All posts by Brian

Premier League Predictions 2018-2019

Watford is sweeping all before them, and the only real question is which team will finish a distant second.

But seriously, I expect the usual suspects to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. To begin with, Manchester City’s record-breaking side have been enhanced by Riyad Mahrez. Even though they are missing their talisman in Kevin De Bruyne for a few months through injury, they should once again be champions by a comfortable margin.

Among their challengers, Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea are all in with a shout. As others have predicted, José Mourinho’s third-season antics threaten to derail their underrated consistency of last season, though individual performances and the overall quality of their play has been patchy for years. This is best represented by Paul Pogba, an outstanding player who looks diminished when playing for United, and Victor Lindelof, who everyone (including his manager) seems to agree is not very good, but is somehow starting at center back.

Arsenal and Chelsea have also been unable to recapture their swagger of previous years. Spurs have had another year to gel, but have not reinforced their squad. All of them should fall away well before May. Liverpool, on the other hand, are a team on the up, and have brought in a decent midfielder that suits their style in Naby Keïta. They’ve also replaced goalkeeper Loris Karius, the villain of last year’s Champions League final, with Allison, who has already been earning rave reviews through his first few games. They may make the run-in interesting, but ultimately don’t have the quality throughout the squad to take the title from Manchester City.

Beyond that group are teams hoping to push themselves into the European places (Burnley, Everton, and Leicester City). Others are dreaming about exceeding expectations, but nervously looking over their shoulders lest they become embroiled in a relegation scrap (Crystal Palace, Watford, Newcastle, Brighton, and Bournemouth). The rest will be hoping to steer clear of relegation. Fulham, Wolves, and Huddersfield should fancy their chances, while Cardiff City are likely resigned to going down. West Ham and Southampton will also be full of fear with big wage bills failing to return decent football.

Here’s to another season of the Premier League!

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Chelsea
  4. Spurs
  5. Manchester United
  6. Arsenal
  7. Everton
  8. Burnley
  9. Leicester City
  10. Watford
  11. Crystal Palace
  12. Brighton and Hove Albion
  13. Newcastle
  14. Bournemouth
  15. Fulham
  16. Southampton
  17. Huddersfield
  18. West Ham
  19. Wolves
  20. Cardiff City

La Liga: Barcelona
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Serie A: Juventus
Ligue 1: Paris Saint-Germain
Champions League: Manchester City

Hiking the Pemigewasset Wilderness

For our second annual “men trip,” my father, brother and I decided on a multi-day hike along the northern edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We chose to balance the rigorous White Mountain trails with slightly cushy accommodations at three huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).

Day 1

I woke at 4:15am to catch my taxi to the airport. By 7:30am, I was in Boston, and worked until meeting Aaron at noon. Dad picked us up soon after and we were on our way to the White Mountains.

It was early, but it was also Friday, and we battled heavy traffic out of Massachusetts and into New Hampshire. We began to despair of reaching our hut in time for dinner, and it was 4pm before we were at the Old Bridle Path trailhead. The book time for our uphill, 2.3 mile hike is listed as 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Flower

We attacked the trail, reaching Greenleaf Hut in less than two hours and giving us time for a celebratory beer before sitting down to dinner. After eating we sat outside sipping Japanese whiskey, taking in views of the hills to the south and watching Mt. Lafayette mottle red as the sun set.

Lichen on Greenleaf Hut.

Back inside before bed, our conversation turned to politics and Aaron was relieved to learn that toilet paper did not need to be packed out when used at the huts.

Day 2

At 6:30am, the Greenleaf Hut croo officially woke the hut with an acapella song. Breakfast was followed by the customary skit encouraging guests to fold their blankets, pack out their trash, and tip the croo.

Breakfast at Greenleaf Hut

We were heading up Mt. Lafayette by 8:15 and soon reached the top, where we spent some time enjoying the vista and snapping pictures.

Climb up to Mt Lafayette

Marker on top of Mt Lafayette
Peering out into the Pemigewasset Wilderness
Pretending to climb

From there, our route took us down and up along a ridge to the windy peak of Mt. Garfield.

Along the ridge from Mt Lafayette
Walking the ridge
Cairns
Among the clouds
Lovely woods

On went the layers and we hunkered down out of the wind with our lunch of protein bars, trail mix, and fruit. Dad kindly shared his chocolate-covered espresso beans for dessert.

