play a song we used to sing

Two minutes left in Wigan versus Aston Villa yesterday, Charles N’Zogbia – last year’s hero, now a Villa player – received the ball on the halfway line. He had an audacious amount of space in front of him, and the hair on my skin began to tingle, Pavlovian-style. I’d seen this so many times last season: Charlie gets the ball in space, slaloms around everyone in front of him, and either hammers in a low shot or gets in tight and pulls the ball back to a striker. N’Zogbia is a fantastic dribbler; his runs are elusive and made with the highest subtlety, and the ball welds itself to his feet as he travels. There’s some statistic that the only player in Europe who made a higher number of successful dribbles last season was Lionel Messi. It’s a fabulous statistic for someone who is a fabulous player.

Who was a fabulous player, perhaps. Under their new manager, Alex McLeish, Aston Villa play a horrendous “safety first” style, with a midfield designed to suffocate the play and long balls the only form of attack. It’s an intellectually insulting way to play football; relying on the percentages to win, rather than any wit or vim. And so it was that Charles N’Zogbia turned, looked up, and booted the ball forty yards towards the box and a mass of waiting heads.

It was heartbreaking. When you drift away from people for a long amount of time, you have this dim understanding that they’ve changed and become someone different – of course they have! – and you see it on their Facebook feed, or whatever, but no matter what, seeing them in person for the first time is always hard (although not always in the same way). This was hard.

***

I went to see The Phantom Menace yesterday evening. I don’t think I’ve seen it for four or five years, so it was nice to watch it again. I’d forgotten quite how bad Jar Jar’s antics were, or how dry and lifeless the acting was, but despite these unwelcome reminders, and despite the 3D ‘enhancement’, I found myself really enjoying it. Star Wars! In a cinema! Yeah! Bring on the 3D remake of Attack of the Clones, which is a Star Wars film I actually like.

***

Here’s a video of Cristiano Ronaldo scoring with a backheel from ten yards out. Staggering.

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