Home and Away Pt. VI (The Final Chapter) / by Justin Salhani

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This is the sixth and final part in our Home and Away series, where Adrian Kidaman and Justin Salhani exchange letters on the World Cup and everything that's gone on in and around the tournament.

Read part I  part II  part III  part IV  part V

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July 9
Milan

Hi Adrian,

I hope you're doing well. Your last letter makes me think you might be going through something. I loved the descriptions of your past World Cups. It seems like this time every four years tends to be a time where community is important for you. It's a time where you'd get together with friends and neighbors and plan your days around the matches. Now, you're in a country that isn't your own and the meaning of the Cup is a bit different. I'm sure this must have an impact on you, no?

I understand how World Cups can strip us of all our desire to do actual work. I've tried to find a balance but on days there are no matches I tend to struggle to get going. I like the idea of listening to music. I can't seem to do this because I always need to feel the atmosphere of a match. The cheering of the fans is important if I want to get lost in the match. Also, I can tune out the Italian commentary here a bit easier. I'm sorry I wasn't able to suggest an album for the last match for you. 

For the next one, I've been listening to Kids See Ghosts and A$AP Rocky's latest album recently. The new Future album is also good. For older classics, anything Talib Kweli or Mos Def is always a good listen and since it's early morning over there I think they'll put you in a good mood for the rest of the day. I also highly suggest listening to the Dissect podcast. Season 2 is my favorite, where he analyzes Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It was incredibly inspiring on a creative level.

Tomorrow, I'll travel to London and France plays Belgium. It'll be an interesting match with a lot of rivalries. Thierry Henry is an assistant coach with Belgium and there are rivalries between a few Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea players. I personally think Roberto Martinez is a decent manager. His commentary on ESPN a few years ago was always quite concise and interesting. I realize he takes risks and is an attacking manager whose teams tend to have defensive frailties. But I think he's a thinker and his evolution will be fun to watch in coming years too. I think this will be a good game because Belgium needs to attack. And as you've mentioned, when France is pushed they attack too.

For Croatia v England, I don't know what to expect. Croatia was probably the strongest team in the group stage but the last two matches against weaker opposition they've gone to penalties. I wonder how much more Luka Modric has in his legs? They have so much quality, much more than England. I think in a normal 90 Croatia takes it. But in this match, it'll be tough. That being said, they've had incredible mental toughness to get this far.

The World Cup is almost over now. Just four more matches - including the 3rd place match. And then life goes back to normal. I like the World Cup because it lays down a marker of my life. I can look back and reflect. In 2014, I remember I was in Beirut. I was at a job I was really sick of and I was struggling with personal issues. The World Cup in Brazil actually inspired me to make changes in my life, reconnect to football, and led to the start of Guerrilla FC.

In 2010, I was in DC and spent it with my best friends. It was just a couple months before I moved to Beirut - the most impactful event of my life to date. In 2006, I was 19 and had so much angst to get out in the world and achieve things. My trip to Europe made me incredibly depressed to come back to the US. It's funny now, a lot of the time I miss DC and want to be there even though I live in Europe. In 2006 it was quite the opposite. 

Anyway, enjoy the games tomorrow. Let me know what you think of my album suggestions. I'll try to write in the next couple days. I'm quite busy but will do my best to share some reflections.

Cheers,
js

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July 14
Washington, D.C.

Justin,

How is London? How is the vibe and atmosphere? I bet it was all positive until the England lost in the semis. The Golaso event seems to have been interesting. Let me know what specifically you addressed as a panelist.

The album suggestions have been good so far, they worked out well for me. Only qualm I have with them is that they are short. It’s funny these days albums are no longer than an hour. I guess it’s a testament to the times we live in. If I can give you a good music project in less than an hour and it’s good, then I have done my job. I kind of love it because it shows how the music business might be changing and at the same time gets rid of those long albums in which we had to have some stupid track jammed into a project and you wonder why this is here? On the other hand, not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just that they are short you can do an activity to an album like maybe clean up your space or something. But what do I know about the music business I just love the art of it. 

On to the games, France v Belgium was a weird game in that Deschamps plan was brilliant. He let Belgium run themselves down and once they tired he instructed France to step up their game. The whole game it seemed Belgium had the upper hand and what broke them was a set piece. I liked the game but once again I felt France was conservative in their approach.

That’s the thing in the game right now - everyone is conservative. It’s not a bad thing but at times it seems too scripted. Sometimes you just need someone to rip off the thing and just try something wild. We saw glances of how Pogba is good and also Kante in that he wins the ball and drives towards the opponent to initiate attacks. It’s one of attributes that most people under look when they talk about him.

The thing I loved about the game was the way Pogba is growing into this menace of a midfielder and a true box to box player. Personnel does matter in the game and he has seemed comfortable the whole world cup with Matuidi and Kante alongside him. In the end, we saw the partnership that might run world football for the next few years of Varane and Umtiti. They complement each other and at times seem unplayable.