Sheltering for lunch on top of Mt Garfield

The trail from Mt. Garfield to Galehead Hut included lots of up and down, with large rocks and a good deal of water. At times, the trail seemed to merge with the stream alongside and we had to pick our way carefully down the slick rocks.

We reached Galehead Hut at 3pm and picked our bunks. The place was hopping on Saturday afternoon with guests, day hikers and thru-hikers inside, on the porch, and clustered among the rocks and grass outside.

Resting at Galehead Hut

We cleaned up, relaxed, sipped beer and played Trivial Pursuit while we waited for dinner, which was served at 6pm.

Trivial Pursuit at Galehead Hut

Dinner was turkey and mashed potatoes, with curried chick pea patties for the vegetarians.

Turkey dinner at Galehead Hut

We went to bed early to the sound of laughter and accordion music.

Day 3

The accordion announced the start of a wet and misty day at 6:30am.

Morning stretches, Galehead Hut

Breakfast at Galehead Hut featured oatmeal, eggs, pancakes and coffee. We took our time given the short distance we had to walk to Zealand Falls Hut.

Watching the mist roll in

Still, we were on our way up South Twin Mountain by 8:30 in a light drizzle that continued all day.

Setting out from Galehead Hut
Starting up South Twin
Wet walking

It was socked in by fog, and we didn’t linger.

On top of South Twin
Summit of South Twin

Instead, we headed down, then up and over Mt Guyot.

Approaching the top of Mt Guyot

From there the trail evened out for a very pleasant walk through boreal forest, rock, and water. The miles ticked by with gentle grade and engaging conversation about topics ranging from Onset to New Zealand to thru-hikers to the economics of the AMC huts.

Delicate mushroom
Traversing a bog

We opted to take the short spur to the top of Zealand Mountain, a peak so humble that it had to be marked with a cairn and a sign telling hikers they’d reached it. Without so much as a water break, we continued on to Zealand Falls Hut, which we reached around 1:45pm.

Lunch at Zealand Falls Hut

It was immediately our favorite–small yet spacious, and situated next to beautiful falls that could be heard all night. Each of us spent the afternoon reading or napping.

Bunk room at Zealand Falls Hut

We gathered for a tasty dinner of soup, bread, salad, roasted broccoli, stuffed shells, and carrot cake. After dinner, we took our bottle of Yamato out to the falls and sat watching the sky darken, while the yellow lights of the hut twinkled through the pines.

Day 4

I woke before 6am, poured myself a mixture of coffee and cocoa powder, and walked out to the falls, where I found Aaron watching the mist roll up the valley.

Mist in the valley

Dad joined us and we watched the sun rise before the morning song and call to breakfast.

Sun rising on Zealand Falls
Coffee with a view
Morning joe outside Zealand Falls Hut
Hot “coffee” at Zealand Falls Hut

We packed up and left shortly after 8, the trail descending alongside the falls and then leveling off as it skirted around a lake and headed deeper into birches and evergreens, mosses and ferns.

Starting down from Zealand Falls Hut

It was another wonderful walk, with fragrances of pine, mushrooms and flowers. The trail rose to the saddle of Mt Tom, which we declined to climb.

Approaching Mt Tom Spur

From there, the trail followed a creek where we emerged at Crawford Notch.

Reaching Crawford Depot
Finishing up at Crawford Depot

The wildflowers were blooming around the train depot and the lodge.

Wildflowers in Crawford Notch

As a bonus, we were early enough to take showers at the depot and have a beer while we waited for the shuttle to bring us back to our car. We redistributed our gear and headed south, stopping at The Common Man for dinner before Dad dropped us back at the airport.

It was another great trip, full of conversation and camaraderie. We’re already looking forward to next year.

Cook Men at Zealand Falls

Biking the Great Allegheny Passage

Over the summer, my father, brother and I decided to go on a trip together. Months of ideas, emails and calls finally coalesced into a plan to bike the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD. We would do it over three days, renting bikes and staying in B&Bs and hostels along the way.

Day 0

I drove out of DC on Wednesday afternoon, intending to leave my car in Cumberland and catch a train to Pittsburgh. Traffic was bad enough that I missed the train and we had to adjust our plans. Instead, I drove straight to Pittsburgh, where Dad and A were waiting with pizza and beer.

We ribbed A about leaving his wedding ring at home, and spent the evening catching up and calling home from our Airbnb (a converted dorm room).

Day 1

Leisurely morning. Packing up and walking to coffee and breakfast, then bike shop. Quick fitting and packing then back to the Point for a quick photo op. Weather gorgeous as we pedal through and then out of Pittsburgh.

