Thursday, March 29, 2012

Soccer in a Three-Piece Suit

If you're an uptight, thirty-something, poser-yuppie like me than your only source for information in the world is the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). For its legion of followers, the pencil sketches, charts, and analytics are rivaled only by the Bible as a source of truth and honesty. Now it may come as a shock to you non-believers, but the sports world is also dictated by the WSJ; as long as it's limited to a single page on the back of Section B. Occasionally, the sports reporting disciples of Rupert Murdoch dabble in the world of soccer; such was the case on Monday with an article titled "The Ultimate Matchup: Messi vs. Pele."

If you can sense a bit of sarcasm in my tone, you are wise beyond your years, but when mainstream media attempt to cover fringe topics, in this case soccer, the hairs on my neck just stand on end. Let's be fair, the WSJ is not the worldwide leader in sports, they have only had a daily sports page since 2009 and have said they aren't into game coverage but rather the statics and stories beyond the game. So naturally the sports editor says at a kick-off meeting that they need to include a soccer article this week and what better way to do it than to rehash the Messi versus Pele debate.

I'm not going to get into the debate because it is pointless, every angle has been argued almost as many times as goals scored by Pele. The hard-hitting chart-ographer, Joe E. Melvin, used his Microsoft Excel skills to show that Pele statistically leads in every category over Lionel Messi; scoring rate, world cup titles, league titles. I love how if you read the fine print around the chart it tells you the source of this information is "WSJ Research" which is somewhere between guessing and Wikipedia most likely.

Come on WSJ, if you are going to attempt to do a soccer piece, tell the world something that they actually want to know and would spark some discussion. No one, even the fringe soccer fans, cares to talk about Pele and Messi debate anymore. Pele played for close to one hundred years, give or take a few decades, Messi has played professionally for less than ten years. Due to regionalization during Pele's time, he only had to be the best in South America for 95% of his goals where as Messi has to be the best in the world, against all styles of the game.

Why not throw in some new information, like actual research instead of just regurgitating information like a mother bird feeding her chicks? The article mentions how Diego Maradona "single-handedly" won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina; if single-handedly refers to the "hand of God". Why not expand on that point and explain how Maradona was hopped up on cocaine for several matches, if not the entire tournament, and perhaps the nose-candy fueled his success? Don't believe me? Check out this classic video of Maradona just after the world cup playing in a tourney in Los Angeles; just a sniff of greatness?

I know what you're thinking, "Practice Cone, what's your point?" My point is that the Wall Street Journal should stick to what they're good at, reporting business news and not sports. I'm lucky that most people I associate with don't read the WSJ or if they do, they don't know that the sports page even exists. However, I could only imagine some random friend approaching me about this article and telling me Pele is the greatest because the WSJ said so. If that was the case, a bicycle kick to the head would be the only reasonable response. I'm all for expanding soccer coverage in American media, especially the WSJ, but do it in a way that contributes something new to the discussion.


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