Hazard and Mbappe were the guys who excited me the most. Hazard when he is driving at you is just a horror show. It’s scary how strong he is. Mbappe, on the other hand, has that ability and quickness to ghost past you it’s out of this world. Giroud should have scored on that Mbappe pass.

For the England game I decided to go to Dock FC. The atmosphere was amazing. To be honest, that was the first soccer-centric bar I have been to in the DC area. There was large England support.

So on to the game, as an England fan this was the best it could get. Watching England over the past years tournaments have not been their thing. This World Cup it worked out for them well in that they didn’t play any teams that would push them. Even though they didn’t play any mightier teams than Belgium - their game wasn’t good enough. So, England go one nil up with a Trippier free kick and everyone is excited and obviously you expect them to score more cause now Croatia have to come out and play and its game on. But no, England start losing the ball in every situation. Ball retention goes to zero and they try to counter on every chance they get.

I’m a Liverpool but Henderson was bad after they scored. I mean, I guess this is where knowledge and game management come into play. Him trying those 60 yards balls to Sterling were a waste of time. I have to give Croatia credit in that they just kept plugging away considering they were down most of the game and actually tried to get some passes going.

I feel England needed Carrick in that game just to help them keep the ball. It’s not like Croatia pressed in their own half they just gave the ball away. This shows that England were drilled into a defensive mindset by Southgate and the counter was a big part of their game. That and set pieces. I’d say that is negative but it’s a start. Now all they need to do know is actually play and become better. The team is young and can learn from this. It’ll be interesting to see the direction they head to in the next few years, hopefully it’s a more attractive one.

France v Croatia in the final and I hope it’s a good match. I’d like France to win it just because it will be a significant show of what happens when people from different cultures come together for a cause and win. The only bad thing that will come from that is Macron will use that to push some colonialist sentiment which is bad.

Another thing is that hopefully it might again end Le Pen’s political career. The world needs a bit of positivity. A Croatia win would also be a good thing in that a non-major Euro power won the tournament. Plus, I feel they are a small unit that have this togetherness that is not publicized but it exists. The two teams in the final can both play and I’m hoping for an exciting game. The England v Belgium game will be fun to and hopefully it’s a show of skill plus it will be the chance for England to play without pressure against an equally good or even better Belgium side. 

Talk later, hope you enjoy your final in London and say hi to Julian to ask him when is he coming back stateside to add on to his all-time goal list cause as of now I am on top.

Adrian

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July 15
London

Adrian -

I'm going to keep this relatively brief. It's been a hectic week. Hopefully, after I get back to Milan on Tuesday we can discuss our reflections slightly more in depth.

London was buzzing when I arrived. But it didn't last long. After the loss to Croatia the entire vibe of the city changed. It'll be interesting to see how people follow the final this afternoon.

The event's been quite interesting. I've learned a lot about the creative football culture in London. In the States, creative football culture is almost a respite from the general culture and, in particular, parts of the mainstream soccer following. In London, this seems to be less true. There's a big discussion here about authenticity, tribal loyalties, and genuine appreciation of the game and how that influences the perception of creative football projects. Of course, these are limited reflections based on conversations and the panels at Golaso.

I'll share more when I'm back. But there was definitely an interesting contrast between the perspectives of the Brits and the Americans (only two of us and we both live in Europe) on the various panels.

Regardless of what happens today, I think I'm satisfied with this World Cup. If France wins I'm thrilled but if not, what a story from this Croatia side. We saw upsets, some decent goals, a lot of drama, and enough storylines for a really gratifying month of football.

Some quick reflections: 

- Hazard was incredible this tournament - particularly in the last few games. His balance is remarkable and allows his skill and technique to flourish under pressure.

- England's passing and movement off the ball is slow and largely uncoordinated. 

- I understand results-wise England had a good tourney, but they struggled to create chances for Harry Kane. And to me that should be the entire strategy for this team (apart from set pieces). On a performance level, I'd say it was an underwhelming tournament really.

- I think we will look back on this Belgium generation romantically - maybe the same way we do with Holland 98 - packed with talent and fun players to watch.

- While Trippier created plenty of chances, he does this thing where he pauses - seemingly for dramatic effect - before crossing the ball. I wonder if it's to allow players to read the play and make runs or if it's something more menial.

- Mbappe's roulette through ball for Giroud was the pass of the tournament and would make Guti blush.

- Hoping for an exciting match today with good goals and turns of skill. Would love to see Mbappe shine.

That's all for now. Chat soon
js

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July 21
Washington, D.C.

Justin, 

Hope you are well. The world cup is over and France are world champions for the second time in their history. It was a great final and the better team won but as always there was controversy.

France won the World Cup, but Croatia won our hearts. There is something about that team no matter how bad the situation is they trust in their ability and method. I didn’t like the way they won the cup but that’s football. Brings back the question if a team as talented as that was having an off day can they win like that. Not that it was ugly, but it wasn’t brilliant. Imagine if they took the shackles off.

