The Neymar debacle

Anyone who, in terms of memory, has anything exceeding the capacities of a goldfish knew this might happen. Two years after Paris St-Germain paid the improbable sum of 222 MILLION EUROS to snatch Neymar from Barcelona, ESPN FC has reported that the two parties have mutually agreed to part ways. No one is sure how exactly this is to happen, but the fact that it will happen was rather predictable.

Like many, I was somewhere in the neighbourhood of shocked when I initially heard that the Brazilian would swap the prestige of Barcelona for the riches of PSG, but it ended up happening anyway. Several hypotheses for the move were emitted at the time: Neymar wanted the ridiculous money PSG could offer; his father, who doubles as his agent, stood to make a huge commission from the move; Neymar wanted to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow and lead his own team. Whatever the reason(s) for him wanting the move to Paris, the consensus is that his tenure as the French capital team’s marquee star will have been a failure.

Artwork by Bleacher Report

It’s not entirely fair to say this, but it’s easy to understand why many would. Neymar was acquired by PSG barely a month or so after he led Barcelona famous/infamous “remontada” against PSG in the Champions’ League (PSG won the first game 4-0 only to lose the return leg 6-1). He was the superstar who would bring not just skill, which PSG already had in spades, but a clutch gene. He would also be the super-duper star who would contribute to the team’s Hollywood status.

The showbiz dimension of the move was always going to take care of itself, but it has not generated the boost on the field that was expected, by which we mean PSG has crashed out of the Champions’ League in the two seasons he has been with the team. It doesn’t help that, last season, they fell to a Manchester United, again by way of opponent comeback. In 2017-2018, unpopular coach Unai Emery took the blame, as exemplified by the French pundit Pierre Ménès saying of Emery, “this dude reeks of fear, and he’s passing it on to the players.” So the team fired him and brought on Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, hoping he would provide the required spark. At first, it looked as though this was happening. The players, according to Ménès, looked happier, and this boded well for what was to come. But then, PSG bumped into a Manchester United team that was still in the honeymoon phase with interim coach Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, and allowed them to pull the rug out from under them, with Neymar abroad nursing an injury, for a second year in a row, as his team suffered UCL elimination.

Conspiracy theorists were already having a field day with Neymar at that point. How was his relationship with the team? Could it be possible that PSG was actually better without him (a preposterous notion)? Wasn’t it revealing that he was apparently so standoffish with regards to his teammates? We will, of course, never get an answer to these questions, but a mere look at recent Ligue 1 history could have served as a warning for PSG on the Neymar front.

Unhappy foreign stars: a recurring Ligue 1 theme?

Remember Falcao? In 2013, coming off two tremendous seasons with Atletico Madrid, the Columbian striker was considered the world’s best centre forward, and he was reported to want a move to Atleti’s crosstown rival Real Madrid. There was, however, one problem: his contract with the rojiblancos featured a clause that prevented him from jumping ship to Real. The solution was both tremendously risky and very curious. Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev had just bought Ligue 1 club AS Monaco and brought big spending money to the club from La Principeauté. Suffering from what The Ringer’s Bill Simmons calls “first-year owner syndrome” and wanting to make a splash, Rybolovlev and his footballing right-hand man Vadim Vasilyev did what anyone without any real contacts in the footballing world would do: they contacted a super agent, in this case Jorge Mendes, and asked which of his clients he’d recommend they sign. Mendes gave them three names, the most significant one (at the time) being Falcao, the established star. One supposes Monaco and Falcao had dual motives for this move: the player would try, after a year, to strong-arm ASM into agreeing to sell him to Madrid for a profit, and the club would have a year to convince him to stay.

If you believe in karma, the way events unfolded was the story for you, as what followed was the only lose-lose scenario for player and club. Falcao suffered a season-ending injury in an exhibition game against a non-professional team (what possessed Claudio Ranieri to play him in that game is completely beyond me), while fellow new arrival James Rodriguez blossomed into the superstar player who would be sold to Madrid. Meanwhile, Monaco remain stuck with Falcao, who has looked a shell of himself since that injury.

Also, the sale of Rodriguez was made necessary not just by the player’s desire to leave, but by looming Financial Fair Play sanctions. It’s what makes Rybolovlev’s decision to buy this specific club so puzzling, unless he just happened to want to own his tax haven’s local club. Anyone could have told him from a mile away that spending his way into league and Champions’ League titles like other superclubs do is not viable for ASM because they do not have the means to generate the kind of revenue that needs to accompany such massive transfer and wage bills.

At first glance, PSG seems equipped to avoid the pitfalls Monaco has fallen into. Until Neymar, they had mostly bought smart, no worse than other big-budget clubs. They are located in the country’s capital city, with plenty for the players to do. They have a 48,000-seat stadium and a large, devoted fanbase. With they have in common with Monaco is that they play in Ligue 1.

The French first division is sometimes unfairly maligned by Anglophone media pundits, but it is largely – PSG, Monaco, Lyon and Marseille aside – a developmental league. Its level of play is undoubtedly inferior to that of the Premier League, La Liga or the Bundesliga, and the question of whether it lulls its stars into a false sense of security has been brought up multiple times. Neymar himself provided fodder for this theory by missing his team elimination against Real Madrid and later scored five goals against Metz in league play. Are stars who play for PSG doomed to pile up the empty-calorie fireworks locally but fold against European competition?

Ironically, the main argument against this point is Monaco circa 2017, who upset Manchester City in rather emphatic attacking fashion. Yet, that Monaco squad was manned by youngsters Kylian Mbappé, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Lamine Kurzawa and Yannick Carrasco. In a way, they might have been too young and naive to fear Man City. They were also good enough to win Ligue 1 in front of a loaded PSG team.

So if it isn’t the domestic league that’s the problem, the issue is internal. And if it is, Neymar has contributed to whatever situation he’s now trying to escape. As I write these lines, Barcelona have reportedly made an initial offer to take back the Brazilian. How they can match the demands of Financial Fair Play while acquiring Neymar AND Antoine Griezmann is completely beyond me, but we shall see. However, just as Falcao and James Rodriguez were ready to leave Monaco almost upon arrival, this newest Neymar saga, whether he winds up leaving or staying due to the lack of a realistic market for him, shows that the question of whether PSG can keep superstars in their prime remains complete.


Le Dick Cheney des lois baîllon

C’est quoi, ce titre? Vous vous rappelerez bien la belle époque de l’administration Bush aux États-Unis et du grand moment où un Dick Cheney vraisemblablement paqueté comme un camion de déménagement avait, par inadvertance, tiré son ami au visage lors d’une partie de chasse à la caille. Je vous parle de cela parce que c’est ce qui me vient en tête quand je regarde la loi baîllon que vient de passer la CAQ pour renforcer, nous dit-on, la laïcité au Québec. Comme Cheney, cette loi rate sa cible et en frappe d’autres.

Maintenant, qu’on se le tienne pour dit. Il n’y a peu, voire aucun, type de collections d’idées que je déteste plus que la religion. Je déteste la religion. Déteste, déteste, déteste ça. Je pense qu’on serait vachement mieux foutus en tant que race humaine si on s’en débarrassait complètement. Et je pense aussi que, tant qu’à parler “des vraies affaires”, autant se dire que, bien qu’il y ait un côté nocif à toutes les religions étant donné les lubies qu’elles enseignent à leurs fidèles, elles ne sont pas toutes aussi toxiques les unes que les autres à tout moment. J’aurais donc un préjugé favorable envers toute loi qui renforce la séparation entre la religion et l’état et/ou qui diminuerait à moyen et à long terme l’influence de la religion dans notre société. Sauf que…

Est-ce qu’on pense vraiment que c’est ce genre de loi qu’on vient de passer? Je ne sais pas ce qui m’a donné ce pouvoir, mais je sais reconnaître une loi cynique et cosmétique quand j’en vois une. C’est le genre de loi que passe un gouvernement cynique qui comprend que l’air du temps est aux solutions simplistes pour les problèmes complexes et qui propose ce genre de pseudo-solution comme arme d’abrutissement massif contre sa propre population. Ce qu’on vient de voter, les amis, dans les faits, c’est un droit pour ceux (et leurs enfants) qui n’aiment pas les voiles religieux féminins d’en voir moins. C’est tout.

On me répondra que le hijab, c’est l’oppression de la femme. On me répondra que c’est un symbole fort. Justement, parlons-en des symboles. Je trouve qu’on a tendance à surestimer leur importance, bien qu’ils ne soient pas insignifiants. Alors, regardons celui-là. Est-ce que je crois à la notion du port du hijab comme symbole d’empowerment, comme on nous le présente parfois ces jours-ci? À grande échelle, non. À grande échelle, j’en pense la même chose que ceux qui trouvent que la CAQ fait une bonne affaire. Sauf que… Il y a deux autres choses que je crois.

Primo, si vous voulez me sortir l’argument de la pente glissante de l’endoctrinement (permettre le hijab, c’est le normaliser. Le normaliser, c’est normaliser les idées qui le sous-tendent, et ainsi de suite), vous avez encore toute votre job à faire pour me convaincre que cette loi fera diminuer le risque d’endoctrinement des jeunes et l’oppression des femmes qui le porteraient autrement au boulot. Parce que l’endoctrinement, lorsqu’il a lieu, tient à beaucoup plus qu’un symbole et que vous ne pouvez pas prétendre être sérieux dans votre volonté de l’enrayer si vous ne tenez pas compte de cela. Qu’est-ce que je veux dire, concrètement? Deux choses. 1) Pendant que, mettons, Fatima, enseignante bienveillante, ne pourra plus enseigner parce qu’elle fait le choix de garder son voile, Younes, lui, le prof musulman masculin qui, mettons, déciderait de faire du prosélytisme auprès de certains de ses élèves qu’il juge plus réceptifs, pourra s’en donner à coeur joie pour autant qu’il s’habille comme tout le monde parce que C’T’UN GARS. Qu’est-ce que cette loi boboche va faire pour arrêter Younes, qui perso, me fait vachement plus peur que Fatima, même si c’est elle qui porte le voile? Que dalle. Vous allez avoir besoin de plaintes de parents pour le coincer et, si ça arrive, la jurisprudence canadienne a déjà déterminé qu’il ne pourra avoir gain de cause en invoquant la liberté d’expression et, en toute logique, la liberté de religion pour se défendre (dans l’arrêt Keegstra, si je ne m’abuse). Pas besoin de nouvelles lois pour ça. 2) Mettons qu’on accepte qu’elle a un mari qui correspond au stéréotype du patriarche misogyne oppressant, vous pensez que Fatima sera moins opprimée par son mari si elle est contrainte de rester à la maison, vous? Poser la question, c’est y répondre. Au mieux, vous risquez de la condamner à la précarité; au pire, vous la condamnez à passer ses journées cloîtrée dans l’univers toxique que vous dites craindre pour elle. C’est contre-productif, votre affaire. Je ne suis pas nécessairement un absolutiste des droits, mais je n’aime pas en retirer aux gens quand les soi-disant bénéfices du fait de le faire sont illusoires. Mais, ça, la CAQ le sait et fait le pari que vous ne le réalisez pas. Là d’où je viens, on appelle ça prendre quelqu’un pour un épais. Comme dirait l’autre, je le prends personnel.