Over the hot metal bridge and past the Steelers’ practice facility, whistles and horns and cameras in the air. Narrowly avoided a large snake across the path. Past train tracks and scrap metal years, old brick buildings, graneries, warehouses.

Through small towns, lots of American flags and bunting, also many signs of urban decay. A train had derailed the day before in McKee sport, and many men in helmets & reflective vests were swarming the bridge with hand tools trying to get it back on the tracks.

 

Coffee at a tea shop in Boston, lunch in West Newton. Long stretches through woods under canopy, winding so that the sun came from every direction. Conversation dealt mostly with physics, specifically batteries and energy.

Past attractive campgrounds and lovely houses on the river. Photo op at the 100 mile marker.

Started getting saddle sore the last 15 miles. Pulled in to Connellsville, unpacked, grabbed beer from Sheetz, and enjoyed a sundowner on the back porch.

Pasta dinner at Ruvos. Bed at 9:30.

 

Day 2

Woke at 7. Talked to Kiran. Great breakfast of sausage, egg and cheese with pesto. Chilly start leaving Connellsville and rode through woods next to river until Ohiopyle.

Stopped for coffee then on to Confluence, a very quiet town that reminded us of Shelton, NE. Fly fishermen stood in the sparkling, wide river. Had lunch at Parkview Grill. Proceeded on. Caused a collision with Dad when stopping short for a (dead) chipmunk. He was OK and we kept riding.

Climbed a ridge to look at the train tracks at Pinkerton Tunnel. Got into Rockwood around 3:30pm and had a celebratory ice cream cone. We also stumped up $2 each for blankets and $1 for towels at the hostel. After unpacking and showering, we walked the main street and had a couple of beers plus dinner at Rock City Cafe, talking mostly of politics.

Back at the hostel, searched in vain for good books or games and all were in bed by 8:30.

Day 3

Woke at 7:15. Dad turned up The Writer’s Almanac and we all lay listening. Breakfast at the general store: a donut, coffee and breakfast sandwich special. We were cold to start. Saw a couple of deer and an eagle.

Gained elevation, more color, farms, corn, cows, a little cemetery. Into Meyersdale. Found three coffee shops closed before locating one open, but with awkward service and mediocre coffee. Talked to a local who biked a lot back and forth between the towns we’ve passed. Back up the steep hill to the trail, then on to the Continental Divide.

Took a few pictures, then started moving very quickly downhill. In Frostburg, climbed a long, steep hill into town and ate a good meal at Mountain City. Back down and then on to Cumberland, with just a couple stops to read placards and have a look at the Bone Cave. Lots of weekenders on the trail. Finished in Cumberland, dropped off bikes, washed up, changed into clean clothes. Dropped into a sports bar and had beer and watched football. Ate a quick dinner and then walked to the train station on the other side of the tracks, leaving plenty of time for any mishaps.

Waited a while for the train then found our seats. Enjoyed one last brew in the observation car. It was dark, but we picked out some of the places we had been as we rumbled by in the black night, Meyersdale, Rockwood, Confluence. Dozed for the last couple of hours to Pittsburgh. Picked up the car, drove to the airport hotel and got in around midnight.

 

By the Numbers

3 men

3 days

Day 1

62 miles

Day 2

48 miles

Day 3

47 miles

7,939 calories burned

8 coffee stops

RANKED

  1. Mountain City Coffee House & Creamery, Frostburg*
  2. Gasoline Street Coffee Co, Pittsburgh
  3. Springhill Suites, Pittsburgh
  4. Connellsville B&B, Connellsville
  5. Sweet Treats, Rockwood
  6. Market Square Bakery & Cafe, Meyersdale
  7. Falls Market Restaurant, Ohiopyle
  8. The Betsy Shoppe, McKeesport

1 crash

EPL 2017-2018

Premier League Predictions 2017/2018

The 2017-2018 EPL kicked off in anger on Friday, August 11 with an enthralling match between Leicester City and Arsenal. Ninety minutes and seven goals later, Arsenal came from behind three times to win, despite some truly comedic passing out of the back by Rob Holding. I enjoyed the match with my brother, Aaron, a Chelsea fan, and was reminded that I have yet to enshrine my predictions for this season. They are:

