Video for Binoculars

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Let’s for a moment think about something that seems to slip under the radar when we discuss big-picture implications of our digital, perhaps post-human world: the spatial and temporal weirdness of being able to casually watch, say,  a Zimbabwe/Tunisia African Cup of Nations match at two o’clock in the afternoon from a library in Georgia. Ontologically speaking, how do we tangle with the fact that we can, at any time and from any place, more or less instantly look at soccer being played practically anywhere else with about as much discomfort as it takes to click through a small flurry of spyware ads?

Perhaps since our tools for interacting with the world have become so overtly digital in and of themselves that of course our watching of sport comes at a distance, through a bandwith-encrusted live stream, just fuzzy enough that you can take your glasses off and let your eyes unfocus without considering the fact that the tiny man setting a slick pass flickering across your Macbook screen is an electronic simulation of a real, not-tiny man setting a slick pass a half a world away, in more or less real time, while even more tiny pictures argue with each other over whether Arsène Wenger should/shouldn’t be fired. Is this such an obvious part of our existence anymore, ontologically speaking, that it goes without saying, or at least saying much about?

Which maybe, ontologically speaking, makes it fairly uninteresting that Red Star managed to outplay and steal three points from table-topping Stade Brestois this afternoon 1-0, while I watched from a glowing box across an ocean. I’m not sure how we can resolve the idea of fandom, which seems like it should be so bound up with markers of meaning (locality, loyalty, history, etc. etc.) contingent on occupying the same physical and mental space as the team you support, with the digital, something that zaps these markers into smoking piles of pixels. Maybe I shouldn’t have been able to pump my fist and attempt to muffle my exuberance (in a library in Georgia, remember) when Julien Toudic, newly signed and freshly subbed-in, volleyed in a Hergault cross to give Red Star a deserved lead. If it weren’t for the digital, after all, I’d have no window to watch the match, much less have a rooting interest or, frankly, care at all.

Even so, it was a deeply satisfying win, ontologically speaking of course. The table has basically converted into a five team micro-tournament to avoid relegation; by doing what was unthinkable heading into the match, Red Star is currently four points up on the relegation guillotine. This remains a deeply weird team – two players named Keita (Tiécoro and Sekou, both of whom missed some chances to score today), a Dada (Stephan Raheriharimanan, the pride of Malagasy Scrabble), TWO Pierrick Cros-s, (Brest, for their part, provided a Pelé: Bryan) a huge hole where goals should be, and a gaggle of 30-year-old Ligue 1 retreads, but for the first time since last spring, it feels like the pendulum is starting to swing in the right direction.

Volley’d and thunder’d

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It isn’t exactly accurate to say it only took six minutes for Red Star’s 2017 to start with a sigh when they needed a bang – Abdoulaye Sané drew a straight red in the sixth minute of yesterday’s 3-1 loss to Clermont, sure, but the Étoile Rouge suffered a bigger blow before kickoff when Hameur Bouazza skipped across the Mediterranean to sign with Algerian champions Étoile du Sahel (glad I didn’t name this blog Bouazza’s Beard…), taking his team-leading 3 goals with him. It’s never ideal to play a man down for the last 84 minutes of any match, but it especially hurts for a team without its leading scorer, captain and most bedrock-solid defender (which unfortunately isn’t saying much about Lloyd Palun, away with Gabon at the African Cup of Nations), a new (possibly interim) head coach, and in the fog of a poor run of results in which they’ve grabbed only four points since Halloween.

Even so, Red Star managed to show a moderate amount of spark and spunk for a team quickly falling behind in Domino’s Ligue 2 table (”In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay a delicious medium two-topping pan pizza, only $8.99 si vous plait.” -Albert Camus, official Dominos’s Ligue 2 spokesperson.), if by “spark and spunk” you mean “short balls played directly to the defense, long balls over everyone’s head, and lots of knees and elbows in various Clermont torsos.” After Sané was sent off by the 24-year-old referee Willy Delajod, any structure to the planned 4-3-3 deflated into a floppy 4-4-1, with Ngamukol stranded at the top, desperately unlinked from his midfielders. On the occasions that Red Star managed to win the ball, Mhrissi (or Mexique, or Hergault) turned to find an ocean of space between them and the nearest forward green kit, with waves of Corrine Diacre’s players in between. Mhirissi in particular seemed to lose the ball with surprising vigor, dribbling directly into a clutch of collapsing defenders and kicking off his time in the #10 with a bit of a yikes match.

About the only semblance of pressure Red Star managed to direct goalward was Hergault shooting up the right flank and leading through balls to Mexique or Ngamoukol, who proceeded to either get trapped deep against the goal-line or send in a flurry of harmless headers to nobody in particular. Clermont, for their part, sealed the center of the pitch – the handful of drives in which Red Star found central space and drove to the net led to their best chances, including Chavelerin both drawing a penalty (which Ngamukol converted, the team’s only goal) and sending through a precise through ball that Mhrissi proceeded to send into the stands.

The ultimate difference in the result is that Clermont managed to hold firm at the back, while Red Star’s defense often devolved into more “Charge of the Light Brigade” than “parked bus.” Both of Clermont’s goals that came during the run of play were scored largely because Pierrick Cros, et. al. could only clear loose balls careening off of each other, bouncing around (almost comically at times) and either into the net (CF63’s first goal was a ricochet own-goal off of Cros) or to an unmarked attacker. It was solid defending in the way that falling from a mountain is the quickest manner of descent.

Red Star continues to sit in 16th on the table, with the second-worst goal differential (-11!) and upcoming matches against table-toppers Brest and current third-place Stade Reims. Unless Claude Robin can bring in some needed reinforcements, and some tactical reorganization, a team that was fighting for promotion at the end of last season could be in danger of sinking back into the murky depths of the Championnat National.