Secondo, et parlant de contre-productif, je crois aussi que les gens laissent tomber des idées chaque jour, mais que cela se produit par voie de raisonnement et non de coercition. La religion ne fait pas exception; la raison vient à bout des croyances religieuses de quelqu’un chaque jour. La coercition n’a pas une aussi bonne feuille de route. Au contraire, je pense que la personne qui se sent attaquée se refermera sur elle-même et sera moins réceptive à la réforme/au rejet de ses propres croyances. Comme je disais, contre-productif.

Une dernière chose. À mes amis qui appuient le PL-21, je ne vous reproche pas vos intentions, je ne vous traite pas de racistes comme le font certains énervés de la gauche. Je fais valoir que cette loi est problématique, non seulement parce qu’elle ne remplira pas les objectifs qu’elle prétend se fixer, mais parce que, dans les faits, elle ne vise même pas lesdits objectifs et qu’elle risque d’avoir des effets pervers en bonne quantité. Je veux bien qu’on ne puisse faire d’omelette sans casser d’oeufs, mais ça me pose problème de casser des oeufs si on ne fait pas d’omelette. Ce que je vois, c’est un gouvernement caquiste qui regarde l’administration Trump non pas pour faire CE qu’elle fait (non, je ne dis pas que Legault = Trump) mais pour faire COMME elle fait. Autrement dit, elle vise non pas les bonnes politiques qui correspondent à ses valeurs, mais les “policy wins”, c’est-à-dire des politiques qui galvanisent sa base. C’est vachement cynique et c’est légiférer de manière fichtrement cavalière sur un sujet que l’on a contribué à rendre aussi sensible. Ce que la CAQ prouve avec cette loi, ce n’est pas qu’elle est facho, mais qu’elle est insouciante et, par le fait même, irresponsable. Et qu’elle vous prend pour des simplets en vous présumant incapables de nuance et de complexité dans votre réflexion politique. Ce serait dommage de lui donner raison. Turp out.

2019: The mock draft

Sound the Air Raid siren, because the NFL Draft is once again upon us. We won’t have to wait too long for suspense as the Top 5 will be utterly intriguing, starting with the very first pick. In which direction will Arizona go? Perhaps some NFL journalist will break the news before the draft even begins, but, for now, we are left wondering…

Are the Cardinals really so down on Josh Rosen after so little time spent on an atrocious roster? Ultimately, that’s the question. Because while the facile notion that Kyler Murray is a system fit for new coach Kliff Kingsbury’s version of the Air Raid offence is an attractive one, would anyone argue with a straight face that, at his best, Josh Rosen can’t excel in this system? Drafting Murray and trading Rosen for pennies on the dollar is not the kind of move well-run organisations make. Then again, this is the team that botched both the hiring and the firing of Steve Wilkes, so who knows? And should they opt against drafting Murray and go for one of the many defensive front players in the draft (there’s a really good case for them to do so), what does that mean for Murray? Or would they consider trading down? And then who would come up?

Speaking of dealing down, can the 49ers justify not doing so? If they stay at two, they’re probably taking Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen. If you combine that with the acquisition of Dee Ford and the presence of Deforrest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, that makes five first-round defensive linemen on the roster and three who were drafted in the top 10. I love my pass rushers, but you’d have to question John Lynch’s roster allocation at that point.

And what the hell are the Raiders going to do? This is the team that traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper and must now make good on all the draft picks they got in return for gutting the roster. The entire NFL intelligentsia seems to doubt Jon Gruden’s commitment to QB Derek Carr. Would they consider drafting Kyler Murray should the Cards pass on him? If you’re going to draft a Josh Allen, what the hell was the point of trading Mack? The rookie contract? Wasn’t the knowledge of Mack’s stardom worth the money? Oh, what the hell.. Do they trade down? Mystery…

The team just outside the top 5 with the potential to shape the rest of the first round is the Giants. What happens if they don’t take a quarterback at six or, to put it another way, how would that affect the rest of the teams in the market for a quarterback? All fascinating questions with only one certitude: as usual, this is going to be fun.

  1. Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: The reasoning for this pick amounts to this: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Too many people have been convinced this is happening for too long, and I don’t see a scenario like last year when we found out mere hours before the draft that the Browns really liked Baker Mayfield. The Browns were taking a quarterback for sure. The Cards are either taking Murray, or they’re drafting another position. If I’m the GM, I’m really fond of Josh Rosen, and I give him the chance to crush it in a pass-happy system. However, I think Kliff Kingsbury got to watch Murray up close last year, opts to press reset again, and starts with last year’s Heisman winner.
  2. San Francisco 49ers: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: So I make the case that the 49ers should trade down, and I believe they should. But here’s the thing: I think they get stuck with the pick. The Jets are believed to be a lock to trade down, and few teams have the draft ammo to come up and get a defensive linemen at two. Solomon Thomas has not provided the pass rushing spark that was expected and, with Bosa, Buckner and Dee Ford, San Fran’s pass rush should be pretty scary.
  3. New York Giants (Trade with Jets): Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: Now before you ask, I’m predicting a pick swap between the Jets and Giants, with the Jets getting the 6th pick and the Giants’ second rounder (37). The Giants are gambling that they’re getting the quarterback at 17, and they get a dominant interior player who camps in opposing backfields versus the run and the pass.
  4. Oakland Raiders: Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State: Ahead of Josh Allen? AHEAD OF JOSH ALLEN?!?!?!?!?! Hear me out… A few things… First, while people have more and more of a tendency to disregard the difference between 4-3 and 3-4 when it comes to edge rushers, Jon Gruden mentioned, when the team traded Mack, that the move to a 4-3 was among the reasons for the trade. Probably crap, but you know if they’re going to draft a pass rusher (and they will), they’ll look for a fit for the 4-3, and Sweat is more of a natural for a four-man front than Allen. Also, this is exactly the kind of contrarian ranking Mike Mayock consistently carried when he worked for the NFL Network (Rashard Mendenhall over Darren McFadden; McCoy over Suh, the list goes on…). Watch the Raiders stay entertaining. Don’t ever change, guys.
  5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Allen, Edge rusher, Kentucky: This is the perfect pick. With Todd Bowles taking over as defensive coordinator and running a liquid defence fueled by hybrid players, Allen is a franchise pass rusher who fits this kind of scheme diversity like a glove. Allen picks himself for the Bucs. Now, here’s to hoping they spend their second rounder on new uniforms.
  6. New York Jets (Trade with Giants): TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa: Everybody seems to agree, for good reason, that the Jets need a pass rusher. What they also need is to surround Sam Darnold with help. There isn’t a pass rusher or a wide receiver worth taking here, so the Jets grab Hockenson, who becomes a multi-purpose weapon as both a blocker and a receiver.
  7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida: The Jags continue their road to yet another disappointing season by overdrafting an unrefined, inconsistent lineman who theoretically fills a need at right tackle. Did I mention I want every member of that front office to get canned?
  8. Detroit Lions: Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan: So this is a huge risk because Gary was an underachiever at Michigan, but theoretically, he”s a local guy who adds the speed to rush from the edge on early downs as well as the strength and bulk to kick inside as an interior pass rusher on 3rd and long. IN THEORY, he never has to come off the field. Detroit’s starting DTs are A’Shawn Robinson and Snacks Harrison, and while they are both excellent versus the run, you’re not getting much of a pass rush from either one. Did I mention this is the sort of pick that has been keeping Detroit crappy for ages?
  9. Buffalo Bills: DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss: The Bills cook up the neat combination of a quarterback who can throw it really deep but erratically with a receiver who can really get deep but runs routes erratically. This pick is so Buffalo, it’s just too perfect.
  10. Denver Broncos: Devin White, LB, LSU: I know people are talking quarterback here, but I think John Elway made the Joe Flacco trade to push back the need to take a quarterback here. Moreover, John Elway is quite possibly fighting for his job. He must win games and thus can ill afford to spend a top 10 pick on a player who’s likely sitting next season.
  11. Cincinnati Bengals: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: How fitting is this? With a new coach comes a renewal at quarterback, and the local product Haskins brings exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bengals: upside. The team can now see what it can get for Andy Dalton, and keep him in the starting lineup if the offers are unsatisfying.
  12. Green Bay Packers: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: You think the Packers’ new offensive-minded head coach would like for his superstar quarterback to have better weapons? Pass rusher was Green Bay’s other big need, but they took care of that in free agency to be able to grab an offensive player here.
  13. Miami Dolphins: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan: I smell a tankeroo in Miami, which means the Phins will focus on getting the kind of players who will help establish the desired culture for Pats alum HC Brian Flores. Were Bush two inches taller, he’d be a mortal lock as a top 10 pick. This is a steal for Miami.
  14. Tennessee Titans (Trade with Falcons): Brian Burns, Edge Rusher, Florida State: The Titans need an edge rusher opposite Harold Landry now that mainstays Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are gone. Cameron Wake is a solid veteran but could fall off the cliff at any time and isn’t a long-term option even if he doesn’t. Burns has the athletic ability and the move set to give Tennessee what they need here.
  15. Washington Redskins: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke: Some may like Drew Lock more, but Jones is a bit less up-and-down and we have yet to find out just how good he can be behind an offensive line that’s worth a damn. Shame for Alex Smith, really.
  16. Carolina Panthers: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson: With Julius Peppers’ retirement, the Panthers now need a franchise pass rusher. Ferrell, a base end type who fits Carolina’s system, is a logical pick for the Panthers here.
  17. New York Giants (from Cleveland): Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: The Giants need a quarterback, and it makes sense for old-school GM Dave Gettleman to like a tall, big-armed passer like Lock. It’s also a plus that he gets to spend a year adjusting to the pro game behind Eli Manning.
  18. Seattle Seahawks (Trade with Vikings): Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: The Seahawks can’t believe their luck. They get a playmaking 3-technique they badly needed and Oliver’s elite quickness will remind Seahawks’ fans of Michael Bennett.
  19. Atlanta Falcons (Trade with Titans): Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: Atlanta needs cornerback help opposite Desmond Trufant and wins on its gamble that it can get a high-level starter while trading down. Williams, with his length and great speed, is a perfect fit for Atlanta’s defence.
  20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: No one can truly replace Antonio Brown, but with the big-mouth big-play receiver gone, what remains is a duo of muscle catchers with running back builds in Juju Smith-Schuster and James Washington. Brown’s speed and field-stretching ability in the slot provides a nice complement to the pass catchers Pittsburgh already has on the roster.
  21. Minnesota Vikings: Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama: The Vikings have guaranteed Kirk Cousins the GDP of a small country, and it would be a shame to see that investment go to waste because the Vikes’ offensive line is a train wreck. They could use upgrades inside or at right tackle, and Williams can help at either one of those spots.
  22. Baltimore Ravens: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State: Baltimore probably needs an edge rusher, but there isn’t one worth taking here. Simmons, whose dominance stood out even as he played next to Montez Sweat, fits nicely on the Ravens’ front three. He warrants a higher pick, but falls here because of his February ACL injury.
  23. Houston Texans: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State: Whether the Texans go for Dillard depends on whether they actually think they can get passable left tackle play from Julien Davenport and/or Matt Kalil. I have my doubts. When your quarterback is Deshaun Watson, you need an athletic pass protector to man his blind side.
  24. Oakland (from Chicago): Irv Smith, TE, Alabama: The Raiders lost Jared Cook in free agency, and Smith is a quality pass catcher whose athleticism makes him an asset to whoever is the long-term quarterback for this team. Why not a wide receiver here? Because you take him at 27. There will be a receiver who belongs in round one at 27. If Smith leaves in the next three picks, the next best tight end doesn’t belong in round one.
  25. Kansas City Chiefs (Trade with Eagles): Johnathan Abrams, SS, Mississippi State: Having just lost Eric Berry, the Chiefs need help in the secondary. They could go corner, but they jump on the chance to take an enforcer safety who can make the Chiefs more physical in the back end.
  26. Indianapolis Colts: Dexter Lawrence, NT, Clemson: The Colts are starting to look pretty loaded and, even though they could go in a number of valid directions here, Margus Hunt is an awkward fit at nose tackle. The Lawrence pick makes a lot of sense in a division where you play four games against big backs Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry. The new Haloti Ngata, Lawrence helps in that regard.
  27. Oakland (from Dallas): AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss: To go along with the big play potential of Antonio Brown, the Raiders choose another Brown, AJ, whose big body will allow him to battle for tough yards underneath. Derek Carr is starting to run out of excuses.
  28. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: The Chargers already have a strong pass rushing presence with edge dynamos Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Now, they add Wilkins, an interior penetrator who makes the Chargers’ defensive line even more fearsome.
  29. Philadelphia Eagles (Trade with Chiefs): Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma: The Eagles are loaded enough to go for the best available player, and Ford can be groomed as the right tackle of the future, which would in turn allow Lane Johnson to kick over to the left side when Jason Peters finally moves on. A real value pick here for the Eagles.
  30. Green Bay (from New Orleans): Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State: The Packers’ offensive line doesn’t lack grit, but it lacks talent. Bradbury is smart, tough, and talented. When the running game and the pass protection has been pedestrian for so long AND when your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, Bradbury is a welcome addition.
  31. Los Angeles Rams: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington: With this pick, LA gets the best available player and a potential replacement for Marcus Peters if he continues bleeding big plays.
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars (Trade with Patriots): Nasir Adderley, FS, Delaware: You know the Patriots are trading out of this pick, and the Jags come up to get Adderley because Tashaun Gibson became a cap casualty, yet you need a true centre field at free safety in their defence. The safety calibre dips in quality after Adderley.