  1. Man City – Guardiola to come good in his second season in England. And really, how could he not with the likes of De Bruyne, Silva, Agüero, Jesus, Yaya, Gündoğan, Sané, etc? Their Achilles heel appears to be Ederson in the seemingly cursed goalkeeper position.
    Key Player: De Bruyne
  2. Chelsea – Too much quality in the Chelsea ranks to drop their standards, but I doubt the angel Morata will be as effective as the demon Costa.
    Key Player: Hazard
  3. Tottenham Hotspurs – A solid core with Kane, Alli, Eriksen, and Lloris, but failure to keep up with the spending of their rivals will see them stand still.
    Key Player: Eriksen
  4. Manchester United – Mourinho to drive a small improvement, with the help of wads of cash, but can’t fix the underlying issues this fallen giant.
    Key Player: Mkhitaryan
  5. Liverpool – An exciting side, but inconsistent and suicidal at the back.
    Key Player: Mané
  6. Arsenal – I admire Wenger for sticking to his principles in both sporting and financial terms, but that thrift simply can’t keep pace with the free spending of the rest.
    Key Player: Ramsey
  7. Everton – Despite some solid acquisitions, the Toffees aren’t able to keep pace with the first tier.
    Key Player: Siggurdson
  8. Southampton – Another season in the middle for Southampton.
    Key Player: Redmond
  9. Stoke City – The Potters will bounce back slightly after a difficult 2016/2017.
    Key Player: Shaqiri
  10. West Brom – Assembled of cast-offs from other teams, WBA will continue to punch their weight in the middle of the pack.
    Key Player: Rodriguez
  11. West Ham – Though somewhat haphazardly assembled, there is enough quality to keep the Hammers mid-table.
    Key Player: Noble
  12. Crystal Palace – A slight improvement over last season, but not much progress.
    Key Player: Zaha
  13. Bournemouth – Eddie Howe’s overachievers to sink more to their level.
    Key Player: Defoe
  14. Newcastle – With Benitez at the Helm, the Magpies can be confident in staying up.
    Key Player: Diamé
  15. Swansea – Another difficult season for the Swans.
    Key Player: Ki
  16. Leicester City – Champions of two seasons ago will flirt with relegation before just staying up.
    Key Player: Iheanacho
  17. Watford – The Hornets survive by the skin of their teeth.
    Key Player: Deeney
  18. Burnley – Brave Burnley to sink to the Championship.
    Key Player: Arfield
  19. Brighton – Fans to enjoy their season in the top tier, but it will be short-lived.
    Key Player: Bruno
  20. Huddersfield – A difficult season, but the parachute payments should help them bounce back up.
    Key Player: Ince

La Liga: Real Madrid
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Serie A: Juventus
Ligue 1: PSG
Champions League: Real Madrid

Road Trips from the South Asian American Digital Archive

Recently, I helped design the Road Trips Project website for the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA).

From the project:

During a time when immigrant lives and experiences are being especially devalued, SAADA’s Road Trips Project aims to reframe a major American tradition by sharing images and stories from South Asian Americans, a community too often excluded from these narratives. The appeal of the open road is deeply rooted in the freedom to travel – safely and without fear, harassment, or intimidation – a freedom, which for many, is currently under question.

I started working with the organization on a variety of design projects several years ago, first providing a new SAADA logo and website. It’s been a rewarding experience, and I always look forward to pro bono work for SAADA and other nonprofits.

The Election of Donald J Trump

I voted on November 8, 2016 to make Hillary Clinton the next President of the United States. In the District of Columbia,  where I live, 93% of my neighbors did likewise. Across the country, most Americans did the same. But where it counted, enough voters chose to elect Donald Trump.

The shock in my community is palpable, and primarily manifests itself in numbly trying to divine what caused our nation to take this step and worrying about what might happen next.

I’ve seen several theories that attempt to explain the vote, many of them laced with anger and almost all saturated in the despair felt by those of us who felt that the country was progressing in the right direction, albeit slowly.  The most common of these are:

  • Racism and misogyny, evidenced by the white male (65%) and white female (53%) vote for Trump
  • The intervention of Russian hackers
  • The intervention of the FBI’s James Comey
  • The proliferation of alt-right news sources available on the internet
  • The mainstream or liberal media’s failure to recognize or accurately report Trump’s support
  • America’s infatuation with celebrity
  • Hillary Clinton being exactly the wrong candidate to challenge Trump

I believe that all of these contributed to the eventual result. The best piece of reportage I’ve read about this is Alec MacGillis’ piece in Pro Publica. It provides a compelling narrative about how huge swathes of former Obama voters embraced Trump. Key themes raised by the subjects of these interviews are Clinton’s perceived dishonesty vs Trump’s straight-talking, Clinton’s failure to deliver anything meaningful (to them) during her political career vs Trump’s campaign promises, and most of all, the dire economic climate in their communities vs Trump’s reputation as a job-creator.

