Putting my finger on "Soccernomics"

So I promised my wife I wouldn't swear as much these days, for fear that our child will one day greet her preschool teacher as a Saracen pig-dog. Fine, I thought, the Chivas series is over, I can take the pledge.

Then I read something in the new book, "We're Ripping Off Freakonomics," by Simon and Stefan, that really frosted my cupcakes. It was one sentence, but it was sentence from the pits of Hell itself. Nothing would do for it but to summon a vocabulary of such rage, venom and filth that would make D.H. Lawrence scratch his testicles in horror.

No, it wasn't the chapter on which national team overachieves the most. Sure, the answer to that is "Who gives a crap?" And sure, it was pretty offensive, at least to my delicate sensibilities, that the answer turned out to be Saddam Hussein's Iraq, whose national team program was the "beneficiary" of a training regimen that made the pages of Human Rights Watch. Of course, this wasn't as bad as when Simon and Stefan published "Olympinomics" in 1981 saying that if East Germany's economy ever got its act together, their swimming team could really accomplish things.

But I shrugged that off.

No, it wasn't the revelation that, relative to population and gross domestic product, the United States has probably the worst national team in the world. Thanks, we noticed. So all we have to do to move up that chart is destroy our economy? CAN DO!

It wasn't even the discussion of parity comparisons between the NFL and the EPL that, put generously, assumes facts not in evidence. "Fans often feel that the best team in the NFL did not win the Super Bowl." Fans often feel no such thing. Fans accept that the Super Bowl is the means to decide the best team in the NFL. There is a good deal of this kind of arguing by assertion, highly unfortunate in a book that claims to use rational mathematics to understand the game.

Nor was it the length of time devoted to showing why capital cities in Europe didn't win the Champions League, going to painful lengths to exclude Amsterdam and Madrid.

In fact, there's even a sentence or two that deserves an ovation:

Excellent. Wonderful. Perfect.

...okay, well, that interpretation doesn't hold up to terribly close scrutiny, what with "FC" being attached to all those club names dating back a century...and it wasn't the NASL so much, as the natural process of a different form of football besides association football becoming a nation's game....but no, there's no reason to hate the word. Simply means "not played on horseback."

No...it was a few pages later.

The incorrect response to this is to demand some backup. Simon and Stefan are making an academic argument, after all, so they should be able to show that the ratings for English games are necessarily greater than for, to pick an example entirely at random, US men's and women's national team games.

One might also note that, while the "global game" that Simon and Stefan are happy to take credit for in the name of the Premiership does include the World Cup, it is by no means certain that American viewership of soccer would have increased without American participation in the last five going on six World Cups.

One might even point out that Manchester United, as well as several other English teams of measurable popularity and quality, have been around for decades, and were studiously ignored by Americans for quite a long time. Perhaps sometime in 2004 or so, American sports audiences at once realized "Good heavens! This is so much better than the miserable fare to which I am used!" or something to that effect. But that's not borne out by any actual evidence, is it?

All these are the wrong responses. The correct answer is "******** you."

First, it's cute that right now everyone recognizes the Premiership as the undisputed Greatest League in the World, give or take an inconvenient Barcelona. But before the Premiership, it was La Liga, and before that, it was Serie A, and before that, the Bundesliga, and so on.

The Premiership was largely built on the whims of folks like Rupert Murdoch and Roman Abramovich, and currently stewarded by the whims of folks like Glazer, Hicks and Gillette. That's the hope of soccer in the English-speaking world? Better practice ducking...give or take a letter. Complacency about the Premiership is hilarious, especially in a book from the cottage industry of explaining the decline of the once-dominant English national team. Clearly Johnny Rotten didn't sing "just another country" distinctly enough.

Second, there's an interesting part of the book later that compares soccer fans to music fans. Splendid, let's expand on that a little.

Or how about if someone said this in 1962:

Fine, let's bring it a little closer to the topic at hand.

That's the end result when a populous nation subordinates its own teams and players to cheer for flickering pictures. It's, for want of a less loaded term, imperialism. And it's not a coincidence that this book joins the chorus of those wishing that Americans would adopt this model.

Why can't we want to watch Americans actually play the game? Why can't we have players and teams of our own? Why, aside from fear and/or contempt, is there such an allergy to actual factual American soccer?

I know what people will say. The United States doesn't have the best league, and soccer isn't the most popular sport. How can any country like that ever dream of winning the World

Wow, sorry, random picture out of nowhere.

Of course, if the Brazilians and Argentines and Italians and Germans and Spanish had felt the same way, the history of the game would look rather different. But apparently if a country hasn't made soccer its undisputed national game by now, it's too late. That makes perfect sense. Who's going to break it to the Australians?

There's something about reflexive jingoistic complacency in a book allegedly against reflexive jingoistic complacency that really makes me laugh with fury. The United States does not have a league as good as the Premiership, therefore, (1) the United States will never have a league as good as the Premiership; (2) the United States does not deserve a league as good as the Premiership; and (3) a league not as good as the Premiership is unworthy of support.

The world teems with examples that fly in the face of all these conclusions, of course. But somehow it's the United States that is intolerably offensive. Our place is not on the couch. It's in the stands and on the fields.

Until then, I hope I speak for all American soccer fans when, in the same spirit of sportsmanship and good fellowship that the game has brought from Glasgow to Buenos Aires, I extend skyward and invite the world to behold the glory of my middle finger.

(Yes, just the one finger. It might be two where you come from, but frankly Americans have taken that, adapted it, and made it more popular, enjoyable and efficient. Ring any bells, Quasimodo?)