Homage series: Making the case for Ocarina of Time, 20 years later

When, in your experience with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, did you first realize you had a very special game on your hands? For me, it was when I took my first steps on Hyrule Field, and heard this.

As I write this post to celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary (wait, what?!), I still feel strongly about this: if you’ve ever played this game, the Hyrule Field theme gets a nostalgic smile out of you every time. It certainly gets one from me, as it takes me back to that time of innocence when I didn’t yet realize that I wasn’t staring at just any great game, but at what remains to this day the greatest game I have ever played. (Prior to this game, I was not a Zelda fan, so I am not a member of the group of pseudo-contrarians who argue (wrongly) that it’s a lesser game than A Link to the Past.) 

It makes me feel terribly old to say so, but the Nintendo 64 had its heyday a while ago now, in late 1998, to be exact, with this game. The ultimate compliment I can give OoT is not that it hasn’t aged; it unquestionably has, but that it has aged so impeccably well. It has not gotten old in a gimmicky, 10-minute refresher way like Super Mario Bros 3, Pac-Man, Tetris or Pong. Rather, it sticks with you much like the first great book you read or the first great film you watched. It’s not that you’re experiencing gaming greatness for the first time; it’s that, for the first time, you’re seeing it with the capacity to notice the details that add up to create it. This was one of the first non-J-RPGs that were not simply great, but memorable; that weren’t great just because you enjoyed playing them, but because you were invested in them. For people of my generation, who were either teens or pre-teens when OoT came out, this was as good as gaming would get, and most of us knew it.

My longtime friend Gab Flewelling (same age as me), whose eyes I know to be running a Nascar race from all that rolling as he’s reading this, would dismiss OoT’s claim to the title of greatest game ever on two points worth addressing. The first is the claim that Final Fantasy VII (1997) was better. The comparison is interesting because the two games came out a mere 14 months apart. VII the only game of that era that even remotely earns the comparison with OoT. The argument could be solved simply by saying something like “some prefer Ferraris, others like Lamborghinis,” which is the luxury-car-metaphor way of saying it’s a matter of taste. There is, it seems to me, great truth to this. FF7 and OoT are both landmark games, both revolutionary in their own way, both formidable. As a matter of context, here is how Greg Kasavin of (now Gamespot) concluded his Final Fantasy VII review:

The question you must ask yourself is, are you prepared to dedicate a good portion of the next month to take part in a powerful story unlike anything you have ever witnessed before? If your answer is yes, and you can approach Final Fantasy VII knowing that it bears its genre’s inherently problematic traits, you will find it to be among the most incredible games you have ever played – or ever will.

Every word of this is true. Remember my earlier point about realizing just how special a game is as you’re playing it? People felt the same way about FF7. Again, it’s a SUPREMELY good game. But notice the mention of the inherently problematic traits of Japanese RPGs. FF7 dealt with parts of them thanks to the improved capabilities of the PS1. Characters were no longer just static pictures bumping into each other during combat, as they previously were, for all intents and purposes, in J-RPGs on the Super NES or the Sega Genesis. However, while Final Fantasy VII democratized the J-RPG for large sections of the mainstream gaming audience, hence its pioneer status, many gamers tolerated, rather than enjoyed, the random enemy encounters and the turn-based combat. Proponents of FF7 would answer that these are barely even flaws at all, that the combat system is more of an acquired taste than a true downside and that, even if it we agree live action combat would be better*, the gains in story depth more than makes up for this alleged shortcoming.

Indeed, folks, those were still the days when technological limits forced developers to choose between a great, complex story and amazing action/gameplay. What’s the first game to truly pull off a blend of both? You guessed it: our dear friend Ocarina of Time. Admittedly, FF7’s story is much more complex, and carries a great deal more chapters. Between its main story and its sidequests, VII has the depth and the replay value of modern DLC-powered monstrosities; pumping 100 hours into it is barely even hard. But not everyone wants to spend 100 hours on a game, and nowadays, some games have reached a point where gamers with an actual life are afraid to start them, as great as they are, (looking at you, Witcher 3) because they fear never seeing the end of them.

This takes me to Gab’s second point, which is that, absent the nostalgia factor, more modern games are simply better than older ones. For the most part, he’s right. Games are like cars: you can love your classics, but the 2016 edition of a car is undeniably superior to its 1996 counterpart. It features an entire list of improvements, be it in terms of safety or of convenience. And yet… there is the odd old-school model that can give you that little something your average modern-day disposable nondescript heap of metal won’t.

Nowadays, you can take gameplay like OoT’s, which an absolute legion of developers have done, and combine it with a story as long-winded as FF7’s. So how is a game which does that not instantly better than an old-school classic like OoT? Well, for one thing, there comes a point where too much is like not enough. Yes, I do like that games are like TV series now. A modern Action-RPG à-la-OoT that does not feature both outstanding gameplay AND character development would be deemed unfit for release. That said, many modern games are simply too voluminous, carry open worlds “too open” for their own good where the plot gets lost, and require you to shut yourself off from the world for a surprisingly long time to get through all that they have to offer, DLC and all. It’s one of several reasons why I consider the notion that Breath of the Wild, the most recent Zelda game, is better Ocarina to be absolute heresy. Its open world is too big for one character travelling alone pretty much as he pleases.

I truly believe there’s something to be said for the combination of greatness and simplicity, which finally leads me to my actual case for Ocarina of Time. It nails that combination as perfectly as any game ever has. Here is the conclusion to Jeff Gerstmann’s review:

The game offers a nice challenge, a stunningly well-told story, and the gameplay to back it all up. This game is the real thing. This is the masterpiece that people will still be talking about ten years down the road. This is the game that perfectly exhibits the “quality not quantity” mantra that Nintendo has been touting since the N64 was released. In a word, perfect. To call it anything else would be a bald-faced lie.

Ten years? You must be joking! Although, in his defence, he couldn’t have known. Even today, even in this piece, which might tiptoe into long-form feature territory if I’m not careful, I struggle to pinpoint all the ways in which it was groundbreaking. In the gaming world, it remains an absolute masterclass in balancing acts: between exploration and story; between darkness and humour; between sheer action and emotional involvement. The Zelda story has been told on different occasions in different ways, but never as effectively. In fact, Ocarina has haunted its successors, none of which have fully managed to replicate its lightning-in-a-bottle kind of magic, however much I loved Windwaker. Of all subsequent Zelda games, only the supremely underrated Majora’s Mask, OoT’s sort-of sequel, exists outside Ocarina‘s shadow. This is probably because it’s aimed at OoT fanatics who were then two years older, expected something different and could now stomach something even darker. Good thing, too, because Majora’s Mask has elements and moments that would mortify young children. Too bad it came out on the same day as the PS2. But I digress.

Ocarina features an immersive soundtrack by Koji Kondo that features surprisingly beautiful melodies, whether they be location or character themes, or even the ocarina tunes the gamer plays using the C-buttons of the N64’s bizarre three-pronged controller. Listen to the themes of Kakariko Village, the Twinrova Sisters, Gerudo Valley or the Song of Storms. It’s not Mozart, and it’s not as dense as the orchestra soundtracks one can find in more recent games like the Elder Scrolls series, but it’s really quite nice.