My feeling is that these people will be sorely disappointed in four years, as their personal economic circumstances fail to significantly improve. That is, unless Trump is able to realize his campaign pledge to liberate energy reserves at the expense of the environment.

The social impact of this election is heartbreaking. Bigots will be emboldened. Minorities will be further marginalized. Corporations will benefit at the expense of citizens. America has chosen to elect an almost perfect personification of a business, complete with lack of conscience and accountability.

President Obama was a good, and perhaps even great president. His administration oversaw a number of important improvements to the country and to the world: the legalization of same-sex marriage, the institution of Obamacare, and commitments to controlling climate change. At the same time, he is widely criticized for not doing more, despite being faced with the least cooperative congress in history. Hillary Clinton suffers also from this oversimplification of how government operates, by those who wonder what she has done with all of her years in government.

Trump, with a Republican-controlled congress and at least one Supreme Court appointment (which by all rights, should have been appointed by President Obama), will find it infinitely easier to push through legislation and count of rulings that swing sharply to the right. The only thing more frightening than this paucity of checks and balances is the potential for retaliation if and when Trump antagonizes a person or group willing to commit violence. I certainly fear for my family and my country, which is now a very different place.

Books I Return To

All my life, I’ve loved to re-read. When I was 9, I checked out The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss from the school library and renewed it every month for the entire year. Something about the gadgetry fascinated me, and I spent hours poring over the Yooks’ and Zooks’ extravagant armaments and accompanying uniforms.

A few years later, I read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and ended up going back to it again and again. The appeal at that age was clear: solitude, self-sufficiency, and a forest all to one’s self.

I am still a re-reader, regularly going back to favorites just like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano. Some books convey a time, a place, or a culture so irresistibly that I find myself wishing to revisit: the North Africa of The Stranger by Albert Camus and Collected Short Stories by Paul Bowles; the foggy and gaslit London of The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; the artistic melting pot of 1920s Paris in A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

There are others. I pick up Tenth of December by George Saunders for its razor-sharp wit, Black Swan Green by David Mitchell for its characters, and Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Bashō for its depth and perspective.

Each time I return to these books, I discover something new and precious, while at the same time settling into the familiarity and comfort that they provide. Even as I read and enjoy something for the first time, I won’t forget that these books continue to shape me.

English Premier League Predictions 2016-2017

Last season, Leicester City washed away the ennui that had accumulated since 2004, the last time a club other than Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City were champions of England. It speaks volumes about the current state of the game that these rank outsiders, who narrowly avoided relegation the previous season, became every neutral’s second side and plucky underdog against England’s mega-rich clubs. Leicester City are, of course, only moderately rich, having been purchased in 2010 by Thai-led consortium, Asian Football Investments. That sleight of hand was made possible by their affable manager, Claudio Ranieri, and the fact that their team consisted of hidden gems (Mahrez, Kanté, Vardy) and players who failed to make the grade at more glamorous clubs (Drinkwater, Albrighton, Schmeichel, Simpson).

Their tremendous accomplishment should give every team the belief that they, too, can achieve the improbable. More likely, normal service will be resumed, though there are a number of intriguing subplots to this season. Foremost is the renewal of hostilities between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho at Manchesters City and United. Their rivalry comes against the backdrop of some obscene transfer fees, including United’s world record £89m for Paul Pogba, a player who left them on a free transfer four years ago. Pogba, in my view, lacks the consistency and frankly the quality to justify such a price tag. But this summer has also seen the good-but-not-great Gonzalo Higuaín move for £75.3m, and John Stones, who failed to even feature for a diabolical England side at Euro 2016, being bought for £47.5m.

Here are my predictions for how they will all finish, with key players in parenthesis.

