- Jason Davis

Among the various things the new New York Cosmos have going for them, their ability to bring in world famous soccer names to boost their image is tops on the list. The Cosmos might not yet have a team to field, but they do have a slew of legends out spreading the word that the Cosmos are, for lack of a better term, "back." There's Giorgio Chinaglia and Carlos Alberto plus names not previously connected to the team like USMNT and MSL great Cobi Jones. Then there are the show stoppers, a tag team of Olympian heroes, more forces of nature than mere mortals, two ex-players fronting the Cosmos with all the panache, eccentricity, and intoxicating temerity that, despite being exactly what we expect, never fails to awe us with its aching lack of irony: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the man we know as Pelé, and Eric Cantona, a man who earned the nickname "King Eric" during his own storied career.

These are men we watch from a distance with incredulity, as if they are characters on a some surreal serial drama. Their exploits on the field give them license to hold court in every forum years and decades after their playing days ended. Their legends are living, breathing things, ever-expanding because each command so much attention and feed them regularly, though in very different ways. Pelé is always talking, forever topping himself with outlandish statements on his own place in history, telling anyone who will listen - no matter the pretense for the microphone to become available - that he remains the greatest thing the soccer world has ever seen. And yes, that includes in the United States.

To hear Pelé tell it, soccer was big in the US when he played for the Cosmos, stopped being big when he left, and will now return to prominence because he has joined the revived New York franchise.

"When I retired, at that time I had a lot of proposals to play in Europe, England, Italy, Spain, Mexico. But I said no, after 18 years I want to rest, because I want to retire.

They wanted to make soccer big in the United States. That was the reason I come back to play. Then I start my mission. Now I am here because of this.

We are going to revive New York Cosmos, to be fantastic. Because [when when I started] with New York Cosmos [football] became a very big sport in the U.S., and now we come back."

Perhaps Pelé is right, though most MLS fans would take exception with his implication that American soccer needs the Cosmos to become "very big", and there aren't many who would color the sport as exactly that during the NASL era. Some stadiums were filled and Pelé did a lot for American soccer, but it was all a house of cards. Pelé retired, the league imploded, and everything went back to square one. If soccer was truly big, in the culturally-infectious sense, it wouldn't have taken 12 years and a World Cup for another national top-flight soccer league to start up.

But this is Pelé, a man who can refer to himself in the third person on a level beyond anything even American sports fans have seen (at the same event where he made the above statements, he also said "Nobody did what Pelé did. Being champion of the world at 17-years-old, won three World Cups, scored more than 1,208 goals, only him." Yes, he referred to himself as "him."), so we smile and shake our head and wait for him to say something else amazing. He may be a caricature at this point, but he's still the world's most recognizable athlete. He has a wake, and its breadth is massive. The Cosmos are happily pulled along.

But Pelé is just an ambassador, a marquee name to draw in the casuals and unconverted. He won't be actively involved in the operation of the club. He's the world's most famous carnival barker.

Cantona has been given responsibility. He has a job to do. How he will go about that job is a source of endless fascination, both here and Europe, where his name holds magical properties.

Cantona's persona is more one of eccentric, quiet mystery, interspersed by bodacious blasts of his legendary confidence. In the introduction to Leander Schaerlaeckens' interview with the Frenchman, the ESPN writer describes Cantona as "disarmingly arrogant." This is the man that once planted a flying boot to a spectator's chest, yet retained the undying devotion of millions as if it was perfectly acceptable behavior. Cantona is the modern incarnation of the warrior sage, growling out his views on the game to rapt reporters who can't help but become hypnotized by their audacity. His stated goals for the Cosmos follow the script.

"The Cosmos gave me the opportunity to create something," he said. "We want to create our own version of the game, our own philosophy. I look at it as a creator. There's always something [new] to do, in every kind of expression -- painting, cinema. Every time you have people who find something new. Great businessmen are creators. And great football directors are creators, artists. It's all a kind of art. In football you have revolutions. In the '70s with Ajax, in the early '90s with Cruyff in Barcelona, and 2010s … the Cosmos, I hope."

Meanwhile, Cantona will work by phone from France until April of 2012. He knows nothing about the American game, has never attended an MLS match, and hasn't watched a second of televised soccer since retiring in 1997.

"When I retired, I didn't want to watch the game because I loved it so much. It would be like you are on drugs and you go meet your dealer. It's better to stay away."

And yet, it's not so easy to just dismiss Cantona as a charlatan and be done with it. "King Eric" manages to tease the imagination despite his bouquet of odorous conceits. He somehow gets away with equating televised soccer with a drug dealer have it come off romantic. Not everyone will buy the particular brand of merde Cantona is shoveling, but no one will accuse him of not enjoying the scent. Whether he believes his own words is a secondary consideration to the unblinking sincerity with which he says them. Unlike Pelé, he did not play for the Cosmos. In every other way he perfectly embodies their spirit.

In Pelé, the walking, talking Pelé-promoting autonamaton with a history of bringing Americans to his game and Cantona, a near-mystical figure capable of making sitting on a throne seem strangely natural, the Cosmos have a dream team of surreality.

It makes even this, a statement from Cantona to Schaerlaeckens on what the Cosmos can accomplish, seem more like something said by a fictional character in an alternate American soccer universe than a laughable bit of wishful thinking:

"The [goal] will be for the United States to win the World Cup with Cosmos players," he said. "I think in 20 years' time. Maybe before."

blog comments powered by Disqus
    KKTC Bahis Siteleri, Online Bahis



    Privacy Policy