And it would be a mistake to dismiss it as a “children’s game.” It’s a fairly straightforward tale of good vs evil, but it’s so well told. And while it’s not as dark in tone as the aforementioned Majora’s Mask, between the Skulltula house inhabited by a family whose members have been turned into giant spiders, or sinister ghosts (Poes) that haunt you at night as well as in a most important graveyard, or the haunted house look, music, and monsters of the Shadow Temple, it’s a surprisingly dark game.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the gameplay some more. What I wrote earlier about the gameplay successfully bringing together live action combat with a great story doesn’t do justice to the revolutionary aspect of this game’s combat system. There is something exhilarating about experiencing it for the first time. Generally, in those types of games, swordplay would feel forced, and the protagonist would slash his/her way through baddies that would take the hits like Rocky takes punches in the ring. So, imagine my surprise during my first fight against a Stalfo: “Pinch me and wake me up, because we have an actual sword fight on our hands… against an enemy that will actually use its shield… so I have to be patient and wait for it to leave itself vulnerable… I think I’m gonna cry…” All of this was accomplished using what was the revolutionary Z-Targeting, or as I like to call it, the fighting-engine-virtually-every-action-RPG-ever-since-has-been-using. Look at all your favourite games, kids. It’s there. Assassin’s Creed? There. Grand Theft Auto? There. The Witcher series? There. With the exclusion of, say, first-person shooters, Nintendo cracked the code on how to bridge RPG and live action. With Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

As for the “location” ocarina songs, modern games still carry a version of them: it’s called fast travel. Kind of a popular thing, nowadays, with those gargantuan world maps. Unless you consider J-RPG’s and their world maps “open-world games,” Ocarina is one of the first ones, if not THE first. It’s rather mystifying to see how many of its gameplay features have been recycled virtually as-is in modern games.

Yet, you might still be inclined to resist. Today’s consoles are more similar to computers than to consoles from 20 years ago. Modern games benefit from technological advances such as (far) better graphical engines, orchestra soundtracks and spoken dialogue, not to mention modernized controllers (seriously, what was Nintendo thinking with that N64 controller with the joystick that could be wrecked by a single game of Mario Party?!), greater story scope and length, DLC, etc. So how can I still pick Ocarina of Time ahead of all the great modern games? Basically for the same reason I still think the original Star Wars trilogy is the best one, despite today’s ridiculously more potent special effects. The novelty factor matters, especially when successors use the original’s M.O. and change next to nothing about it. Just as the other two Star Wars trilogies have the gravitas that they do strictly because of their relationship to the original one (and I won’t get into the endless list of lesser space opera knockoffs), a staggering amount of modern games live in the house that OoT built. I also feel for those kids to whom the peak of gaming glory is online sessions of FortniteCall of Duty, or sports games.

So, Ocarina, here’s to you, old friend, on your 20th anniversary. Because 20 years later, I still remember how you captivated me when I was 12. 20 years later, I still was never more of a gamer than when I played you. 20 years later, you’re still the reference, the greatest, the same. Thankfully.

*It is. The fact that games, even RPGs, have largely moved away from turn-based combat illustrates it.

The interesting transition of Dave Rubin

I like Dave Rubin. For a while, I considered him to be representative of a phenomenon that I hope keeps picking up steam: the detachment of left-leaning moderates from a radical left obsessed with a silly game of point-scoring against the right powered by a virulent and cynical use of identity politics. That’s how I came to know him, and appreciate him, given that I have, in the past two years or so, gone through that transition as well. Now, though I still agree with Rubin on many things, I’m beginning to question whether the transition he’s going through is the one I initially diagnosed.

For those who don’t know Rubin, he got his first real taste of spotlight as a member of “The Young Turks,” a popular online TV show that features political analysis from a perspective that’s further to the left than virtually anything one can see on mainstream American television. He left the show and the group, however, when he could not reconcile his disagreements with TYT figurehead Cenk Uygur, who went down the radical road I described above. This became painfully obvious when Uygur insisted upon misrepresenting the views of neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris, whose criticism of religion in general but more specifically of Islam caused outrage in certain left-wing circles. (Those who saw Ben Affleck’s rambling, incoherent attack on Harris when they were both on Bill Maher’s show “Real Time” can attest to this. Also, if you have more patience than I do, you can watch this conversation between Uygur and Harris, of which the Youtube title is complete wishful thinking, and read or listen to accounts of the aftermath as proof of Uygur’s complete bad faith.)

All this to say that Rubin, like many, was brought to question his allegiance to the left following this episode, and many others in which so-called right-wing speakers were de-platformed and/or attacked on university campuses in the U.S. The left, he figured, was putting feelings ahead of reason, group think over individual responsibility, and cared far too little about free speech. Up to this point, he and I are agreed.

He has since set up “The Rubin Report,” a political news talk show that features in-depth one-on-one conversations about hot political topics. The show, funded by donations from its viewers, is doing rather well for itself and continues to grow in popularity. Rubin’s guests have mostly been people he feels the left has attempted to silence in a variety of ways: Harris has been on the show a few times; Rubin has also welcomed former Islamist-turned-Islam-reformer Maajid Nawaz (who remains better know in his native Britain than in North America), not to mention the likes of former Google employee James Damore, controversial University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lindsey Shepherd (who has face the most unfair of backlashes for her alleged transphobia as a result of her merely showing a video of Peterson in one of her classes) and several others.


I, like many people who support policies usually associated with the left, was delighted by the presence of people like Rubin who would stand up for free speech in the face of a radical left whose censorius instinct and totalitarian tendencies make it tend to treat free expression as an inconvenience. I believe that even the most despicable opinions should indeed be heard because I also believe our ability to think critically is our intellectual immune system. Both have to be strengthened by exposure to “harmful” agents, not by sheltering from them. Good faith and intellectual honesty both require that we confront the best version of ideas with which we disagree rather than straw men or caricatures of them. Rubin is insistent on this to the point of being repetitive, but I understand why he feels the need to emphasize these points.

Consider the treatment Jordan Peterson gets from many on the left. In Canada, we’ve known about him for a while, ever since he most controversially refused to use “non-gendered” pronouns that were cooked up by members of the LGBTQ community. As for the rest of the world, however, he has garnered a strong following thanks to his Youtube lectures and he became something of a folk hero to many people outside the hard left for his rather skillful display in an interview during which Channel 4’s Cathy Newman repeatedly tried to ambush him by misrepresenting his views. Since then, Peterson has garnered attention as a “hero of the alt-right.” I wish surprise and shock could be in the cards for me, but they’re not. One of the things about this identity politics-fueled radical left has done serially is to use keywords like “alt-right,” or “fascist,” or all the words that end in -phobe (most notably Islamophobe, of course) in order to discredit people whose ideas it wishes to sidestep (obviously the radical right tends to do the same). It doesn’t take a genius to take potshots at Sean Hannity, or Ann Coulter, or Bill O’Reilly, or virtually anyone in the Trump administration, including the president himself. However, besting an intellectual heavyweight like Peterson in an actual argument is a mighty rough task, as Cathy Newman found out the hard way, because he is obviously highly intelligent, but also because his every opinion is fact-based and he avoids ideology like the plague. That’s when the name-calling and the radioactive buzzwords come in handy.

The same is true about Sam Harris. It’s OK to disagree with him on the benevolent/harmful nature of religion (Peterson does), but the misrepresentation of people’s views, especially in the cynical manner that tends to be the signature of the radical left these days, is a tendency that we must all fight with our complete intellectual and verbal might. Rubin has joined that fight and devotes much of his attention and energy to it.

Lately, however, Rubin has seemed captivated by an analogous yet different phenomenon: the transition in political allegiance from the left to the right. Peter Hitchens, younger brother of the late, great Christopher Hitchens and one of my favourite English intellectuals, has himself gone through this transition long ago. I disagree with Hitchens (Peter) on a staggering number of things, but I have tremendous respect for his independence of mind despite the fact that it has led him to very different conclusions than mine (or those of his late brother, for that matter). We started to see Rubin’s interest in this when he started inviting people like Never-Trump Republican David Frum, but he has since moved on to other cases, most notably that of Candace Owens. Owens, many will recall, has seen her already-growing fame explode when Kanye West infamously claimed to “love the way she thinks.” What was going through Kanye’s mind is not relevant here. What matters is Owens, and her actual positions.

I’ve watched Rubin’s conversation with Owens. As I watched, something became clear to me: Owens is a powerful and potent adversary for the left. Many radical leftists would likely go so far as to refer to her as an enemy. Despite whatever criticisms anyone may have of her, she is pretty, charming, charismatic and intelligent. She does, however, have her fair share of intellectual blind spots, most notably in her esteem of Donald Trump. I understand that Rubin is a trained political scientist, not a journalist. I also understand that he might feel uneasy about asking his guests hard questions. But too many times during that interview, I was puzzled by Rubin’s silence and/or nodding in agreement. One must be clear: Donald Trump tells lies, actual verifiable lies. To put it another way, he constantly says things that are either provably false or untrue by any sensible criterion (“Nobody respects women more than me. Nobody.” I wasn’t, and still am not, quite sure how to respond to a statement so absurd). Thus, if you’re a Trump supporter, you either believe the lies or you think his lying doesn’t matter. I can’t see Rubin fitting in either of these categories.

So where the hell was the Dave Rubin who was seemingly agreeing with Frum as he was taking the absolute piss out of Trump? Why was that guy not calling out Owens for defending some of Trump’s more indefensible statements? In the interview, she claimed to be in the process of discovery with regards to her intellectual and political self. So would it not have been helpful to her to challenge her when she was on thin intellectual ice as she was defending the President?

And then, there’s Ben Shapiro. When I listen to Shapiro in discussions with Rubin, Peterson or Sam Harris, or when he absolutely dismantles Piers Morgan on live TV in a debate about gun control, I find him to be among the more intelligent conservatives of our time. Then, however, he tweets things like this: “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage. This is not a difficult issue.” Sarcasm? Provocation? Maybe. Shapiro is an orthodox Jew, so I’m neither surprised nor offended to see him take Israel’s side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the smart guy who kept calm and exposed Morgan’s virtue-signalling ineptitude and the twat who tweeted this plainly bigoted crap seem like two different people. How do you not call out Shapiro on that when you have him on the show?

I’m in no danger of becoming a fiscal or a moral conservative, but I have distanced myself from the radical left, of which I once considered myself a part, in the following respect: whether it’s intellectually or politically, I believe identity politics are a dead end. I can certainly understand why people might feel the need for them. However, if we want people of different race, religion, sexual orientation et al. to be equal before and under the law, and if we want to achieve real equality for all, emphasizing our differences to the point of creating social cleavages is, to put it simply and mildly, counterproductive. I don’t believe in engineering equality of outcome, but I do believe in equality of opportunity, and I do realize we have not achieved it yet. However, this does not justify us misrepresenting the views of those who disagree with us on how to get there in order to shut them down or branding them as undesirables. In this respect, the radical leftists who have moved to silence people with whom they disagree have shown their true colours, i.e. their totalitarian tendencies. Just like Rubin, I vow to fight their totalitarian efforts wherever I see them rear their ugly heads. I’m just not sure the radical left’s identity politics has had the same effect on Rubin as it has had on me and many others who support him. Watching good people being victims of smear tactics has caused me to detest ideology, especially in its more tribal form which is encouraged by identity politics. As for Rubin, has the radical left’s excesses caused him to reject ideology or just to embrace a different one?

It goes without saying that it would be fine for Rubin to become a conservative. And if this is not what’s happening to him, taking in the right’s better ideas and combining them with the left’s better ideas seems to be the best way to fight for freedom, respect, and open-mindedness. However, if Rubin’s going to take in the good ideas from the right, and give those good ideas exposure, he must avoid giving the same charitable treatment to the bad ones as well. And, as people of the moderate left, committed though we may be to defend free expression, so must we.