  1. Manchester City (De Bruyne)
  2. Manchester United (De Gea)
  3. Arsenal (Sanchez)
  4. Chelsea (Hazard)
  5. Tottenham Hotspur (Eriksen)
  6. Everton (Williams)
  7. Liverpool (Firmino)
  8. West Ham (Noble)
  9. Southampton (Tadic)
  10. Stoke City (Arnautović)
  11. Bournemouth (Ibe)
  12. Watford (Deeney)
  13. Leicester City (Mahrez)
  14. West Brom (Rondón)
  15. Crystal Palace (Cabaye)
  16. Burnley (Arfield)
  17. Swansea City (Sigurðsson)
  18. Middlesbrough (Negredo)
  19. Sunderland (Defoe)
  20. Hull (Huddlestone)

FA Cup: Arsenal
Europa League: Napoli
Champions League: Barcelona
La Liga: Barcelona
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Ligue 1: PSG
Serie A: Juventus

Mid-Euro 2016

Growing up in 80s and 90s America, I was starved for televised soccer. The only reliable source was Dutch football at 6am, featuring exotic sides like Willem II, Go Ahead Eagles, and NEC Breda. That was immediately followed by Gaelic football, an intriguing chimera of soccer and rugby, which I’ve never seen or heard of since. On very special occasions, I stumbled across a European Cup match, most often involving Manchester United against a classic club from the mainland. I cursed as Nicky Butt shot high over the bar into a sea of ominous red flares. I swooned as Lee Sharpe used his heel to drag in a cross behind his standing leg against Barcelona. Given a binary choice between English and Dutch football, I chose to bear the cross of St George.

My first real memory of a major tournament was the England-less World Cup in 1994. I drank in even unappealing fixtures like Saudi Arabia vs Morocco and South Korea vs Bolivia. I watched Oleg Salenko put five goals past Cameroon and Diego Maradona enjoy his last, cocaine-addled swansong in the colors of Argentina. My heart sank as Ray Houghton scored to beat Italy in the group stage, while Arrigo Sachi sacrificed my hero, Roberto Baggio, following a Gianluca Pagliuca handball. I was in Foxboro later in the tournament to see Baggio drag Italy through against Nigeria, equalizing in the 88th minute before scoring the winner in extra time. My heart sank again as Baggio’s missed penalty in the final kept rising over the bar, high into the crowd at the Rose Bowl. None of this prevented me from declaring myself Buddhist and seeking my own “divine ponytail.” I’ve never loved another player in the same way.

Technology and television is scarcely recognizable in 2016 America, where I routinely ignore even moderately glamorous ties like Germany vs Slovakia. Having two kids under age two doesn’t help, but the fact is that I’m spoiled for soccer on TV. Still, I try to watch England whenever possible, because the national team continues to feel like an enigma with which I can entirely relate.

The English media, and by extension, English fans, must admit complicity in their team’s pathological failure. Familiar explanations are wheeled out in the post-mortem of each major tournament:

  1. The players just aren’t good enough, and the European successes of Premier League teams can be explained by a combination of foreign talent and successful marketing.
  2. The players are technically good enough, but haven’t the mental strength to handle the pressure of expectations.

The solutions are equally predictable:

  1. England must invest in grassroots football and coaching.
  2. England must embrace its historical strengths of athleticism, power, and directness.
  3. England must copy the style and structure of Spain/France/Iceland/latest winner.
  4. England must drastically reduce the proportion of foreign players in the Premier League.
  5. England must lower its expectations.

Each of these theories contains some element of the truth, but all are born of the obsession of England’s press and public with the national team. Given the talent at the disposal of so many managers from Erikkson to Capello to Hodgson, I’d conclude that the true barriers to success are psychological.

Monday’s defeat to Iceland gives credence to this theory. Clearly, England have hugely experienced players in Joe Hart (two Premier League titles), Gary Cahill (one Premier League title, 1 Champions League title), and Wayne Rooney (5 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League title). They have talent and dynamism in young players like Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, Delle Alli, and Harry Kane. And yet they not only failed to perform against inferior opponents, they were absolutely embarrassed by them. Pity is the greatest form of contempt, and it was indeed pitiful to watch Kane blooter a free kick several yards wide. Rooney consistently sprayed passes into touch. Sterling couldn’t beat 31-year-old Birkir Sævarsson in a footrace. It was an astonishing collective collapse.

Barney Ronay’s excellent piece in the Guardian apportions the blame properly:

In the end the players are us and we are them. Like ill-mannered parents enraged by their ill-mannered kids, we stand there wondering why these normal, receptive human beings – not the best, but not the worst – play with such fear and angst in a knife-edge fine‑detail knockout game ringed by hostile faces.

This angst makes the English national team more complicated and compelling than any other, a subtext that in turn makes their matches more fascinating. At least for me, the day they break free from those shackles and win a tournament or even make a final, will be, at best, bittersweet.