Monday, November 15, 2010

Playing favourites

I'm not going to lie: I very much play favourites when it comes to the way I talk and write about our men's national team. I'll defend certain unpopular or controversial players, while constantly writing off others even if they've proven at a certain level that they are productive and useful members of a team.

You might have noticed that I consistently come to the defense of Ali Gerba (prolific producer for the national team, uneven club career due to inconsistent work ethic and consistent corpulence) and Rob Friend (poor goal scoring record for Canada; proven high-level striker in Germany). On the other hand, for reasons related largely due to his weak national team performances, Dwayne De Rosario is on my shit list, despite his impressive MLS resume. Iain Hume is a guy I rate much lower than most, despite his work effort and resolve to overcome a shocking act of thuggery on the pitch.

Years ago, I adopted Mike Klukowski as the man after my own heart. The reasons were manifold, but they really come down to the following:

  1. The mullet. Need I say more?
  2. He was awesome, a fixture in the back line when that part of the team was in flux.
  3. He played in Belgium.
That third reason deserves some explanation. Over on the Voyageurs' forums, there is a regular thread reporting the exploits of Canadians' abroad. Week-to-week, fans watch matches, read reports, and single out the performances of our lads. It's easy to do for the English teams, and there are fairly dedicated watchers of Germany and some other leagues.

I feel a bit of exclusivity for players in Belgium and the Netherlands. Why? Because I speak the language. Dutch, in Holland, and Flemish (Dutch essentially, but don't say so to a Flemish person) and French in Belgium. I can read the reports, get all the inside scoops, navigate club websites, and the like, all like a pro.

Klukowski has now moved on to Turkey. He is still awesome, possibly still bemulleted(?) but no longer within my linguistic comfort zone.

I've now got a new best friend: Atiba Hutchinson.

If you haven't been keeping track, Atiba transferred to PSV over the summer after spending a number of years in Denmark. And he was honoured today as the player of the year for the 2009-10 season, during which he won the league as a cog in the FC Copenhagen attack. It's difficult to put this award into perspective without engaging in a discussion of the quality of the Danish league, but it's worth pointing out that 3 of this FCK teammates played for Denmark at the 2010 World Cup.

Atiba accepts the award from a suit and a woman who just returned from a shopping spree in the future.

The move to PSV represented a bold career step. I don't think I'm ruffling any feathers when I state that the Dutch Eredivisie is a better league than the Danish Superliga. Week to week, Hutchinson is facing better competition. PSV is also involved in Europa League, and while they've faced an easy schedule so far, Sampdoria is soon on the horizon.

The boldest part of the move is that Atiba signed on with a team that already had some established names in the centre of midfield. You might be familiar with Ibrahim Afellay and Orlando Engelaar, a couple of guys who featured in the World Cup finals with a little team called Netherlands that went to The Final. These dudes are no slouches.

At the start of the year, there was uncertainty around Afellay. He was injured, and also rumoured to be out the door before the close of the summer transfer window. Atiba was brought in as his replacement, essentially, which is a high compliment.

Things didn't work out that way. Afellay stayed on (he's rumoured to be off to Barcelona in January), but after a few strong performance as Ibby's replacement, the staff had to find a way to keep Hutch out of the lineup. And they found a way: a convenient thigh injury to right back Stanislav Manolev.

Hutchinson is a versatile player. He has played all across the park in midfield for Copenhagen and Canada. He even began his Canada career as a centre-half in one of the more successful editions of the U20 team. But right back is not a position that Atiba has played for any long stretch in his career. All the more impressive, then, that he has been holding the fort at that spot for the last two months with one of the best clubs in Holland.

His Canada form has been excellent too. He was by a mile the best player on the pitch in that post-lightning-storm 15 minutes at Saputo, and finished his chance against Ukraine. He even scored the famous no-goal at the Gold Cup in 2007 (don't watch if you want to finish the day happy). He has too often lived under the shadow of Julian De Guzman and Dwayne De Rosario in the Canada midfield. But he shouldn't have to play second fiddle any longer.

He's the best we have. Maybe someday the best we've ever had (apologies, had to go there).

So here's to you, Atiba. Welcome to the family.

* * * * *

Elsewhere, that quirky corner of the internet where people write about Canadian soccer has undergone somewhat of a transformation. A number of the more prominent Canuck soccer bloggers are now filing their work at the Voyageurs-affiliated umbrella site

Needless to say, this abrupt change has caused a shitstorm over on the Vs forums. I'll state my piece by saying I don't really see how this harms the Vees, but I don't understand where the benefits come from either. From my perspective, all this means is I now have to change my links. Epic fail, as the kids would say.

But don't worry about little old me. You'll be able to find my once monthly musings right here. I wouldn't have it any other way.


Simon said...

"Atiba accepts the award from a suit..."
FROM A SUIT! That's what you call one of the greatest wingers ever to grace a football pitch, Frank Arnesen ?

Angry words from an angry Dane ;)

BTW Atiba is really good. Hope the best for his career.

Jeff said...

Haha so just to only fixate on the very end of your write-up, any plans on linking up with CSN anytime soon? To be frank, I use it pretty much exclusively, and definitely had to use the link you posted to find my way here again. I like reading your stuff, J, but am damn lazy. CSN has it all right there, easy to access, real-time updated. Maybe an RSS feed at least?

Anonymous said...

CSN epic fail?
You're talking about Canadian Soccer News right?

J said...

Jeff and Anon,

Allow me to clarify. I have nothing against CSN and reading it over the last two days, have found it to be excellent.

The "epic fail" comment was tongue-in-cheek, and was largely in regards to my own laziness as I didn't want to go through the trouble of updating my links (which I still haven't done but will get to tonight).

I haven't been asked to join up with CSN and not sure my style would fit over there, but I'm open to the possibility.


I'm sorry to disparage the great Dane, Mr. Arnesen. But at first glance, all I saw was the bizarre cut of the dress. Any chance of recognizing anyone else goes out the window.

I see from his wikipedia page that he finished his career with PSV. Did that factor into him being chosen to make the presentation?

Anyway, it's great for Atiba. He is awesome, and I hope he continues to be awesome.