2018 First round mock draft

That wonderful time is upon us. In less than 48 hours, the 2018 NFL Draft will commence. I’ll write a little addendum article to the mock draft where I’ll deal with a draft-related issue in depth, but this one is the mock and only the mock. So here we go.

  1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, Quarterback, USC: There has been buzz surrounding Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield at this spot, but I don’t buy it. I think Darnold is (wrongly) seen as the sure thing in this draft at quarterback, and Cleveland needs a sure thing here. One plus for Darnold: I think his learning curve is being underestimated by scouts, so spending his rookie year behind Tyrod Taylor would help.
  2. New York Giants: Bradley Chubb, Defensive End, North Carolina State: I think the Giants take a mighty long look at both Saquon Barkley and a quarterback here, but then set their mind on Chubb, the draft’s best and most polished pass rusher. Olivier Vernon is a really nice player whom the Giants are paying a king’s ransom, but he’s best suited to being a team’s second best pass rusher, and Chubb’s arrival means this happens. Dealing Jason Pierre-Paul to the Bucs accentuates the need for this pick, and Chubb is very much worth it.
  3. New York JetsBaker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma: It comes down to one belief on my part: the Jets are going to screw this up. I think Mayfield is a ludicrous pick here. I know he has a “Noo Yaawk” kind of mentality, but I see Mayfield’s athletic skills, whether it’s size, arm strength or mobility, as being just good enough to crush it in college, especially in the Big XII where many programs’ defences are actually an abstract concept, but not in the NFL. Good for the Jets if I’m wrong.
  4. Cleveland BrownsSaquon Barkley, Running Back, Penn State: Even the Browns can’t mess this up. Barkley is the best player in the draft. He’s the latest in the line of spectacular prospects at his position in the last few years at the top of the draft, and the Browns have a need for his dynamic skill. Don’t overthink this, Cleveland! I know you got this… Maybe…
  5. Denver Broncos: Josh Rosen, Quarterback, UCLA: This pick is key, and its fate depends on one question: does Denver still think Paxton Lynch can make it? Sure, he was always going to have a steep learning curve, coming from the bubble screen heaven that is Memphis’ offence, but what’s he shown you in two years? Case Keenum is there, but there’s no way he’s a long-term option (it’s likely he was their backup plan after they whiffed on Kirk Cousins in free agency), and this QB class is too strong at the top to pass on a QB unless you’re just about certain Lynch can pull through. If they still hold out hope for him, the Broncos become a prime candidate to trade down a few spots and let a team desperate for a quarterback grab one here. I don’t see it happening. Not since Aaron Rodgers has a first-round quarterback been given more than two years before being named the starter, but Rodgers was backing up Brett Favre, whereas Lynch couldn’t get on the field despite starter Trevor Simian having a really rough season last year. Hell, even “The Heist” himself, Brock Osweiler, got playing time ahead of Lynch last year! You know what, screw this, I just talked myself into Rosen for Denver. So will John Elway.
  6. Buffalo Bills (trade with Indianapolis): Josh Allen, Quarterback, Wyoming: Every member of the Buffalo top brass would be willing to sell their family into slavery in exchange for a top quarterback at this point. With Allen still on the board, the Bills package their two first rounders to go get him. I think it’s a fairly terrible plan. Unless Kelvin Benjamin shapes up, Buffalo has an underwhelming receiving corps and has dealt Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland just before welcoming the top 4’s least pro-ready quarterback. Allen has obvious tools, but he has significant red flags in his game. So much of a quarterback’s fate is dictated by circumstance and, in this regard, I’m not sure Allen could do much worse than Buffalo.
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Safety, Alabama: Here’s what I want to answer: who cares? This offseason, the Bucs decided that going nowhere as a franchise was fun as they retained Dirk Koetter, one of the league’s three worst head coaches, which dooms them to anonymity once again in the otherwise strong NFC South. Still, Fitzpatrick is a tremendous player who fills a huge need and instantly becomes the best player in their secondary.
  8. Miami Dolphins (Trade with Chicago): Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Ohio State: In their roster management, the Dolphins are usually the wrong kind of aggressive, although in this case, it pays off. Ward is clearly a steal at this point, and helps bring star power at a position where the team could really use it.
  9. San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia: There’s no weapon for Jimmy Garoppolo worth selecting here, so the 49ers deal with another problem, namely grabbing a guy who has the ability to either play next to or replace ticking time bomb Reuben Foster. Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is ranked higher than Smith by most draft analysts (which boggles my frickin’ mind), but Smith is more experienced and a proven character guy on a National Championship finalist.
  10. Oakland Raiders: Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech: The Raiders will gladly take Edmunds to help with their lack of athleticism at inside linebacker. Edmunds is very young and, in my opinion, a bit overrated at this point, but his athletic upside is considerable and undeniable, so this makes tons of sense for the Raiders.
  11. Chicago Bears (Trade with Miami)Derwin James, Safety, Florida State: This is a really nice tool for creative DC Vic Fangio to play around with. James is terrific in coverage, physical against the run and can (I kid you not, I’m an FSU fan, I watched him) rush the passer. OK, fine, don’t believe me? Watch him Reggie White the Florida right tackle at 9:53. He instantly becomes a mainstay on that Bears defence.
  12. Indianapolis Colts (Trade with Buffalo): Quentin Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame: After trading down, the Colts can’t believe their luck. The best college guard in years drops to them at 12 after they trade down. Andrew Luck is smiling ear-to-ear after this pick, and the Colts’ running game is improved by this pick as well.
  13. Washington Deadskins: Vita Vea, Defensive tackle, Washington: The nose tackle position in Washington is currently being shared by a committee of first-round busts. Vea brings tremendous size and power along with deceptive athleticism to the position. A slam-dunk pick here.
  14. Green Bay Packers: I imagine the war room deliberation in Green Bay might go a little something like this… Packers GM: “So, uh, guys, we’ve got Aaron Rodgers coming out publicly and saying he wasn’t thrilled that we cut Jordy Nelson without talking to him. This could be trouble…” Other Packers’ staffer: “Trouble?! Try a PR shitstorm and a disaster! We’ve got to do something about this…” Packers GM: “We did sign Jimmy Graham. I mean…” Packers staffer: “Tremendous, and I’ve just seen this trailer for this movie called “Suicide Squad.” I think it’s going to be really good! Oh, wait… What year is this again?” Packers GM: “Your sarcasm is getting us nowhere, Bob.” (Sighs) “Well… I find this Calvin Ridley guy is pretty good.” Packers’ staffer: “Agreed. I say we take him.” Packers GM: “Hey, I make the decisions around here! Now, where was I? Right, Calvin Ridley! Everybody good with us taking him?” The entire room nods vigourously. The pick: Calvin Ridley, Wide receiver, Alabama
  15. Baltimore Ravens (Trade with Arizona): Marcus Davenport, Edge Rusher, UTSA: Arizona suckers Baltimore into coming up one spot to secure Davenport under the threat that teams in need of an edge rusher, such as Seattle, might come up because they supposedly like Davenport much better than Harold Landry. Davenport is more of a developmental guy than his draft status suggests, but his physical tools are impressive, and he would get to learn a thing or two from Terrell Suggs before no.55 calls it a career.
  16. Arizona Cardinals (Trade with Baltimore): DJ Moore, Wide receiver, Maryland: I think the media are just starting to get wind of how much teams like Moore, a complete receiver stuck in the anonymous wasteland that is Maryland’s passing attack. His all-around skills are a great addition to a receiving corps whose best asset is still the immortal Larry Fitzgerald. As great as Fitz is, the Cards really need to work on his succession now.
  17. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, Offensive tackle, Notre Dame: The Chargers did some pretty serious work on their interior offensive line. This time they get an improvement over average-at-best starting right tackle Joe Barksdale. McGlinchey is the antithesis of a flashy pick, but it’s a solid get for the Chargers, and there is no overprotecting an immobile quarterback in his mid-30s like Philip Rivers.
  18. Seattle Seahawks: Mike Hughes, Cornerback, UCF: The Legion of Boom is close to dismantled, and the departure of Richard Sherman leaves a huge void. Hughes won’t talk like Sherman, he probably won’t play like peak-Sherman, but he’ll do well and his physicality fits how Seattle likes their cornerbacks to play.
  19. Dallas Cowboys: Da’Ron Payne, Defensive tackle, Alabama: The Cowboys need a replacement for Dez Bryant, but they like no one enough to draft one here. Therefore, they give their run defence a serious shot in the arm by grabbing Payne, who instantly step into the nose tackle spot on their defensive line.
  20. Detroit Lions: Harold Landry, Defensive end, Boston College: Beyond Ziggy Ansah, the Lions have nothing in terms of pass rush, and even Ansah is a streaky player, which means the Lions of long spells of putting next to no pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Landry fixes that problem, as his technique, motor and consistency are a huge addition for the Lions.
  21. Cincinnati BengalsWill Hernandez, Guard, UTEP: You can almost always count on the Bengals to make the boring move except, in this case, it makes sense. Their interior line was woeful last year, and Hernandez is one of many terrific, physical interior linemen with first-round grades. This is seventh heaven for Marvin Lewis.
  22. Indianapolis Colts (Trade with Buffalo): Jaire Alexander, Cornerback, Louisville: Grades seem all over the place on Alexander, and the Colts need cornerback help. Ergo, they grab Alexander to pair up with Malik Hooker and give themselves half a good secondary.
  23. New England Patriots: Josh Jackson, Cornerback, Iowa: After losing Malcolm Butler, the Patriots need help at cornerback, and they take advantage of a draft pool that features several mid teen-late 20s corners. Jackson is a Pats kind of guy, smart and tough. A good fit for the Pats here.
  24. Carolina Panthers: Derrius Guice, Running Back, LSU:  After losing Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers need a power element to their running game to go along with the all-purpose skills of the speedier Christian McCaffrey. Guice fits the bill as a power back with just enough of a burst to be an occasional big-play threat. He’ll remind Panthers’ fans of Stewart, but he’s less injury-prone.
  25. Tennessee Titans: James Daniels, Centre, Iowa: Despite hype from 2016, the interior of Tennessee’s offensive line disappointed last season, and an upgrade could be beneficial. The drafting of Daniels would allow current starting centre Ben Jones to slide into (most likely) Quinton Spain’s left guard spot. Overall, it’s a net win for Tennessee, who will finally ditch that ridiculous expression “exotic smashmouth” in name, but not in playing style.
  26. New York Giants (Trade with Atlanta)Kolton Miller, Offensive tackle, UCLA: The Giants need pass protection in the worst way, and they trade back into the first round, in front of the Patriots, to grab Miller, who fits the physical model established by GM Dave Gettleman in Carolina. Besides, the Giants really, really need a left tackle to replace the slow-footed Ereck Flowers, who’s been getting Eli Manning killed the last few years.
  27. New Orleans Saints: Hayden Hurst, Tight end, South Carolina: The Saints haven’t had their customary production from the tight end position since they traded Jimmy Graham, and now a pretty loaded offence gets another weapon. Drew Brees is a happy man.
  28. Pittsburgh SteelersLeighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Boise State: What happened to Ryan Shazier last season was an absolute shame, and it forces Pittsburgh to shop for an insurance policy in case he can never return or be the player he was if he does. Vander Esch is a big, fast, rangy player who’s a terrific fit to play inside in Pittsburgh’s 3-4.
  29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Louisville: So let’s not kid ourselves and think Blake Bortles, despite his improvement last year, is the answer. This leads the Jags to make one of the draft’s most intriguing picks with the polarizing Jackson, a multidimensional quarterback who will add additional spotlight on the suddenly trendy Jags.
  30. Minnesota Vikings: Rashaan Evans, Linebacker, Alabama: This Vikings team is looking pretty loaded, and they add athleticism at the Will linebacker position by replacing incumbent starter Ben Gedeon with Evans, a smart, tough typical Alabama product at the position.
  31. New England Patriots: Connor Williams, Offensive tackle, Texas: With Nate Solder’s departure, the team needs an athletic left tackle to keep Tom Brady upright on the rare occasions when he keeps the ball longer than 1.3 seconds. Williams is not the heaviest player, but he’s a smooth mover who fits what the Pats are looking for.
  32. Philadelphia Eagles: Sony Michel, Running Back, Georgia: The Eagles are so loaded this is a luxury pick, but it gives the Eagles improved depth at the position, which they need, and Michel is the quintessential modern all-purpose back that every team needs in 2018.

