On the plane ride to Kuala Lumpur, I was finally able to finish “Soccernomics”, written by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. In a nutshell, the book is similar to “Freakonomics”, written by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, with the obvious slant toward football. You could also say it’s “Moneyball” (Michael Lewis’ book on how the Oakland Athletics managed to compete at top-flight Major League Baseball, despite having a smaller revenue base and stream) for football.

There is something about this book that makes it quite a compulsive read. I’m the type of nut that can get geeky when it comes to sports (think of it as a variation of a couch potato fan—the last time I played with a football was fourth grade), so I tremendously enjoyed this nugget of a book, which provides a mine of insights about football, including the wheeling and dealing in the transfer market. Such insights include: World Cup champions and strikers are overpriced (Nando comes to mind—but really, I’m rooting for him to show his £50-million worth); the best players to buy are those in their early 20s, older ones are overvalued and among the younger ones, only those that make it are exceptions to the rule; sell a player before the deterioration in his game becomes apparent to everyone; buy players with personal problems and help them deal with their issues; and relocation assistance, especially for players settling in different countries, is very critical.

That said, it doesn’t apply much to the Philippine situation, where there is only a fledgling semi-professional league. I was, however, more interested in the portions of the book that explained “why England always loses” and an analysis of overperforming and underperforming countries. The authors make note of the fact that while the sport was born in England, the country was left behind in the development of the game as a result of geography. The dominance in football of continental Europe was largely due to networking—ideas were being spread at a rapid pace, and even South America picked up the game through English immigrants. Still, the development in the sport happened in the heartland, and the country that sat on its fringes, separated by the English Channel, was the last to pick up on such ideas.

The book also details on how the size of an economy is directly proportional to a country’s performance in football. The authors point out that football stars coming from impoverished backgrounds are more exceptions to the rules, and even the definition of “poor” is relative. Case in point, Cristiano Ronaldo’s family was so poor that they had to put their washing machine on the roof of their house, which was so darn small. But hey, at least their family has a washing machine—which is something that you can’t say for the poor in many developing countries. If a country’s economy is doing well, it can allocate more resources toward the development of sport, including the health and nutrition of the individual athlete. That is also correlated to widening the talent pool, which would allow you to draw on a wider base of developed players.

These are things that made me think of the Philippines and how we fare in the world stage. Yes, we do have one of the oldest football leagues in Asia, but the sport has been largely limited to a few niche communities nationwide (i.e. being taught in private, Catholic schools, as with the Bosconians, or a community such as Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo). I would hazard a guess that the theory of networking applies as to why we haven’t embraced the sport in the mainstream (until recently, that is). We are geographically separated from the rest of Asia (you can argue about Indonesia being an archipelagic nation, but it is somewhat more connected to the continental mainland by way of Malaysia), hence the spread of ideas on the sport wasn’t as prevalent. You can also throw in the fact that we were already under American colonial rule when the sport was beginning to be spread globally (and we know that ‘soccer’ was not high on the priority of Americans when it came to spreading ideas to its colonies).

As for the state of our economy, we do know that this is relatively small, even when compared to most of our regional neighbors. A look at the results of the first leg of the second round of the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers for Asian nations seem to be indicative of the Soccernomics theory. (Noted nominal GDPs of these nations, not a perfect correlation, and this is all just desktop research while watching the Ultimate All-Star Weekend)

Saudi Arabia 3 – 0 Hong Kong (23rd v 38th)
UAE 3 – 0 India (33rd v 10th, but also look at high poverty rates)
Kuwait 3 – 0 Philippines (54th v 46th, likewise, high inequality incidences)
Iran 4 – 0 Maldives (29th v 162nd)
Singapore 5 – 3 Malaysia (38th v 35th, close call—was Malaysia fatigued from the matches versus Arsenal and Liverpool the previous week?)
Oman 2 – 0 Myanmar (69th v 83rd)
Qatar 3 – 0 Vietnam (55th v 58th)
Iraq 2 – 0 Yemen (62nd v 87th)
Jordan 9 – 0 Nepal (89th v 107th)
Uzbekistan 4 – 0 Kyrgyzstan (80th v 144th)
Syria 2 – 1 Tajikistan (67th v 140th)
Turkmenistan 1 – 1 Indonesia (96th v 18th—what happened here?)
Thailand 1 – 0 Palestine (30th v ???—sorry, Palestine wasn’t even on the IMF list)
Lebanon 4 – 0 Bangladesh (79th v 57th, but again, high poverty rates)
People’s Republic of China 7 – 2 Laos (2nd v 135th)

