Well, it's over. In less than eight hours, Daniel Sturridge will kick a ball to Coutinho, and it will be over. Once again, a Premier League season will kick off in England. Once again it will run until May, and once again three teams will be cast off the precipice of the richest league in the world, found wanting and unworthy. Four teams will compete against the best of the best in Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. The Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal as well. Even the best clubs from Romania, Estonia, Israel, and all points in between. In the end, one team will be declared the best of the best, the top team in the top league. In all likelihood that team will be one of only a handful of teams. It is almost certain that only a select few of the handful have a better than one in ten shot of a title. In fact only one thing will be certain 12:45, BST. The field will be honest and give it's own verdict.
Deadspin had a wonderful story about Michael Bradley this week, and it signed off with a quote that really stuck to me. In all honesty I think it may be one of the best, succinct quotes I have heard about soccer, and sports in general. The field is honest and gives its own verdict. It really boils sports down to their essence. For the past three months we've been caught up in the silly season. A period of rumors and speculation, wild reformations of old teams and new teams and our team and their team. In one day a squad goes from an also ran to a contender. In a breath, the faded statue of Ozymandias is revealed and the mightiest of empires crumble under their own weight. Predictions are given, wild speculation as to the finishing order for next season are espoused and expanded. None of it matters though.
What does matter though, is what that field, at least 110 yards long and 70 yards wide, shows us every match day. The greatest teams and the greatest players will reveal themselves not on paper, but on grass. The field will judge how the ball bounces, how fast or slow a pass is played, and who among the best in the world did not take care in a pivot that will end their season. That pitch doesn't give a single thought to the nine digit valuation Real Madrid have given Gareth Bale this season. Bale is just another player, and will only perform as well as dictated by the fates and his own personal struggle on that pitch. It won't care that Sandro has had two injury shortened seasons in a row. It doesn't see the potential for one of the best pure defensive midfielders in the world since Didier Deschamps. The dirt won't give leeway to his knee if he plants it wrong again. It will simply pass judgement and demand Tottenham find another way.
In the end this is excessively flowery, the kind of myth making and hyperbole that I personally think poisons the game, a belief in the magical properties of this sport, which deign that only a handful of countries are worthy of producing the best players of the world, that that is how it has been, and that is how it is always going to be. Football can be quantified. It can be distilled, it can be measured, and it can be turned into a cold, simple fact. That is not universal though. That is what makes soccer beautiful, there is always an in between. It is not baseball, a game in which numbers rule and it becomes plainly obvious that numbers do not lie. Baseball to me lacks magic, makes it a strange beast of a game. Soccer has that spark. Things happen which have no earthly business of happening. Bounces happen, deflections occur. There is no error in soccer, the failure of one player does not erase the achievement of another. In baseball, numbers are honest. Wherever numbers are honest, what happens on the field is no longer honest. It is simply an aberration. It takes from the field the ability to determine who is the best, and who is not. There are no underlying statistics. It is all on the surface.
Over the weekend, twenty teams will begin the long, arduous process of being weighed and measured. The summer will be determined to have been all for naught, or determined to have been a saving grace. We claim to understand who has won and who has lost already, but it's not our place to decide. The place to decide that is Anfield, White Hart Lane, Old Trafford, Craven Cottage, and the Boleyn Ground. The courthouse will open, the plaintiff and defendant will take the field, the referee will be judge and the ground the jury. We will merely be spectators to the proceedings, our own court reporters giving their analysis of the evidence presented, who is guilty of avarice, gluttony, and slothfulness; and on the other side who is determined, talented, and resourceful. We will discuss the proceedings, the ancillary chatter, the inadmissible hearsay. We will pass our own personal judgement. Little that it matters though. For on May 11th judgement will be passed, and the verdict will be revealed.
And no one may claim that the result was predicated on a lie.