Sometimes, the world surrounds us with morons. Sometimes, the ghost of John Madden announcing an NFL game haunts our television, and possessed pundits speak pure nonsense. Some American footy fans views soccer as a refuge of the educated elite. In this sphere, foreign announcers woo us with their passion, insight, and acute observations.
Really? Have Britishisms deafened American ears to soccer’s own jabberwocky? This past week, I perked my ears and peeled my eyes. I listened and read for terms, phrases, and expressions. I listened to TV punditry. I read columns. I scanned books. What I found may shock you: oxymora populate the soccerspeak landscape!
Here are the worst offenders.
In soccer, we praise feints and hoodwinks. We love the “clever play” that opens up the defense. For example, in the 2002 World Cup, Rivaldo often let passes roll between his legs in order to freeze defenses and let his strike partner, Ronaldo, get an easy shot on goal. What do we call this type of trick? No, not a self-nutmeg. A “dummy.” What do English announcers use to describe a good play? “Brilliant.” On occasion, the two combine. Our ears burn as the pundit exclaims “what a brilliant dummy.”
On a philosophical level, perhaps the same thing can be brilliant and dumb at the same time. Perhaps intelligence is relative. On a linguistic level, though, the two terms are incongruous. What does the adjective “incongruous” mean? Not congruous. Duh. You are either brilliant or you are a dummy. Not both. Still, this is not the worst offender.
Fans of the fierce-tackling English Premier League love a good clash of feet. At the heart of any good midfield, a player or two runs about, harasses the opposing team’s creative types, and wins the ball back. He is known as the “holding midfielder.” However, this term leads to some inconsistent refereeing: why does a so called “holding midfielder” get in trouble for clutching a jersey?
To clutch. To grab. To hold. To claw. Why do we punish “holding” midfielders for “holding?” It’s like hiring a computer engineer, but then deducting from their paycheck for each hour they spend sitting in front of a computer. Soccer slaps the label “holding” on the job description, then complains about the job done. It’s enough to drive a blogger mad. No wonder Gattuso always yelled when he played. And poor clutch-happy Javier Mascherano. Almost nobody understands you, but I do.
Similar linguistic inconsistencies in soccer abound. For example, forwards. They don’t just score goals anymore. They have many names and labels. False Nines. Poachers. Foxes in boxes. Target men. However, for the passing oriented strikers who drop back to help the midfield, a common term is “withdrawn striker.” Mesut Ozil is a pretty close example of a “withdrawn striker.” However, this phrase creates confusion when Ozil enters as a sub: how can a striker be “withdrawn” and “enter” at the same time?
Withdrawn striker enters. Which is it? Make up your mind! Of course, when Ozil gets subbed off, all’s kosher. The withdrawal of a withdrawn striker may be redundant, but makes sense. Could you imagine anything else happening?
In England, Sir Alex Ferguson would be called a “manager.” In the US, he’s a “coach.” However, unlike most MLS teams and coaches, Sir Alex does not fly “coach.” In fact, he doesn’t even fly First Class. Rather, he usually flies along with the team in a private jet. So the coach flies private, not coach. Go figure.
Of course, the European club debt problems may change that. Perhaps one day Sir Alex will have to go through security, take off his shoes, place his iPad in a separate bin, and tip-toe in socks through metal detectors just like the rest of us. Maybe, in the near future, he will longingly gaze at the line-less First Class restroom from behind the coach curtain. For now, the coach does not fly coach. Not even close.
Oxymora. Inconsistencies. They are everywhere. Soccer is not the scene for Platonic late night dinner parties where philosophers sip wine and spew treatises on morality. If you listen hard enough, you just may hear a brilliant dummy. And if you look closely at the TV screen, you’ll probably see one.