What this just says is that more improved economies have better chances of winning international matches. It’s not a clear signal for actually winning. That said, there still are a lot of pre-requisites, particularly adequate investments for a genuine grassroots program to widen the talent development selection pool and infrastructure to support the development of the sport. In our case, we can just rely on the Rizal Memorial Stadium. Malaysia’s Bukit Jalil Stadium, which I was a regular of during my stay in Kuala Lumpur made me wish we could have a stadium that could seat 80,000 (or at the very least, 40,000). While it’s not necessarily a case of “If you build it, they will come”, a dedicated facility for football can be a start.

One other important point the book makes is that football actually helps foster integration among people within a community, noting lower suicide rates in years where there’s a World Cup. And with integration comes pride and a sense of belonging. Spain comes to mind, when people identified themselves as “Soy Español” after La Roja won last year’s World Cup—a clear departure from strong regional identification. Wouldn’t it be an awesome feeling to have a Philippine team make its mark in the world stage and unite Filipinos? (Fine, Manny Pacquiao has been doing that, but there’s something more inspiring about a band of scrappy, resilient Azkals doing that.)

It may happen at least 20 years from now, but I hope I can live to see the day that the Philippines can reach the World Cup. Even if we get knocked out in the group stages, that would be an honor already—especially if you think of where this national team began its journey.

Cross-posted on Communique.

I’m a Potterhead.

I’ve read and immensely enjoyed the first three Harry Potter books back in high school (circa 1999-2000), years prior to when the mania fully exploded when the books were brought to life on the big screen. I remember the days when my books would be passed from one classmate to another, or the days when I’d make sure I’d get the latest Potter book the same day National Bookstore first released it, or when my friends threw a Harry Potter party and I came dressed as my favorite w(b)itch, Bellatrix Lestrange (there are photos online, but no, I won’t point you over there from this blog).

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in 2007, Blooey, Dianne, and I lined up at Powerbooks Greenbelt 3 sometime past 6 in the morning, just to be one of the first Potterheads to grab a copy the moment the store opened at 7:02 a.m. We all immediately went our own ways once our books were purchased, and we each went through the whole eight hours of non-stop reading, laughing, crying, and getting excited at every possible turn in such a grand adventure.

Then the inevitable hits you. It is all over.

Well, not really. As I am also a fan of the movies (I do think they have been improving with each installment), I think I would have felt the finality once the eighth movie will be released. But even before I could get to feel that, J.K. Rowling announces that Pottermore will be launched later in the year. See the video below:

The sneak peek into what’s in store for Harry Potter fans worldwide is just enough to create a palpable anticipation by end-July and October 2011. As a communications practitioner, I am excited to see what this next adventure in the Potter world would be, as it seems to be poised to bring the digital experience to a whole new level altogether. As a Potterhead, I feel a tremendous sense of relief that the magic will continue, based from the demand of millions of fans worldwide, whose imaginations have been masterfully captured by J.K. Rowling (especially those like us who have literally grown with the series).

I was finally able to submit my email address on the site. Here’s to hoping the magic would continue in the digital space and more secrets in the Potter world would be revealed! (And yes, I do think Harry Potter is the definitive piece of literature of our generation, but that ought to be the subject of another entry some other time.)

(Cross-posted on Communique)

John Williams’ “Red Men: Liverpool Football Club — The Biography” was the first purchase I made off Amazon for my Kindle, and I would have to say that was $11 well-spent.

In “Red Men”, Williams’ provides a comprehensive history of Liverpool Football Club (LFC), but places the narrative in the larger social context. John Houlding and John McKenna gave life to LFC from 1892 to a turn-of-the-century Britain, at a time when the city of Liverpool was looking towards Ireland and America for inspired cosmopolitanism, yet filled with startling images of poverty. Such were the years of the quiet and hardworking manager, Tom Watson, as well as Alex Raisbeck, often considered LFC’s first star player, and the great Elisha Scott, who held such a remarkable relationship with the club’s supporters.

The narrative then moves into the impacts of World Wars I and II on football, as well as an account on how Britain views the football of the Continentals (so while modern association football was born in Britain, there hasn’t been much success on the larger stage, save for the 1966 World Cup victory by England). LFC did not meet much post-war success and were eventually relegated to Second Division.