2 post-Super Bowl thoughts

Well, that was an incredible game between Oklahoma and… nope, wait, sorry! Wrong game, although one could be forgiven for thinking he/she was watching the Big XII conference in action Sunday at the Super Bowl. Ultimately, I think the Eagles’ victory is justice in more ways than one. Not only were they the better team on the day, but they were the best team on the season before Carson Wentz’ knee injury, which had everyone believing – myself included – that their postseason chances were cooked when the quarterback went down for the season. So kudos to Philly for pulling off this Varsity Blues-esque accomplishment. Here are two more things that come to my mind at the close of this NFL season.

1. Doug Pederson kicked some serious ass. 

Speaking for the Eagles’ head coach, take it away, CM Punk…

Might we have badly underestimated the former career backup quarterback? The Ringer‘s Michael Lombardi kept insisting for most of this season that Pederson was getting too much respect for his coaching acumen. And as the season was unfolding, whose name did we consistently hear when talking about the game’s best coaches? Obviously, it starts and ends with Bill Belichick, but apart from him… We sang the praises of Andy Reid when the Chiefs started the campaign on an absolute rampage. We were (correctly) in awe of Sean McVay as he transformed the Rams from downright pathetic to dynamic and fun to watch on offence. We even marvelled at the job Sean McDermott was doing in Buffalo until he so incomprehensibly sabotaged himself by throwing Nathan Peterman into the starting lineup as the Bills were on pace to make the playoffs. But what about Pederson?

Sure, no one was as disrespectful as Lombardi when it came to talking about the Eagles coach, but the narrative around Philly’s success mostly revolved around Wentz blossoming into an MVP candidate. He certainly deserves tremendous praise for the sensational season he was enjoying before his injury, and I do not mean to diminish the significance of what he has become, but who out there gave Pederson his due? Who stopped for a second and really asked, “could this be happening at least in part because the coach really knows what he’s doing?”

Fast forward to February and Pederson, along with his staff, has masterminded a Super Bowl win with Nick Foles at the helm. After the Eagles lost Wentz, the consensus was that they were doomed. As if the initial lack of faith wasn’t bad enough, Minnesota just so happened to pull an incredible finish out of their hat against the Saints. The Vikes were coming to Philadelphia to earn the right to play the Super Bowl at home. They looked like a “team of destiny.” Then, the Eagles and Foles forced people to take notice when they treated the Vikings to a shellacking akin to this one…

“Ah, but that was against a team led by fellow journeyman Case Keenum after they had the big emotional high to win the previous week,” they said. “Now, they’ll be going against the (so-called) “GOAT” and against the greatest head coach of all time.” Different ballgame? Perhaps, but it seems people told Pederson and his team that their loss was pre-ordained a few times too many. Working with his offensive coordinator and fellow career backup QB Frank Reich, Pederson proved himself a riddle too complicated for Patriots DC Matt Patricia to solve. The Eagles moved the ball pretty much at will for the near entirety of the game. Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth saw many more RPOs than the true amount Pederson actually called, but there were several, along with many well-timed play-action passes and an outside zone scheme that created big lanes for running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarette Blount virtually all night long. Oh, and of course, at a critical moment in the game, there was this balls-of-steels 4th down call…

So, basically, I take away two things from the offence I saw from the Eagles at the Super Bowl. First, I expect to see an increase in the quantity of schemes NFL coaches borrow from the college game and in the frequency at which they do, namely those oh-so-trendy RPOs, which are quite simply a cheat code against two-safety looks. Secondly, the NFL coaching community, for all its conservatism, has some bright offensive minds. Doug Pederson is one of them.

2. Shut up, Steve Young! Tom Brady was not outplayed tonight.

This may come as a surprise to those of you who are aware that I do not share the increasingly popular opinion that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. No, I still don’t. No, it wouldn’t have changed anything had the Pats won this year’s Super Bowl.


After the game, Steve Young, in one of his customary insults to the audience’s intelligence, said that Nick Foles out-dueled Tom Brady tonight. If there is any sense to be found in this affirmation, it doesn’t lie in the fact that the Eagles won and the Pats lost.

Brady became the first ever quarterback to lose a game despite throwing for 500 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Both quarterbacks were outstanding tonight, so somebody please give me a break with this notion that Brady was outplayed! Part of my case against him being the “G.O.A.T.” is that circumstances have favoured him more than any other quarterback in history. Yet, tonight, he just might have pulled another one of those mythical comebacks had circumstances not gone against him for a change. Any chance of a late equalizing drive was almost eradicated after the Pats’ decision to try a reverse on the game’s last kickoff backfired, leaving Brady with 92 yards to gain in one minute with no timeouts.

I find it ridiculous to compare quarterbacks as most of us do, which is to say based on records and titles that hinge on breaks in the game so completely out of their control. It’s one of the many reasons why it’s incorrect to call Brady the “G.O.A.T.,” but it’s also why I think it’s preposterous to say he has been outplayed tonight or that this impacts his legacy. And if this is hard to grasp for you, here’s an analogy: in 1966, the Giants had one of the worst defenses in the history of the league. The team scored 40 points or more in two consecutive games, and lost them both. (I simply cannot wrap my head around the level of defensive ineptitude required to make this happen…) Saying Brady was outplayed tonight is the equivalent of looking at that ’66 Giants team after those two losses and saying, “well, our offence just couldn’t score us enough points!” It’s worth reiterating that Brady is now the only quarterback to throw for 500 yards, three TDs, no picks, and lose. Nick Foles played very well tonight, but he didn’t out-duel a soul.

Anyone who wishes to question Brady’s consensual status of G.O.A.T. cannot possibly have earned that right tonight; you either did before tonight and you still can, or you didn’t and you still cannot. Brady is what he is, and none of that changed because his team lost a tight game to a really good, very well-coached Eagles squad and couldn’t quite reel in Lombardi trophy number six.

Some parts of this ship work better than others: A Star Wars Episode VIII review

*This review contains no spoilers.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has most of the right ingredients and the right ideas to succeed, but doesn’t always dose these ingredients correctly. Ergo, while it’s not bad, it’s not the film it could have been.


The movie picks up where “The Force Awakens” left off, with the odds stacked massively against General Leia Organa’s (the late Carrie Fisher) Rebellion in its fight against the First Order a.k.a. the Empire 2.0, led mostly by Domnhall Gleeson’s General Hux. Poor Leia has her hands full not only with the First Order, but with keeping daredevil X-Wing extraordinaire pilot Poe Dameron (Oscaar Isaac) on a leash. Meanwhile, Jedi-in-training (well, not yet, but you know what I mean) Rey, still played by Daisy Ridley, has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and plans to ask him for his help on behalf of the Resistance.

Of course, it’s not the only reason why Rey wants to see Luke. She can feel the force inside her, and it frightens her. In addition to her impression that her gift controls her much more than she controls it, there is the impending threat of Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, backed by his master, the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Then, there is the problem of Luke’s firm intent not to get involved, as he is clearly tortured over losing Kylo – or Ben Solo, as he was previously known – to the dark side.

In “The Force Awakens,” we met Jon Bonyega’s Finn, a storm trooper turned rebel soldier who became very (very) good friends with Rey. In “The Last Jedi,” because Rey is with Luke, Finn is relegated to a glorified subplot. The screenplay teams him up with a maintenance worker named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), as they are sent to retrieve a master code breaker who is needed for reasons that I don’t wish to spoil, but which feel remarkably minor in the movie’s grand scheme of things. (Although I’m always happy to see the actor who plays the code breaker in question.)

And that’s the setup for the movie, which runs into some problems. I love the idea of diversity in entertainment, but Bonyega isn’t exactly Denzel Washington in terms of his on-screen charisma. While he and Tran have a few fun moments, it’s hard to care about his character when Ridley isn’t there to generate emotional investment, and my indifference was only enhanced by the fact that his and Tran’s subplot is almost completely disposable. Tran’s Rose is a likable character who sometimes seems to belong in another movie.

Also, I’m still not sure about the casting of Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. I understand he’s supposed to be conflicted, and Driver can act, but I need a little more steel from a bad guy with the plans he has. Between him and Gleeson’s General Hux, the old Empire’s leaders scared me more.

Writer/director Rian Johnson clearly set out to make a Star Wars movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s a noble goal, but I suspect Star Wars afficionados will wish it took itself just a bit more seriously than it does. Indeed, off the top of my head, “The Last Jedi” strikes me as the most gag-loaded installment of the series by some distance, but the larger problem is that too few of them work; those that do are the subtler ones we’re accustomed to in Star Wars movies. However, the very first conversation in the film, between General Hux and Isaac’s Poe Dameron sounds directly out of a Seth MacFarlane screenplay, and we also have to suffer through a scene where Luke “milks” a cow-like creature for a bright turquoise substance. The shot of Luke staring at Rey with lots of the liquid stuck in his beard is not something anyone needs to see.

Several critics of “The Force Awakens” brought up the fact that it felt, at times, like a shameless remake of “A New Hope.” The Honest Trailers gang on Youtube couldn’t help but sarcastically quip, “gear up for a film so desperate to recapture the magic of the first Star Wars, it practically IS the first Star Wars.” Well, I can already hear these same people calling “The Last Jedi” a shameless remake of “Return of the Jedi.”  It’s not a baseless accusation, either. I mean, the scene with Rey, Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke is just so reminiscent of the final battle between Luke and Darth Vader that it even drew an ‘oh, come on!’ from me.

