[Note: Most of this was written before the Final was played, and has been edited to reflect the past tense nature of the game being over, and thankfully won.]
Watching all the coverage as we headed towards the Europa League final, with the knowledge that Sergio Romero was starting over David De Gea, I was struck with the realization that this would never happen in the United States. Maybe we just do things differently here. After all, we grew up playing sports, influenced by Vince Lombardi’s “Winning is Everything,” and Leo Durocher’s “Nice Guys finish Last.” In modern times Herm Edwards became immortal with “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!”
This is all so foreign. There is no reality where the New England Patriots decide to start the backup quarterback over Tom Brady in a playoff game. There is no reality where the San Francisco Giants chose someone other than Madison Bumgarner to start a one game playoff. LeBron James isn’t going to sit out a playoff game, even if heavily fatigued. You go with your best players. Even players who are going to leave the team in the offseason.
Maybe what bothered me most was Mourinho’s assertion that De Gea understood the situation. Why didn’t De Gea fight for that spot? Why weren’t the other players fighting for De Gea to start? Where were the owners? This is worth millions of whatever currency you choose.
How secure must Jose be? There is not a coach or manager in America that would even consider such a thing. Because a loss in that situation is a ticket out of town. ESPN would melt down and the internet would explode in a fiery mass of unadulterated rage. You just couldn’t do it here.
I sit here having loved soccer (sorry, that’s what it’s called here…) since I started playing it 45 years ago. I love football (‘Merican football that is) and basketball, and baseball is my undying passion, but I am drawn to soccer. Yet I wonder if it is situations such as this that causes my entire country to balk at the sport. Things like this happen all the time. Player doesn’t like his contract, team stops playing him until transfer window.
The FIFA video game franchise has this locked down. Ever have this scenario? 1) E-mail from certain player who wants to discuss wages… 2) You offer a new contract… 3) Player turns down contract because he wants to leave at end of contract. Wait – I thought you wanted more money? 4) Player sends message saying, ‘Don’t think you can’t play me, I’ll still try hard.’
How is this even a valid thought? In America, there’s never a thought given that a guy might not play hard because he’s unhappy with where he’s at – YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME! – and truth be told, in the four major American sports, football, basketball, baseball and hockey, 97% of the players playing these sports had no choice where they began their careers.
So maybe we’re used to maybe not being where we want to be and still giving it all. As an example, 5 of the New England Patriots starting 22 players, and 17 players on the 50ish man squad were to become Free Agents the next day. The Chicago Cubs placed all their eggs in the Aroldis Chapman basket in the 7th game of the World Series, knowing he was a Free Agent the next day. Maybe he even knew he was going straight back to the New York Yankees… there was no hesitation on anybody’s part to use someone else. He is the best they had. And YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME.
This filled me with trepidation as the final began. Every ball into the box. And I even feel Romero is probably a good enough Goal Keeper to win the Premier League given a better all-around squad. Not that it worried me as much as Fellaini starting, given that I was certain he would turn Harpo Marx at the worst moment, as he did twice versus Everton this year. It is in his nature. It is in his hair.
David De Gea has silly hair too, but he should have started the Europa League final. In America he would, 1000% of the time. Hands down. It wouldn’t even be a hint of a discussion.
By Paul Morrison