Until the coming of Bill Shankly, that is. Here was a man who, so to speak, walked with swag and was one day set to become an Anfield legend himself, reaching much success at a time when Liverpool was a global center for culture, thanks to the Beatles. Together with his Boot Room members (Joe Fagan, Reuben Bennett, and Bob Paisley), Shankly created the winning LFC side in the 1960s through the early 1970s. More importantly, Shankly was well loved because he identified with the working class men that formed the bulk of the clubs supporters.

Success for LFC translated well into the 1970s and 1980s under Bob Paisley, who passed on managerial duties to Joe Fagan, whose success was marred by the Heysel Stadium Disaster in 1985. Following Fagan’s resignation, one of the clubs greatest stewards took the reigns, “King” Kenny Dalglish. LFC’s success under King Kenny was to be overshadowed once more by another stadium disaster–Hillsborough in 1989, and to date, the 96 that lost their lives in such tragedy have yet to receive justice.

LFC in the 1990s onwards struggled with changes, including the “Continentalization” of the squad, and eventually, the change in ownerships. The brightest spark in the last 20 or so years of the club’s history has definitely been the Miracle of Istanbul, when LFC came from three goals down to beat AC Milan in a penalty shootout to be proclaimed winners of the 2005 UEFA Champions League.

I greatly appreciate the research that Williams has put into the book (as if that wasn’t obvious enough, and I somehow managed to summarize a bit of LFC’s history). What is laudable in his work was that Williams has managed to piece together the stories in between 18 league titles, 7 FA Cups, 7 League Cups, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups, and 3 UEFA Super Cups, creating a fluid transition that spans most of the club’s 119-year history. I do think, however, that the last couple of chapters could have been written much better, with perhaps a more objective lens that filtered the period from the club’s beginnings until the 1980s. (And why is there no mention of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, among other things?)

Of course, there is still a large part of the club’s history that remains to be written, and while the book’s last chapter ends on the balance (it ends at the start of the 2010-2011 season, with the ownership situation dangling and with Roy Hodgson taking the reigns and when Fernando Torres could possibly be a Liverpool legend), there is much optimism with the current situation in LFC, now that King Kenny is back at the helm.

Yes, this book is a must-read for every Liverpool supporter. It will give one a sense of being in a turbulent ride, but as every Liverpool supporter knows, you always have to walk on with hope in your heart.

The future is bright; the future is Scouse.

(cross-posted on Communique)

I just finished reading a book that I first encountered in high school, but never fully appreciated—largely because I just remember watching the movie as a way to fast-track discussions, as well as productions of other sections in my Sophomore year, each tackling a specific time period of the book. I am referring to “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende.

“The House of the Spirits” tells the story of the Trueba family, which spans four generations. Their lives serve as a glass for us to peek through life in post-colonial Chile, coupled with traces of magic as part of the characters’ realities. Indeed, magic realism is a trademark of Latin American literature, but there’s more to this novel to appreciate.

One of the things that I appreciated most about the novel was how Allende managed to give life to ‘strong’ female characters—my use of the adjective is rather liberal, in the sense that each major female character that played a role in the novel manifested this differently.

Clara del Valle first displayed strength as a child, when she willed herself not to speak after predicting death in the family, which turned out to be her older sister, Rosa the beautiful. Clara spoke years after, only to announce her marriage to Esteban Trueba. While remaining faithful to her husband, Clara once again willed herself not to speak to him upon witnessing Esteban’s brutal actions to their daughter Blanca. Clara proved to be the life and anchor of the family, and even after her passing, her husband and granddaughter continued to rely on her, albeit privately, at the time when they most need it.

Blanca Trueba, Clara’s daughter, displayed strength of love. Among the Trueba women, she had faced the greatest adversity to be with the man she loved the most, and held on to such love (and perhaps, the belief that they would eventually be together) in all of twenty years.

Alba Satigny, Blanca’s daughter, was perhaps the most courageous of the women, owing to the time she lived in. Of all the women, it was she that experienced the most change, from a protected ‘countess’ to a woman actively doing her share in the country’s political upheavals, to the extent of being subjected to torture and rape.

While the situations may vary, more than the magic that runs in the old house in the corner, it is the strength and willfulness in these women that pushed the story forward (with all due respect to Esteban Trueba).

I can only wish I had read the novel much earlier to properly appreciate an exemplary piece of Latin American literature (I do think that the pulse of Philippine literature is not too far from Latin American literature, owing to similarities in political and social concerns, as well as Spanish influences—but this ought to be the subject of a different entry).

