I once knew a quiet guy who liked to play soccer because playing, he said, allowed him to communicate without talking. You could see how football communication worked—and how it didn’t—in the Spain-France game. The Spaniards kept chattering, boring everyone who was not in on their tiki-taka lingo, laughing at their own jokes, confident that there would be no interruption coming from the French. For their part, les garcons were having about 11 autonomous monologues, ranting into their own chests about this and that, who knows what, occasionally lifting their heavy heads to find out other people were out there, running, for some reason, in a particular direction. “Why?” many a Frenchman wondered. “Where might they be going? And what is the meaning of all this?” And the next time they were in the same space together, they found out, from one Laurent Blanc, they were playing against Spain in the quarter-finals of a European Championship and that they lost without a whimper.
It could be my particular psychological deformation, but part of the pleasure of watching football is projecting myself into the game. I imagine the choices I would make in each situation, while being able to be the manager, and the defender, and the midfielder, and the forward. The decisions I would make present themselves to me and, of course, their correctness is not verifiable, which, while liberating me from any responsibility, allows me to pass judgment. And one of the projection modes is, shall we say, related to my hypothetical position in the system of relations within the team. That is to say, I imagine who I would be friends with (Özil), whose authority I would respect (Stevie Gerrard), who I would think is stupid (Rooney), who would drive me crazy, even if he played like possessed (Ronaldo), who I would yell at constantly (the entire French team), what team I would never, ever want to play on (Holland) and what team I would want to play on (Italy). I position myself within and then test a range of communication scenarios without ever communicating. Which is to say, watching soccer is not unlike Facebook.