A fine line

by the Abbot on September 18, 2014

in Hockey, The Big Theory

Perceptive words today from Toronto sports journalist James Mirtle (@mirtle), writing in The Globe and Mail on the Maple Leafs’ first day at training camp.

Watching an NHL camp up close is fascinating. You quickly realize the extremely high skill level of even the “weakest” participants, as AHL journeymen playing for their next one-year minor league deal are only marginally less talented than those who make the roster.

It’s a fine line, and sorting out who’s on either side of it happens pretty quickly.

A fine line indeed. We’ve often noted on this blog how subtle and nuanced that difference is – the difference between being an NHL first-liner or a career minor-leaguer, between making a top European soccer club or languishing somewhere in Latin America or the MLS, between playing on Center Court at Flushing Meadows or not qualifying for the tournament because you’re mired in the mid-300s in world rankings. Or even between being a top professional and having a good game / tournament / season and having one of those miserable “invisible” episodes that occasionally befall even the best.

If you’ve ever laced up the skates for fun with borderline NHLers, rallied with formerly ranked junior tennis players, or enjoyed a kickaround with a good one-time university soccer player, you’ll have seen firsthand the “extremely high skill level” of these talented, focused athletes who somehow weren’t quite good enough for successful professional careers in their chosen sport. Maybe it was the raw talent, maybe the drive, maybe the circumstances…but seeing up close how much better the top leagues’ rejects are than even the best recreational players is instructive, impressive, and intimidating all at once.

In the end, it’s the mutability of that line between the best and those who aspire toward it that keeps the strivers striving. A lucky break here or there, a chance on the top line during practice, a strong showing in an exhibition game, or even a trade can be the catalyst that elevates a journeyman into the spotlight. It’s happened before and it will surely happen again this season with the Leafs.

Occasional Maple Leaf Korbinian Holzer: will he stick with the NHL club this year?

Occasional Maple Leaf Korbinian Holzer: will he stick with the NHL club this year?

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Imagine… instead of, or in addition to Angel di Maria, these three – surely among the top half-dozen players on the planet in 2014 – had moved to Old Trafford. This was the coup that Manchester United apparently tried to engineer during the summer spending spree recently concluded.

But it’s a sign of United’s faded glory that despite the doubtless generosity of the offers, all three players opted to stay with Bayern Munich. Bayern manager Pep Guardiola confirmed that his team’s stars were not interested in the overtures from the Premier League club. An article in The Independent details how Bayern, like other Bundesliga clubs, is managing to hold onto top players despite a much lower outlay of cash than their Premier League counterparts.

Could it be that international soccer, long perceived as perhaps the most mercenary of all major sports, is entering a new era of loyalty between players and clubs? The revelation about Robben, Schweinsteiger, and Muller points to this, as does the mostly unchanging rosters of top La Liga clubs.

The story is different in the Premiership – but there, United are mired in 9th with just 5 points from 4 games, despite a 2014 transfer window of unmatched profligacy. It seems that recently, not even the world’s deepest pockets can buy a berth in the Champions League.


Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world

Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world

It’s not much of a surprise but it’s always best to hear it from the experts: EA Sports FIFA 15 has declared Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer to be the best goalkeeper in the world.

Neuer has an overall score of 90, a solid 4 points ahead of Chelsea’s young star, Thibaut Courtois.

It is interesting to see Courtois’ Chelsea teammate Petr Čech in the number 3 spot – just 1 point behind with an 85 – as it confirms Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s statement during the summer that he posses 2 out of the top 3 goalkeepers in the world.

To view the entire top 20 visit EA Sports.


PlayStation Messi

PlayStation Messi

Leo Messi did not score yesterday but did assist on both of Neymar’s goals as Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilboa 2-0.

Speaking after the match Barca manager Luis Enrique said:

“Messi is not only the best player in the world because of his goals but he is also the best because of his assists…It is evident that he is best in the world in any attacking aspect. This version of Messi helps us a lot because he is a game changer. He does things in training that you can’t imagine, things I haven’t even seen on the PlayStation. We are used to it now but it is a joy and a privilege to have the best player in the world in your team without a doubt.”

Neymar added his own praise:

“Messi is the best in the world. He is a star and I am improving with him.”

Hmm. Is it possible to be the Best Player in the World and not score all of the time? I think so. Could Messi’s game be evolving a bit, especially now that he has Neymar and Luis Suarez to help with put the ball into the net? That will be fascinating to watch as the four-time Ballon d’Or winner won those awards on the back of a record number of goals.

I guess it will depend just how well Barca does with this new (and improved?) version of the PlayStation player.