it would give their team an edge, although personally I'm hoping for a more manly version of the Wenger-Pardew dustup that ends with at least one of them having their eyebrow bitten off
Should that happen, rest assured I'll be telling Joanne "give my Deadspin friends whatever they want," and this time I seriously doubt it'll be coffee.