The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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When Warriors Speak

Thetis bringing Achilles his armor, by Benjamin West

It’s a day in the Premier League, and a lot of players are having thoughts about events! To you, that may sound like a joke, but to these grim warriors, whose wills are ruthlessly fixed on the next match, whose eyes scan a horizon more threatening than you or I could imagine, whose minds, if we could see inside them, would look like a slow camera-pan up a desolate mountainside, climbing higher and higher, past walls of rock, razor-sharp outcroppings, and windswept, snow-covered goats, past the bones of forgotten adventurers, past the shattered faces of cliffs, into a bleak, snowy nowhere a stone’s throw from the sky, where a lone castle rises like a spire, eternally vigilant, eternally armed against the encroachment of any imaginable foe—these proud champions understand that sometimes the best way to prepare for an epic battle is to engage in an absolutely piss-tacular slapfight.

And so it’s been in the run-up to Manchester United v. Arsenal. First, Patrice Evra, taking a momentary break from monk-stomping the grape-vat of French football’s sacred honor, curled his lip in the general direction of Islington and declared that, because Arsenal haven’t won any trophies since 2005, they are merely a “football training centre,” like Clairefontaine, whose sacred honor Patrice Evra recently monk-stomped. In response, Arsène Wenger (“his fellow Frenchman,” don’t forget, as if the papers would let you) gave the Sun absolutely nothing to work with by countering with the passive-aggressive high-road gambit so memorably left on the table by the entire French team during the World Cup:

We are guided by the way we want to play football and not by the statements of anybody who plays against us. Personally, I believe if you are a big player you always respect your opponent and that is what we try to do. We do not want to go into any unneeded talking before a game like that.

Samir Nasri, inspired by Wenger’s positive tone, hit back at Evra with the breathtaking force of a well-executed anime-hero-confronting-injustice-with-an-open-heart counter:

We are not children and we will demonstrate that on Monday. We will show Manchester United that Arsenal have really grown.

Their heads reeling from these two successive misdirection plays, Manchester United players panicked. Evra, refusing to waver from the time-tested path of straightforward insult, garrillumphed that, “Our real enemy is Chelsea. We are more concerned with Chelsea’s results than Arsenal’s.” On the other side of the room, however, Nani was opining that

Arsenal have been doing well. They are growing up in the way we are. They are a good team. I think they are a bigger threat than Chelsea now. Chelsea have lost a few games and drawn some and their confidence looks a bit low. But Arsenal have been winning and being top of the league gives you great confidence.

Evra is afraid of Chelsea and scorns Arsenal, but Nani is afraid of Arsenal and scorns Chelsea! Arsenal are afraid of everyone, probably, but they have a good heart, and honest feelings. Chelsea are just trying to feel anything at all. At some point, a soccer match will be played. It will have a connection to all this, somehow, and by that point, if we’re lucky, the press will have figured out how to bring José Mourinho into it.


When Warriors Speak

by Brian Phillips · December 10, 2010

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