But congratulations to France - as they won the cup. Croatia to deserve praise in that they have the best midfield pairing of Modric and Rakitic. Lovren also deserves praise. He has been solid all World Cup despite being ridiculed the world over. I think the referee influenced the game and this shows that the ref can still have impact on the game even with VAR in play.  

The final whistle came and I was not satisfied but nor was I disappointed. A few hours later is when it hit me: we have to wait another four years for this spectacle to happen again. This for me has been an enjoyable World Cup. I mean, I’m a football nerd, so any game of football seems interesting for me.

This World Cup provided us with attacking football from games like Japan v Senegal to Japan v Belgium and all games were interesting. Maybe this is the start of a new trend that has all teams participating with a chance to beat anyone. That is to me what football is about. All teams having a go at each other and whoever makes the least mistakes win. You guys being in Russia also made it better in that I was always watching the games in hope that I would see guys I know.

Instagram did that but seeing someone you know on tv or on platforms like Bleacher Report got me a little excited. This also made me realize that it’s time I start planning for the next World Cup as I cannot afford to miss it.

The world media made it look like Russia was going to be the worst place to host the World Cup as they do in every tournament that is in a developing country. This brought out the best of Russia and the world in general in how people interacted with each other and all that mattered was the game. Although the Fox sports coverage was bad because of the like of Lalas and Stone - National Geographic had a series on all the host cities in Russia. You should check it out. 

Two years ago, we had just finished our first season with Guerrilla FC and we were just starting out and now we are in our tenth season. A lot has happened some guys moved on and new guys have replaced them. We are following the dream you had and slowly, but surely, the influence is growing and I’m excited to see what’s next for Guerrilla. For me, it has been a journey of growth despite of all those hard times on the pitch we seem to be creating something and who knows where it will go. In the beginning, no one knew about Guerrilla FC but now guys want to be involved and join in. I guess we will use these international tournaments as milestones to see how far we have come and continue to inspire the culture.

Looking back at it, it’s been an awesome ride with highs mostly, there have been lows here and there, but I still love the journey. Being part of Guerrilla FC has made me grow a lot and I am happy with that because all I want in life is growth and a chance to still meg guys when losing a game, cause we all know that is what that matters.

Cheers,
Adrian

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July 22
Milan

Adrian,

A week ago France were crowned champions. I was in London at the time and it was a strange feeling. I was the only France supporter among my friends so it was rather surreal. I was quite excited at the time but the feeling faded quick. I'm really happy about the result and I'm quite excited to follow the careers of some of the young players - Mbappe in particular but also ones who featured less like Fekir, Dembele, Lemar, etc.

I can't imagine what it must feel like to win a World Cup. I bet guys like Pogba are simply buzzing. Also imagine being Pogba and Mbappe who were the catalysts for this team. Giroud is clearly happy despite scoring 0 goals (and he should be!) but to have scored in the final and on the way there must be incredible.

Personally, I never feel satisfied unless I contribute to a win. If I create goal scoring chances or assist goals then I am pleased. If the team wins despite me, I tend to feel guilty. 

The match was interesting. Croatia can feel hard done by for the first goal and maybe the second. It clearly shifted the play but they did a great job of coming back. France's quality shone through though and we saw that with Pogba and Mbappe's goals. In the end, France had the best collection of players. While Croatia may have been a better team in a way, the best coaches will always tell you that having good players is the best way to win games.

I would say this World Cup was a success. The best one in memory for me. Everyone I spoke to who went to Russia had a great time. That being said, I realize experiences are not universal and what I experienced may be very different for someone of a different ethnicity, gender, or ability.

I'm hoping we can plan something big for 2022 Qatar for Guerrilla FC. I think a lot of people are already writing it off because it'll be in winter. If Guerrilla survives into 2022, I'm hoping we can do some really great events, content, and apparel for the tournament - including a team trip and friendlies, pick up, and more in the Middle East. Cairo, Beirut, maybe Dubai, and Doha. Would be dope as hell.

I'm really happy to hear about your reflections of the last two years with Guerrilla FC. This project is the history and collection of my and others' suffering. We always wanted such a project but nothing existed, and thus it was in our hands to be created. And you are a huge part of this project now too as team captain. The more you build a solid team, the more the culture spreads. The more guys buy apparel and continue to fund the project. It's a cycle and every bit is important.

The past four to five weeks of writing has been great. We've discussed quite a bit of football and other issues. And I suppose now is the best time to conclude it. I look forward to what you guys build on the pitch this season. The team has taken a life of its own - beyond myself and guys like Julian and Ryan who helped start it. And the connections and messages I'm receiving are incredibly positive. 

As for the room for growth - I hope that continues. We've seen you grow as a player and leader in the last year and change. And of course, losing games is never an excuse to not leave the field with a meg.

 Best,
j