Monday, August 6, 2007

The Future Is Now, The Future Is.....French?

As I struggle to find something to write, I see the ad for Who's Now pop across the screen while watching Barry Bonds get walked for the 56th time in his last 12 plate appearances. In the final are two current superduper stars, Tiger Woods and Lebron James. At the same time, on comes an advertisement asking us to watch David Beckham sit on the pine while his team drags soccer into the legitimacy doldrums of major American sports. Which has me thinking, David Beckham is not the answer. He has simple proven what we already know: the MLS is a sideshow. The MLS is beyond the grasp of global US acceptance unless American big boys stop buying up EPL teams and start reinvesting domestically. One player won't change the MLS. But one player can change the perception of some. Either from within the country or abroad.

So, who is the answer? Who is the person that could drag an otherwise indifferent demographic off their asses and start to realize, "Hey, this other football ain't so bad"? A superstar whose abilities transcend sporting boundaries. America needs an athlete they can grow to love. The American sports fan loves the icons that they can see improve and mature as athletes before their very eyes. Tiger Woods made his first TV appearance in Pampers and Lebron James has had his home games shown on ESPN since the second trimester. The list is long and storied, and while littered with failures, it is also filled with some of the most beloved figures in American sports history.

When it comes to football's answer, Freddie Adu is far from my mind. If he was that good he would've been in Europe a long time ago, rather than taking trials and failing to sign a contract - regardless of his desire to stay stateside. Not to mention the club which just signed him, Benfica, paid out a paltry $2m for him, which is one-twentieth of what a great 18 year old will require, if not more (a quick look at Manchester United's transfer list this summer will do just fine). So, again, who is the answer? In France he is The Chosen One. Nothing short of the grandest expectations for the kid named Samir Nasri.

The great majority of France has been crusading for the white smoke to announce Zinedine Zidane's successor since he first announced his impending retirement last season with Real Madrid. Plenty of names are floated about; some justifiable, most as legitimate as Enron being run by Scooter Libby. Nasri is the one who is close to being universally accepted as The Guy. Partially due to the uncanny comparisons between he and Zidane. Both being born of Algerian ethnicity in the streets of Marseille. Both are intelligent wizards with the ball at their foot, and a veritable one man tornado versus the opposition. Zidane has the greater vision and feel for the pitch, but that is largely acquired, and most would refuse to concede Nasri will never get there. But most importantly, both are able to create that which simply isn't there.

It is an amazing vision to watch an athlete simply create something from nothing. Whether it be a running back hitting a one foot hole which turns into the parting of the Red Sea. Or a point guard lacing the ball to a spot on the floor where only the man who is double teamed can receive it and lay it off the glass. Nasri has this ability and then some. In comparison, he's like combining the passing of Steve Nash with the slashing ability of Dwayne Wade. Or the athletic dynamism of Reggie Bush with the vision of Peyton Manning. Quite simply, he ranks up there with the best athletes I have ever seen. The kicker? He's 20 years old.

Right now he is the lifeline of his hometown team, Olympique de Marseille, a minnow in the eyes of most Americans, but a former powerhouse in France (think the Braves in the 90's). In about a year or two he will be the sole reason that I become a Real Madrid fan - one of probably 5 clubs many Americans would at least recognize. Based on not only the football, but also marketing and status, Real Madrid is really the only place for him. He's just too good not to become an icon and galactico which only los merengues can create aptly. Despite my distaste for most anything French, I'm a fan because he's classy and intelligent, with a great work ethic and prodigious one of a kind talent. In essence, he's Zizou minus the headbutts.

While he will undoubtedly never make his way to America unless something drastic changes or he accrues debts from his baby mommas and needs to pay up later on in life (ahem, Pele), he can still become an olive branch to the American public. With the increasing globalization of soccer, including the popularity of the World Cup and now regular broadcastings of the Champions League stateside, his name will start to pop up everywhere. Including stateside. He will become France's guy. The entire country's hopes will rest largely on his shoulders, despite the talent surrounding him - it will simply be his team, as it was Zidane's. His senior debut was only a glimpse of such, as after a dazzling performance he was subbed off to a standing ovation, still but a 19 year old teenager. An honor hardly expressed justifiably by words. Especially in a nation with the recent pedigree of France.

The question in sports often pops up in sports, "who would you pay to watch?" The first name that immediately enters my mind is Samir Nasri. In 5 years? It's possible he will be the only option. For someone who grew up without exposure to the sport yet an undying love for all other major American sports, I believe that says something. More than something, in fact. It says pretty much everything.

* - And yes, for the record, I would take him over Lionel Messi 8 days of the week.