And I sure wish the movie hadn’t shortchanged the likable Poe Dameron character in the following two ways: 1) He doesn’t get enough screen time. I would have liked to see more of him and less of Finn and Rose, except for the part where… 2) For no discernible reason other than screenplay contrivance, his superiors keep him in the dark about a plan so sensible he clearly would have gone along with it had they kept him in the loop.

So, after all the things I criticized about the film, why am I still saying I liked it? Mostly because it has lots of things going for it. Between Mark Hamill’s proper return to the series and Carrie Fisher’s last hurrah as Leia, in addition to a handful of other details, the nostalgia factor remains through the roof. It has a glorious soundtrack by John Williams, which mixes in the cult Star Wars themes with some new ones to keep the listening experience pleasant. It has its shares of customarily easy-on-the-eye shots and action scenes (a fight scene taking place on a planet where the grounds yields red salt when it gets scratched is absolutely gorgeous).

And I can now say this because, two movies in, my mind is made up about this topic: I think Daisy Ridley is a star. I really do. She has some Lena Headey and some Keira Knightley in her, alongside that oh-so-critical “it” factor. Every time she’s on screen, I care about what’s going on. I’ll be back for Episode IX, of course, but I do hope it features more of her battle against Kylo Ren, and less of the other clutter we see in this one. It’s a shame, because somewhere in there was a better movie than the one we get in the end.


PSG’s Brazil-sized gamble

As I write these lines, ESPN FC has reported that Paris St-Germain and Neymar have agreed to terms on a contract that would see the Brazilian superstar swap the prestige, the tradition and the winning ways of Barcelona for the riches and the Champions League promise of PSG. There is no overstating the importance of this transfer if it does happen.

First off, the fee PSG would have to pay is absolute nonsense. Neymar’s release clause stands at 222 MILLION EUROS. Emphasis on the expression “Release clause.” That is to say that Neymar will have cost PSG €222 m, and they won’t have paid him a penny in wages yet. This would blow the previous record transfer fee (€105 m paid by Manchester United for Paul Pogba) to smithereens. Barcelona does not wish to lose the Brazilian, so there will be no hometown discount. But then, the fact that PSG is actually making this run at Neymar means two things: 1) The fee, while astronomical, is not prohibitive for the club and 2) PSG owners Qatari Sports Investments consider him to be “worth it” (whatever that means in the warped universe of top-level European football) in every sense of the word.


(Some nice artwork by Bleacher Report here.)

As crazy as it sounds, PSG could recoup a significant fraction of the transfer fee in merchandising money, which Neymar would generate in spades. But one hardly gets the impression that Paris’s Qatari owners care in any way about the money. This transfer is about to happen, above all, because of the message it sends. If Neymar moves to PSG, it cements the club’s status as a world superpower. The argument could be made that they already were, but this is a new level of muscle-flexing.

Sure, PSG has signed big stars before, but they didn’t have Neymar’s prestige and/or his upside. The club’s first big signing as a financial superpower was Javier Pastore from Palermo, but he wasn’t a superstar yet, and the idea was that he would blossom into one while wearing PSG’s colours. (Count me among the many who wrongly thought this was a brilliant idea.) The club also signed centre back Thiago Silva, at the time the world’s best at his position, but defenders simply don’t have the potential star power of attacking players. It may have been as important a signing as Neymar would be now, but it was far less sexy. And while top striker/narcissist extraordinaire Zlatan Ibrahimovic did beat up on Ligue 1 opposition as badly as anyone could dream of, he was seen as a star who had already begun his decline when he came over to Paris from AC Milan in a package deal with Silva.

In terms of perception, Neymar’s transfer would be something else entirely. I can think of no more than three clubs where his mere arrival doesn’t immediately make him the team’s offensive alpha dog. And the Brazilian star is actually about to leave one of these three clubs, as he enters his prime, to join the French giants. There is no overstating the importance of that, nor of the fact that PSG would be prying him away from the best team in world football for the past 12 years against said team’s will. Because let us be clear about this: Barcelona does not wish to lose Neymar. Granted, they still have Leo Messi and Luis Suarez, but both are 30, and the younger Neymar could have given the Catalan club the chance to extend its dynasty into the medium term with him as the team’s main attacking option. Losing the Brazilian means having to potentially press the reset button sooner, and no one in Barcelona wants that.

The transfer is also meaningful because it has the potential to alter the balance of power in world football. Neymar is currently, at worst, one of world football’s top five players. Individuals of such talent don’t simply define teams; they define leagues. When Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid, it was obvious that the Red Devils would have to restructure their attack. What was perhaps less obvious was that the Premier League would never be quite the same, and it hasn’t been. Neymar’s hypothetical departure comes at a fairly terrible time for both Barcelona and Spain’s La Liga. The league’s two megastars, Messi and Ronaldo, are now 30 or over, and Barcelona faces levels of uncertainty it hasn’t seen in a long time.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to imagine Ligue 1 reaching a level of quality comparable to that of the English Premier League, the Spanish Liga or the German Bundesliga, but Neymar’s arrival will give it an unquestionable boost. And even then, that was never PSG’s aim. Paris is obsessed with the Champions’ League. Their roster is already built to win it. It’s not a fluke that PSG is looking to acquire the main artisan of the miraculous comeback Barcelona pulled against them in the UCL last season. With peak Neymar in its lineup, Paris St-Germain won’t win it every year, but they won’t have to fear anyone, and in a few years, may get to boast about having the world’s best player.

Neymar’s motives

Hopefully, if the transfer happens, the Brazilian star is ready for the absolute firing squad of criticism that will come his way. Neymar will be accused of doing it for the money, of padding his bank account at the expense of his career. People will go on and on about Ligue 1 being an inferior league where he won’t actually have to prove his greatness every week to dominate. Some will even accuse Neymar of being jealous of Messi; we might even get a few anonymous source-fueled news stories to that effect.

This criticism is partly justified, of course, but it’ll be done in such bad faith, especially when it comes from English pundits still steamed over the fact that he’ll have spurned Manchester United, that it’ll be laughable. It’s true that Ligue 1 isn’t the Premier League or La Liga in terms of overall quality, but it isn’t China, either. Marseille, Nice, Monaco and Lyon are good teams, especially if the latter two can avoid losing too many good young players. It was Monaco, let us remember, who took out Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the Champions’ League, and it was not a mere stroke of luck.

The money certainly doesn’t hurt, but let’s not pretend Neymar was making pocket change at Barcelona. It’s what makes his situation so special: he’ll be the first player to be the object of two top-10 most expensive transfers ever before his prime begins. This transfer isn’t comparable to the one that took him from Santos to Barcelona; the Catalan giants can afford to pay him. Several analysts have speculated that Neymar’s father, who also acts as his son’s agent, is pushing for this move in order to cash in the hefty commission that would come with the transfer. The concern is certainly legitimate, and it raises questions about the predatory nature of certain agent-player relationships, perhaps especially when parents are involved. Some clearly cannot be trusted to make the right decisions for their child’s soccer career.

Even if we accept that this is the case here, however, what appears to be driving Neymar’s consideration of moving to PSG is the prospect of the Brazilian star “being his own man,” i.e. being a team’s offensive alpha dog. Superstars such as him don’t like playing second fiddle to anybody, and Neymar is doubtlessly good enough to run his own show. It can’t hurt that PSG are selling him on being the talk of the town, the face on every billboard, and on other ego-flattering perks of superstardom. The thought of being a Robin to Lionel Messi’s Batman has probably lost its charm for the former Santos prodigy, and it surely doesn’t help that Messi has recently signed a three-year contract extension. Neymar surely understands that Messi will get to pick when he leaves, and that there is no topping the legacy of a player who was the top dog for one of the greatest dynasties in world football history. In contrast, Paris would allow Neymar to step out of Messi’s shadow and build a legacy that’s his and his only.

In theory…

I’m sure this all sounds great on paper for Neymar, and maybe he can simply land in Paris, take control of the team, and take it to the Promised Land… or it could get much more complicated than that.

For starters, Barcelona have said they would report PSG to UEFA for violation of Financial Fair Play principles. You would think, however, that PSG would not have engaged in such an energetic pursuit of Neymar had they not found a way to meet the demands of FFP. You don’t simply dish out €222 m for a single player and expect UEFA officials to look the other way. If, out of cavalier insouciance, PSG have opted to “figure it out later,” they face being blocked from UEFA competitions (read: the Champions’ League). So let’s keep going under the assumption that QSI have figured a way around FFP.

Then, there is the question of the team’s identity. People point to Messi’s talent to explain his ridiculously successful career, but the importance of the infrastructure from which he has benefited as a Barcelona player should not be understated. He was trained at La Masia, and from the moment Pep Guardiola took over and handed him the reigns of the Barcelona attack, Messi was allowed to play a coherent style of football over a sustained period of time with other extraordinary players. Few teams offer as much, let alone more. Many top clubs have academies whose products they subsequently neglect and tend to go through managers like Tic-Tacs, with a new shift in either identity or emphasis every time.

This has certainly been the case with PSG. Just over a decade ago, Figo, who had seen Real Madrid’s Galactico policy sink the club from Champions’ League winner to dysfunctional underachievers on the European stage, said it all went wrong when the team’s Hollywood factor became more important than the football it played. Well, PSG seem determined to be as Hollywood as football clubs get. One doesn’t have to be in the team’s board room to figure out that the capital team attempts to figure out what to do with the star players it purchases AFTER, as opposed to BEFORE, acquiring them. This is a very hit-and-miss tactic, with which you can get lucky (Zlatan Ibrahimovic, because he’s just that good) or unlucky (Edinson Cavani, whom Laurent Blanc insisted on playing as a winger because he was adamant on using a 4-3-3 formation). It only makes sense if you’re buying players for their star power, current or potential, as opposed to acquiring them because they fit your footballing identity or fill a particular need.

Obviously, stardom comes from somewhere, and Neymar may very well be one of those super-duper-stars – Messi in Barcelona; Ronaldo in Madrid; Ribery and Robben at Bayern Munich (though they’re getting older); Hazard at Chelsea – that you simply keep on your team at virtually all costs if you have them. When one of these guys is one the market, teams just jump on them and don’t let go because, well, these guys simply aren’t on the market most of the time. Ever since Ibrahimovic’s departure to Manchester United, PSG hasn’t had that guy on its roster, and the upside of acquiring Neymar to replace the Swede as the team’s attacking alpha is this: Ibrahimovic arrived in Paris at over 30 years of age. Neymar is 25.

There is also a realistic possibility that Neymar could have to adjust to a new coach twice in his first year with the club. Several French football analysts were surprised coach Unai Emery was brought back and, while this would seem to suggest the club recognizes that constantly switching managers is not a viable recipe for success, we should all expect Emery to be on a very short leash next season. Who does the club bring in if Emery is let go?

