I really thought I was going to be able to talk about Mario Balotelli. I was sure that nothing of any import or excitement would happen in the closing minutes of Italy-Uruguay, as, indeed, there had been nothing worth discussing in the entire second half. Even the red card doled out to Claudio Marchisio at the hour mark was earned, if not deserved. Coming in late and high is stupid, and will get you a yellow most of the time. Coming in late and high when the referee is no more than three yards away is a sign you are no longer interested in playing and would like to take a shower.
So I thought this match would end 0-0, or maybe 1-0 to Uruguay, but that such a scoreline would have been deserved and not particularly remarkable, and that I’d get to talk about Mario Balotelli, whose first half performance consisted primarily of this:
If you don’t know Mario Balotelli. Now you do. That is a very Mario thing to do. It’s incredibly thoughtless, reckless and pointless — and tremendously athletic and coordinated. Make no mistake: Balotelli wanted to put his shin into the back of Periera’s head. It was not the unfortunate byproduct of a poorly timed aerial challenge. The ball leaves the screen before Mario jumps.* He was well-aware that he stood no chance of actually winning the ball in that moment, but hoped that after getting a boot to the neck, Pereira would be more tentative knowing there was a murder-eyed striker forever lurking in his blind spot. I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but it was definitely an idea that was carried out with malice aforethought.
And that’s one of the bigger problems with Mario. You get one of two, and you never know which one. The great Mario is the one who saves his murderous intent for the goalkeeper and the ball, and gives you an excellent chance at winning. That Mario is a world class player who would easily be one of the highest-paid and most sought after strikers, capable of winning matches not only through goal-scoring but through incisive and instinctive passing and movement, who can hold up the ball and shield it from defenders on his own, giving the rest of his team the opportunity to catch up to the play or catch their breath.
The other Mario is this one. The frustrated Mario who gives up on tactics, formation and teammates when he feels as if he’s not involved enough in the match. This Mario doesn’t give up on the game. He doesn’t stop trying. He just, well, he finds other ways to stamp his influence on the game, like skying six feet in the air to put a puncture in someone’s neck. Like pulling himself out of position to try to collect the ball, but only allowing the opposition to exploit his naivete and rashness. Balotelli was yellow-carded for the above foul and subsequently looked like he could be sent off at any moment. Instead, Cesare Prandelli, who resigned as Italy’s manager immediately after the match, substituted him at the half, which meant that after the red card and the injury to Verratti, Balotelli’s antics had hurt his team more greatly than he could have anticipated. Without his ability to control and maintain possession, Italy were always vulnerable to sustained attacks from Uruguay.
In soccer, they call such mindless acts of aggression, such moments of temporary insanity, “the red mist.” This is not the same as two players going for a ball equally distant from them, sliding in hard, and popping up to get in one another’s faces. No: that’s called “handbags” as nothing much ever comes from it. The red mist is sometimes a sustained period of madness, in which a player, like Balotelli in yesterday’s match, becomes unhinged from the game at large and appears for all the world to be playing an entirely different sport, the conclusion of which would leave only one man standing.
Yet, the red mist can also be a flash of lightning in an otherwise dark and quiet night. It comes from nowhere, without warning. Think of Rooney’s stamp on Cristiano Ronaldo’s boot in 2006; though something had clearly been building up inside Rooney and between him and Ronaldo, there had been no previous evidence on the field that it (or he) was about explode. And now. Now we have to talk about Luis.
Luis, Luis, Luis. At the 2010 World Cup, Luis Suarez became famous not for scoring 3 goals in 6 matches, but for denying an obvious goal — a game winning goal — by swatting it out of the air with his hands. Several months later, while playing with his professional club Ajax, he bit a player on the shoulder, for which the club suspended him two games and fined him. During that suspension, he was transferred to Liverpool, where no weirdness would ever surround him again.
Or not. Instead, a little less than a year after the previous incident, he would be accused of racially abusing an opponent, resulting in an eight-game suspension and upon his return a refusal to shake the hand of the man he offended. He would also score 17 goals in 30 games. Last April, he would bite a Chelsea defender on the shoulder and be suspended 10 games and fined an undisclosed amount. Despite missing those ten games, Suarez would score 61 goals in 81 matches over two years for Liverpool.
Yesterday, Luis Suarez did it again. He bit a human being on the shoulder in the run of play, escaping the referee’s notice. Even worse, he managed to elicit, however temporarily, sympathy for Giorgio Chiellini, who is pretty much everything that people hate about Italian soccer. Not only that, but after having bit him, leaving bite marks embedded in Chiellini’s shoulder, he fell to the ground holding his mouth.
We really need to talk about Luis. Because here’s the thing. Not only has he, on three occasions, bitten an opposing player in crucial late game situations. Not only has it gone unpunished by referees during the game itself, allowing him to continue to maraud and rampage freely after sinking his teeth into another human being. Not only is such an action contrary to the laws of the game, the social contract and basic hygiene.