Edit: Well, what do you know? The timing of this entry couldn’t have been… divine? Chile has launched an inquiry into the death of former President Salvador Allende (widely believed to be The President in the novel). Now, there are also calls to open an inquiry into the death of Pablo Neruda (who is believed to be The Poet alluded to in the novel).

Latest acquisition.

Posted: May 9, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags:

Finally got my Kindle! I’m still figuring it out, but I already managed to download two free e-books from Amazon. Does anyone know if there are any available covers/sleeves/accessories for the Kindle in Manila?

Fluff.

Posted: May 7, 2011 in books
Tags: , ,

Yes, I’m perfectly aware it’s been quite a while since I wrote on this space, and yes, I have been reading. Following the heaviness of “Blindness”, I decided to shift gears to a couple of easy reads. In honor of Sophie Kinsella’s “Mini-Shopaholic” and Francine Pascal’s “Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years After” (books which I was excited to acquire), this post is entitled, “Fluff”.

Let me start with “Mini-Shopaholic”. It’s the 6th installment in the series, and by such time, you begin to ask yourself, “Why am I putting up with this?” Don’t get me wrong, Becky Bloomwood amused the heck out of me (and Luke Brandon forms a part of Mr. Perfect), but after the first three books, things have gone downhill. What used to be charming and funny was now downright annoying. The humor now feels contrived. I just hope this is the last in the series. Sophie Kinsella is much more enjoyable in her other novels.

As for “Sweet Valley Confidential”, it had to be consumed for the sheer nostalgia, and it went totally the route of “Gossip Girl”. Compared to this generation’s contemporary young adult literature, Sweet Valley was squeaky clean and aspirational. Now that the twins are 27, let’s just say they kind of got fucked up more at a time when they have got things supposedly figured out. I wouldn’t go into the details anymore, since the actual book will land my shore this month, but I just have to say WHAT THE DUCK WAS THAT?! Jessica ends up with… Elizabeth ends up with… And _____ ends up _____!

Yeah, the fluff post? It turned into a rant post.

On Blindness.

Posted: April 9, 2011 in books
Tags: , ,

What would happen if you and the rest of those around you were to go blind? Would you have lost your humanity as well?

Those two questions summarized for me what Jose Saramago’s “Blindness” was all about. Set in an unknown country at a time that is not far from the present, “white blindness” sweeps across this place, and those first few affected were quarantined, only to eventually be released into a society that has pretty much collapsed after acquiring the same affliction. It is an exploration of human reactions and choice and what one would do to fight for survival in the most desperate of situations.

There was only one character that was spared from the “white blindness” and this was the doctor’s wife. I particularly loved this character, because of her character arc as the story progressed. Assuming she was a nurturing wife who was compelled to take care of her blind husband, her first daring move was to pretend to be blind in order to be with him. She then progressed from being a woman in the background to being the leader of the group, by virtue of her sight. In between this progression was a woman’s sacrifice and bravery to stand up to against a group of blind men that provided food to the rest of the quarantined people in exchange for more than a few favors.

And while Saramago presents a hauntingly realistic description of human nature amidst a situation where panic, chaos, confusion, and the unknown abound, he also presents some rather philosophical perspectives on human nature, such as:

Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.

and

Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.

and

There’s no difference between inside and outside, between here and there, between the many and the few, between what we’re living through and what we shall have to live through… this must be what it means to be a ghost, being certain that life exists, because your four senses say so, and yet unable to see it…

and

The difficult thing isn’t living with other people, it’s understanding them.

and

I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.

I must admit, I don’t think Saramago is for everyone’s reading pleasure. He doesn’t employ the usual punctuation marks in the dialogue, and his writing style is pretty much made up of run-on sentences and very long paragraphs. That said, it probably takes a certain reading temperament to appreciate “Blindness”. Once you get past the style of how the letters are laid out on the page, it is quite a compelling read.

I’ve been meaning to read Saramago since the news of his passing was announced in 2010. I only had the chance to read one of his more famous works (after searching everywhere for a copy of the book!) when FFP had Blindness for its March Book Discussion. Thanks to Peter, though, I’ll probably be getting a few more Saramago titles in the future.

 

ETA: I also thought “Blindness” had a strong feminine/feminist voice, in the sense that it had strong women characters. And despite scenes of gang rape, there was one passage in the book that I thought allowed the women to celebrate their bodies. That is such a trademark of feminist literature.