My best friend, a notorious Americanophile, has been trying for years to get me to abandon the lush, green meadows of soccer for the thin, shiny parquet of the NBA. A dreary return match between Barcelona and Inter in the Champions League semifinals provided him with the perfect opportunity to try and convert me again. “How can you waste so many hours watching a game where the highlight is a closeup of a frustrated, unshaven Spanish player spitting on the ground?” he asked. “Even FIFA knows the game is mega boring. Why else would they try to jazz it up by changing the rules every year? Not that it helps. I mean, even if they make the goal three meters wider, throw out the offside rule, and have both goalkeepers play with one hand tied behind their backs, soccer will always be a slow, mind-numbing game. How can anyone with half a brain spend ninety minutes in front of the TV screen when he knows that, best-case scenario, he’ll get to see one or two interesting plays and spend the rest of the time watching sweating, panting, hairy men argue with the referee and each other, or stage injuries to waste time?”
The answer—especially after a relatively disappointing Champions League series—is simple and sad. I love soccer because it is so painfully similar to life: slow, unjust, fairly random, usually boring, but always holding out the hope that, at some moment, however brief, everything will come together and take on meaning.
There’s no getting away from it—life isn’t about limber athletes sinking hoops from the three-point arc; life is an ongoing, uncoordinated, anguished effort to transcend our trivial existence, an effort that, if we’re lucky, might lead to one brilliant move by Messi, Kaká, or some other dribbling magician. And then, for one split second, that whole damp 90-minute mishmash will turn into something coherent, beautiful, and worthwhile. And,when that moment and its endless playbacks fade, we will all return to our same drab reality of wasted time, pointless fouls, unreceived passes, and wild kicks that miss the goal by kilometers, only to wait with infinite patience and boundless hope for that next moment of grace.