I hope you had a good weekend. Welcome back to another episode of Ask Ash, where I interview WatchMojo Founder & CEO Ashkan Karbasfrooshan and ask him questions on various topics, ranging from career advice for students & entrepreneurs to covering what is happening in the news.
This weekend, two of professional football’s biggest international tournaments, the EUROS, and the Copa America, had their finals played. Argentina faced Brazil for the chance to be crowned king of South America, and Italy squared off with England in London to see which country would be the champions of Europe.
As Ash and I are big fans of professional football, I wanted to get his thoughts on both of the matches.
1) We discussed soccer recently, with Lionel Messi finally winning a championship for his country Argentina at the Copa America. I would love to get your thoughts on where that sits relative to all of the success he’s had both individually and at the club played for FC Barcelona?
Well, it’s nuanced. If you think about human nature, we crave what we lack, partially because Messi has not won a lot with Argentina. The only international competition he won with Argentina was the Olympics back in 2008. He probably coveted this more than anything else – short of a World Cup win, of course. He probably would’ve traded in a couple of Ballon d’Or trophies or even an FC Barcelona’s Champions League win to add an Argentina championship on his résumé.
That said, as much as all of the individual accomplishments are nice, I do think that athletes who play team sports do for team wins over individual accomplishments. Individual accolades like goals and assists are really a means to an end, which really is the team victory. Yes, there are some players who are more selfish in their priorities, but those players tend to be dropped out of teams and leagues… at most, it’s 1A and 1B. I love to score goals, but the scale at which I love to win is no comparison: I want to win.
Now, if the question is does Lionel Messi or any athlete for that matter prefer to win for his country or club, then I think it actually boils down to sport by sport. In football (soccer), I do think that to paraphrase Gareth Bale of Wales, it’s Wales, golf and Real Madrid in that order – so yes without a doubt I think that Messi will cherish an Argentina championship more than those FC Barcelona wins as controversial as that may sound given that FC Barcelona is one of the greatest clubs in all of sports playing in one of the biggest leagues in the world. That said, I think if you’re a baseball player, you may prefer to don a New York Yankees jersey and win the World Series rather than win a US gold medal at the Olympics. In hockey, it may be more neutral: most will prefer a Stanley Cup championship (especially in North America), but many Europeans can understandably be more drawn to a win for their nation (Don Cherry suggested that years ago with the Russians and it rattled many, but it’s not a crazy statement). In American football, as there are no real national tournaments, it’s moot. But in soccer, it’s all about nations, rivalries, etc. and as the sport of soccer took off, world wars went away (I’m half kidding there).
Back to Messi: adding a bit of uniqueness here is the reality that Messi’s arch-nemesis and competitor Cristiano Ronaldo has one victory at the Euro (2016) for Portugal, so for Messi to now match that in Copa América wins is poetic justice and fitting. With the World Cup in Qatar a mere year away, who knows if Ronaldo and Messi will clash once and for all in the finals there?
2) Meanwhile, Italy defeated England at the Euro on penalties. Much has been said about Gareth Southgate’s decision to start off with a veteran in Harry Kane and finish with 19-year old Bukayo Saka. Any thoughts there?
So many. I think not discussing some of the unfortunate vile racist attacks that the British players incurred after the penalty is losing sight of the bigger picture here. With everything that’s going on in terms of athletes kneeling during the anthem in America, the #BLM movement, taking a knee before kickoff in soccer, well this is why they do that. So, I think the players that stood up and took that risk on the biggest of stages deserve to be commended and not attacked, but that really does say more about social matters than sports.
With regards to the game and the tournaments, I thought it was a fantastic tournament and a fantastic final. Some people ask “why penalty kicks” to decide? Well, if after 90 minutes it’s a tie, then after another 30 minutes it’s still a tie. As an amateur player who’s played 90 minutes on such a pitch hundreds of times… I assure you penalty kicks to settle the matter ain’t a bad idea! It also adds to the intrigue because that is historically part of the sport. In other words, if no game was ever settled on penalty kicks, I would not necessarily recommend that as a novel solution if it was not part of its history… but there is a lot of soccer lore and tradition that comes from penalty shootouts and at that stage – 120 minutes into it – you need to stop playing and that’s as good of a way as any other!
If you’re asking about Gareth Southgate’s decision, I’m not sure if I would’ve done the same sequencing or selection, but it’s moot. England was arguably taking on 1) the greatest young goalie in the world, 2) A nation (Italy) with a history of excelling and delivering the results in that context. Recall in 2006, when Zidane was sent off, Italy won on penalties as well. England, meanwhile, has a tendency to let their inner doubts get the best of them, and you might’ve seen that… sadly for them not just on the biggest stage, but also on their home stage at Wembley Stadium.
I will just say though that as a coach you have to put your players in a position to succeed and in the France vs Switzerland match, I would not have put Kylian Mbappe in a position to score to tie given that he was not connecting in the tournament. I would’ve only put him in a position where his goal would’ve led to a France win: different stakes, different detail, different outcome… possibly… but that’s what makes it the beautiful game.
Lastly, if you want to submit questions to Ash directly, you can do so by clicking the link here: https://watchmojo.com/suggest/AskMojo%20-%20WatchMojo’s%20founder%20Ash