Then, there is the roster. If PSG is counting on the sale of several players to satisfy the demands of Financial Fair Play, it may find things difficult. Try to sell them before acquiring Neymar and you risk being short on quality and quantity if Barcelona manages to hold on to him. Sell them after and you’ll have to deal them for pennies on the dollar, and most likely pay portions of their salary, because teams know you’re desperate to sell.

And boy, is that collection of wingers/attacking midfielders an eclectic group of potential square pegs in round holes! If I’m running the team, the only sure thing is that Cavani is my lone striker up front. After that, you give Neymar one spot somewhere and have to decide where to play Angel Di Maria, Lucas Moura, Hatem Ben Arfa, Julian Draxler, Javier Pastore, Jesé, Gonçalo Guedes and Christopher Nkunku. Guedes and Nkunku are youngsters who figure to spend significant time on the bench. Still, you can’t keep all these guys. The club is stuck with Pastore’s contract, and the others, while talented, are condemned to be either misused or barely used at all. They’re all too good to be relegated to playing positions that don’t really suit them or to log symbolic minutes in midweek gimme fixtures like League Cup games. Try keeping a winning mentality within the club with a group of high-priced malcontents on your squad!

If PSG loses midfield dynamo Marco Verratti to… wait for it… Barcelona, it could opt for a base 4-2-3-1 structure with Cavani up top; Neymar, Draxler/Ben Arfa, and Di Maria/Moura as the attacking midfield trio with a three-man rotation of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Adrien Rabiot manning the two defensive midfield spots. This allows Neymar and whoever is playing opposite him to cut inside with the ball while using the fullbacks as the wide players responsible for crossing it to Cavani. It also allows them to widen into more of a 4-3-3 look, which takes advantage of the fact that Di Maria is one of the game’s better traditional wingers and can really whip a cross inside the box.

PSG 4-2-3-1

What PSG may find to be the biggest issue with this look is that unless Neymar turns into another Cristiano Ronaldo, his scoring chances could come in more limited quantity than everyone at PSG would like. You don’t pay that kind of money for a player if you’re not expecting him to score bucketloads of goals for you.

PSG could also do the trendy thing and put their big-money purchase in a more central role, like the number 10 spot. Draxler has played on the left wing before and could assume such a role while Neymar plays behind the striker. There are two problems with this idea, however. First, Neymar is unproven playing in the centre. Second, putting him there likely means you’re going to ask the striker to play with his back to goal often and play the ball backwards to the number 10 having created some space for him to work with. This role is both not Cavani’s specialty and a severe waste of his goal-scoring talents.

Emery, if PSG keeps him long enough, is one of the game’s most respected tacticians and I wouldn’t put it past him to put together strategies that make this collection of spectacular individual talents work together. However, there is no way I can see to avoid having several of these players make serious compromises on their preferred style of play. Soccer history suggests that strong personalities like Di Maria, Draxler and Ben Arfa won’t agree to it for long, especially if they get the justified feeling that the entire show is about Neymar. Add him to the current PSG squad and it has the potential to turn into a dysfunctional mess.

Paper games

The mere act of getting Neymar to Paris would be a symbolic and financial victory for PSG’s Qatari owners. He’ll sell shirts like nobody’s business, put bums in seats and be the talk of the town. And PSG will have established itself as a European powerhouse, having acquired a player who was, for just about any other team, impossible to acquire. When QSI bought PSG, new team president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi said his plan was to turn the club into a worldwide brand like the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Lakers. From a prestige angle, acquiring Neymar would mean success in this entreprise.

However, from a footballing standpoint, even though the Santos product is a remarkable talent, this is a huge gamble for the Paris club if he does end up coming. The price tag alone means that anything less than reaching the level of aliens Ronaldo and Messi will be deemed a failure. And even if he does reach that level, it doesn’t guarantee them the Champions’ League any more than it is guaranteed to them right now. With Neymar, they probably wouldn’t let Barcelona come back from four goals down, but would they now be favourites to beat Barcelona? Or Real Madrid? Or Bayern Munich? Or Chelsea? Or Manchester City? I don’t know that they would be. They certainly would have a fair chance, but it’s not a lock.

There’s no denying the excitement that would follow Neymar to the French capital, and they would certainly make it as Hollywood as possible. PSG would be the uncontested winner of the offseason. However, as for the on-the-field product, I’ll believe it when I see it. So far, each one of their failures has given way to the same knee-jerk reaction: “We need more superstars! Let’s fire the coach and sign some more!” Should PSG fail to provide Neymar with the right support structure, both in terms of supporting cast and tactics, it’s likely that €222 m later, the offseason is still the only thing they end up winning.


St-Jean: tollé au défilé

Le fait de travailler au Rockfest à Montebello pendant une fin de semaine est un moment particulier pour moi parce que c’est l’une des rares périodes de l’année où je suis coupé du monde pendant trois jours. Pas de journaux, pas d’internet et, par conséquent, pas de médias sociaux. À mon retour, je constate que nous sommes dans une sorte d’après-tollé au sujet d’un élément controversé du défilé de la St-Jean à Montréal. Le défilé, pour ceux qui étaient dans la même situation que moi ou qui ont passé du temps en vacances dans une caverne, comprenait Annie Villeneuve, chanteuse blanche, qui chantait sur un chariot poussé par de jeunes joueurs de football noirs vêtus d’habits beiges. L’image en a choqué plusieurs.

Les diverses discussions qui ont suivi sont typiques de 2017. À en croire ceux qui étaient là, ce fut un véritable bombardement sur les médias sociaux (je le dis ainsi parce qu’encore une fois, je n’y étais pas). Ensuite, après qu’une partie de la poussière soit retombée, on voit deux points de vue ressortir. D’un côté, nous avons ceux qui persistent à dire que le tout était problématique. De l’autre, nous avons ceux qui présentent l’affaire comme une tempête dans un verre d’eau symptomatique de notre époque, où les réseaux sociaux servent de foutoir à premières impressions irréfléchies.

Une mise au point s’impose, je crois. Sommes-nous en présence d’une tempête dans un verre d’eau? Non, ou du moins, pas complètement.

Qu’on utilise le bon vieux dicton voulant que le chemin de l’enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions ou qu’on dise simplement que la valeur d’une action doit être évaluée non seulement en fontion de l’intention initiale mais aussi de son impact, il n’en demeure pas moins que le résultat n’était pas reluisant. On attache peut-être trop d’importance aux symboles, mais reste que celui-là était fort. Je réitère ce que bien d’autres ont déjà dit: personne n’accuse les organisateurs d’être racistes. Par contre, l’examen de l’intention, que Mario Girard de La Presse décrit de façon un peu simpliste comme le fait “d’aller au fond des choses”, ne saurait complètement exonérer les organisateurs de ce qui s’est passé.

Je pense que Stéphane Morneau, auteur du billet paru dans Urbania, a raison lorsqu’il écrit ceci:

Les bonnes idées et les bonnes intentions, ici, n’ont pas empêché la projection d’une image problématique qui aurait dû être détectée avant le départ de la parade. Ça ne prenait qu’un regard alerte, une personne compatissante, pour que ce char allégorique ne prenne pas le clos dès sa première apparition.

Bien sûr que l’intention noble rend la chose moins grave; notre réaction collective n’aurait pas été la même, j’ose l’espérer, si le but avoué de cet élément du défilé avait été de faire pousser le chariot d’une blanche par des noirs. Cependant, scrutez attentivement la réponse des organisateurs par le biais de leur fil Facebook:

[Mise au point] Un court extrait du Défilé de la Fête nationale qui circule présentement sur les médias sociaux a choqué plusieurs personnes. Nous en sommes profondément désolés. Nous tenons cependant à faire cette mise au point : puisque notre Défilé se veut écoresponsable, tous les chars allégoriques sont poussés par des citoyens plutôt que d’être motorisés.

Cette année, nous avons fait appel à l’Association pour la persévérance scolaire et aux jeunes de l’équipe sportive de l’École secondaire Louis-Joseph-Papineau pour relever ce défi.

Il va de soi que ces jeunes – qui étaient fiers de participer à l’événement – n’ont pas été choisis en fonction de la couleur de leur peau.

Ce n’est pas, contrairement à ce qu’affirme erronément Morneau, un rejet total de la faute. Reste que j’aurais apprécié, et je pense ne pas être le seul, que les excuses aient été faites un peu moins par la bande. Je proposerais ici quelque chose d’aussi banal que de mettre les mêmes informations, mais de finir avec ceci: “Cependant, nous comprenons que l’image projetée puisse avoir choqué certaines personnes et nous nous en excusons.”

C’est con, hein? Mais je pense que cela aurait nettement moins donné l’impression que les organisateurs refusent la responsabilité pour ce que nous avons vu lors du défilé. Je mets l’accent sur le mot “organisateurs” parce que, quand Mario Girard nous parle du fait que les concepteurs de costumes n’auraient jamais pu prévoir que les jeunes qui pousseraient le chariot seraient noirs, c’est vrai, mais quel rapport? Personne ne fait de reproches aux costumiers.

Il serait bien, en revanche, de cesser les comparaisons entre cet incident et le “blackface” de Mario Jean d’il y a quelques années. Peut-on s’entendre sur le fait que le blackface est une caricature des noirs reconnue à juste titre comme méprisante, méprisable et dégueulasse depuis maintenant assez longtemps? Si oui, on pourra également s’entendre sur le fait qu’il n’y a aucune comparaison possible entre l’un des grands symboles racistes de tous les temps et une erreur un peu maladroite dans l’organisation d’un défilé.

Au final, je critique surtout la forme des excuses, qui, en donnant l’impression qu’on les enterrait sous le renchérissement à propos de l’intention de mettre de l’avant la diversité québécoise, rajoutaient une maladresse à celle qui avait déjà été commise.

Les fameux réseaux sociaux

Il y a cependant un aspect de cette polémique qui devrait quand même nous faire réfléchir. Je parle bien sûr de notre usage collectif, souvent stupide et par moments carrément irresponsable, des médias sociaux. Ces derniers sont effectivement devenus l’ultime univers de non-responsabilité, l’équivalent intellectuel d’un “punching bag”, le parfait réceptacle à venin des gens qui carburent à la complainte et à l’indignation. Ces gens-là sont en partie responsables du fait que plusieurs ne voient dans cette polémique qu’une tempête dans un verre d’eau.

J’en reviens toujours à la fable du Garçon qui criait au loup. À la fin de l’histoire, le loup se pointe effectivement le bout du nez et, pour des raisons évidentes, personne n’accourt à ce moment-là pour sauver le garçon. Sachez donc que si vous avez trouvé ladite section du défilé problématique et que vous êtes déçu de voir que certains croient qu’il n’y a rien là, vous pouvez remercier ces milliers de morons qui vomissent tellement de conneries sur les médias sociaux qu’ils ont rendu plusieurs d’entre nous complètement blasés par rapport à toute plainte, légitime ou pas, qui part de Facebook, Twitter et al.

Si le tollé au défilé peut en faire réfléchir certains sur leur usage frivole des médias sociaux, il n’y aura pas eu que du négatif dans cette histoire. Mais j’en doute.

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