Not only all of that BUT ALSO HE PLANNED HIS RESPONSE BEFOREHAND. HE KNEW HE WAS GOING TO BITE THAT GUY AND KNEW HE HAD TO HAVE A RESPONSE. THAT IS 100% BATSHITTERY AND I LOVE IT WHILE DESPISING IT. Like, I am not in any way in favor of biting. I am on the record as anti-human biting. That said: LOLOLOL. Luis Suarez is hysterical. What kind of human has a plan to not get in trouble for biting another human? What kind of person needs that kind of plan? What kind of person then has to institute that plan? What kind of person who comes up with and enacts that plan, has as that plan, “falling to the ground as if he had been shouldered in the teeth” as stage one and “saying at the press conference after the match ‘he ran his shoulder into my mouth” with a straight face” as stage two? WHAT KIND OF PERSON?
Only one person: Luis Suarez, who is a magnificent and insane person, there is probably no one like him, and so the world is enhanced by his presence, and we are enlightened by his acquaintance. I will not go so far as to say the world is “better” because biting people is not something that should be condoned or encouraged, but it’s certainly brighter, more diverse and a hell of a lot less predictable. Luis Suarez will almost certainly not play in a FIFA-sanctioned event for the next 24 months, which is the longest suspension allowed under their rules.** That he deserves the punishment is clear, that we deserve to see him play — and also see whatever insanity he has in store next — is equally clear.
We will miss you Luis, you crazy son of a bitch. I am glad that I will never be within three city blocks of you, because I am terrified of you. But without you on the field, there are fewer possibilities, both within the rules of soccer and the general laws of the universe. The world is a more predictable place without Luis Suarez, and I am ever in favor of unpredictability, even if I am not in favor of biting specifically.
There is soccer on today, but it’s already one quarter over and not very interesting. I have no intention of watching it or advising you to do so.
(ed. note) This Nigeria – Argentina match is actually pretty exciting. I suspect it’s because neither side seems to be fielding a defense today. Nigeria stupidly fouled in the box, though, otherwise it would be a closer score.
(ed. note 2) France has a good chance of matching or beating Netherlands’s 10 group-stage goals as they take on Ecuador.
Tomorrow is the last day of the Group Stage, the last day of two weeks of consecutive days of soccer, and features very important matches. Friday is an off day, but I’ll be back with a preview of the knockout round (hopefully) and a recap of the US-Germany match (definitely).
* I got a Nintendo when I was 9 years old, and brought it to my father’s so that I could play it while I stayed with him for a week. I only had Super Mario Bros and Dragon Warrior. After 5 minutes of my father falling into the first pit, completely incapable of pressing right on the D-Pad and “jump” at the same time, he said “Fuck this,” threw the controller down and never picked it up again as long as I was staying with him.
I was going camping — or bible camp, or something — directly after my stint with my father, so he kept the Nintendo at his place. When I returned two weeks later, it sat on his kitchen table, the controllers resting on top, the wires neatly coiled, the two games in their black, vinyl sleeves, and the system itself resting atop three spiral-bound notebooks. I picked up the system and its accouterments and put them in my duffle bag. “You’ll want those notebooks,” he said. “What are they?” “You’ll see.” He smiled as I placed them inside the bag, and said goodbye.
The first thing I did when I got home was, of course, set up the Nintendo in the living room, and play Mario for a bit. But my mind kept wandering, as did my eyes, to the notebooks poking out of my bag. What could they possibly be for? They weren’t mine, to the best of my knowledge, but they looked new. My father hadn’t been in school for almost twenty years at that point, so they certainly weren’t something from his era. I couldn’t think of any logical reason that my father would give me three notebooks. I don’t think that I was at an age where you even needed a notebook, let alone three.
Finally I gave in and paused the game. I walked over to my bag and pulled one of the books out, and opened it. On the page was a hand-drawn map, consisting of about 100 squares, laid out ten-by-ten. Many of them were blank, but some had symbols on them, but there was no legend to tell me what the symbol meant. I went to the next page, which had the same 100 squares, but all the symbols were in different places. And so on the next page, where I finally figured out what the maps meant, as in the middle of it was a word: Rimuldar. I picked up the other notebooks and flipped through them, and sure enough, every page was filled with same 100 squares, all laid out differently.
I called my father. “How long did you play?” “Every day when I got home from work. I kept getting lost, so I made a map. Then I realized that the creatures kept coming back to the same spot, so I kept a list.” “Did you beat it?” “No. I just made the maps.” “Really? The whole point is to beat the game.” “I wouldn’t have known the first thing about how to do that.”
My father spent what I can only assume must have been 30 hours walking every possible square in Dragon Warrior with no goal in mind other than walking every possible square, and then mapping its location and contents. This is not the best story about my father, nor the most representative of his character, but it is my favorite.
** Seriously? FIFA, the most corrupt organization in the world, that seemingly makes everything up as it goes along, can’t ban a player/coach/whatever for life? Sepp Blatter, you disappoint me, sir. You disappoint me very much.