“Don’t worry,” said Vehgu, smiling as he screwed a seat cushion to its frame and water ran down his face. “The rain will stop, and tomorrow the sun will shine. Drogba will play. And thanks to him, our country will reunite.”
What a fascinating article. Stop reading me and go immerse yourself in the framing of a five year struggle for peace, solved by the simplest of means – a football game between nations.
See? I told you.
There are so many wonderful things about this article. First, I must thank The Beautiful Game blog for even bringing this article to my attention (and keep up the good work – the future of American soccer depends on blogging, I’m pretty sure of it). I don’t usually read Vanity Fair and to have missed this would have been a shame. I’ll tackle the immensity of this piece in two ways: from a soccer perspective and a writing lens, because it’s superb in both arenas.
Initially, I was attracted to this article through my (mostly ridiculous) rivalry with the admittedly formidable striker from the Ivory Coast, the aforementioned Didier Drogba. Drogba ripped the twine an absurd number of times (I want to say it borders on the thirties) in last year’s campaign – most notably the goal that defeated my beloved Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, crashing any hope for the Gunners to take silverware in an otherwise bland season. He is without question one of the best players in the world today.
But Drogba the player and Drogba the man are now two completely separate identities, to millions of Ivorians and now, sitting in Washington, D.C., me. He is little short of a messiah to the citizens of the Ivory Coast, where people “display their Drogbacité – their Drogba-ness.” But it is obvious that whereas the man of the hour David Beckham is as much a fashion model as he is a midfielder, Drogba is legitimately a man for all ages. His words,
“We, the Elephants, all we did was our duty as soccer players, our obligation as Ivorians. We wanted Ivorians to share our dream and see it realized—the return of peace to Ivory Coast. The most moving thing was the national anthem. All the stadium was singing and it was the first time that the two armed forces were together, face-to-face. That was the best moment of my last several weeks.”
portray a sense that the best is yet to come.
I’ll be honest. When scrolling Soccernet for scores, I tend to skim over ones that aren’t that personally interesting. I don’t think there are many people that don’t do this – we all skim stories in the paper because we don’t really care about them. I am sure that this 5-0 tie between Madagascar and the Ivory Coast was no different. But for Drogba, this moment of unification is only the next step, whereas for the remainder of the country, it is a godsend, a miracle delivered by a team in green. Drogba is not finished, and he intends to complete his mission of seeing a unified Ivory Coast with his feet and his words and his actions.
Now I know the magnitude; although why I doubted it for a moment is beyond me.
That inability to doubt is the greatness of this sport – there is such an inherent aesthetic in its components that it is impossible for the game to mean nothing. The players are sculpted from bronze, flying and sliding through the sky and turf, athletes of stature and class. The elements are embraced, not condemned as obstacles – be it snow, or rain, or immense heat, or wind. The green of the grass stains the whites of the players who pour their efforts into the dirty business of defense and guarding their goals. The creativity and agility of the strikers, speeding through the trunks of the opponents is a sight even for the most jaded of spectators. The goals, so precious, bring a jubilatory orgasm of the senses: crowds roaring, the scent of sweat and beer and release, the sight of colors celebrating the thrill of success, together.
So beautiful, it possesses the ability to cease war.
While I may root against him and his teammates in the upcoming campaign, I will always recall his guile and abilities after the match for many years to come.
Mr. Drogba, thanks for reminding me of the beauty.
Now, from a writing standpoint.
So rarely, there are stories that can be told without any work. The writer needs only to allow the descriptions to be written, and get the hell out of the way. Aside from the contextual information that is necessary to explain his presence (i.e. his service in the Peace Corps that familiarized him with the Ivory Coast), Merrill does a fantastic job of getting the hell out of the way.
But that is not to say that he is unimportant – if anything, his understanding of the living relationship between the game, the people, the nation, and the future is the most important attribute of this story. I could tell that he felt it at this juncture:
I remember watching the World Cup when I was young and marveling at Diego Maradona and the furious passion of the players and fans. But it wasn’t until I saw kids playing soccer in my Peace Corps village—barefoot, on grassless fields, with anything that might roll or bounce a bit—that I began to understand…
It is difficult for us writers to keep ourselves completely out of the story (what can I say? We have big egos). All that aside however, this is really the only time that Merrill tosses in his own story, and it only makes it better. He cheers with the crowd, mixed together. A white man from New York who writes for a magazine that is 75% fashion spreads, supposedly unbiased, cannot help but cheer on the movement of something so good.
Mr. Merrill, kudos to you – you left me wanting more, and more I will find.
I could go on, but since this post is already at three pages, I think I’ve staked my claim.
I think I’ll just go read it again.