I wrote this the other day at my new place for writing longer-form things. Hope you like. Big ask I appreciate…
Cutting to the chase, I was drawn to Bryan Ruiz by an air of vulnerability that you don’t often find in footballers. It is, I think, generally accepted that to get to the top in the game you need any softer edges to be bashed aside pdq, lest these edges be exploited by Neanderthal defenders, and so it is that players who look like they might have a sensitive side are few and far between at the very top level.
Ruiz, who was brought up by his mother, is different. Here is a man who perhaps made it in football despite himself, a man whose elemental talent levels are so extraordinary that they must have superseded the usual intangibles that scouts presumably look for. Naturally none of this fooled the wise old men of Craven Cottage, many of whom have been watching football for more years than Ruiz has been alive and so know their minds and the game very well; no, when they see that soft edge they know Bryan Ruiz does not, and will not, be there for their team when the going gets tough.
Those of us entranced by the poetry of his left foot (frequently bad poetry, but poetry nevertheless) don’t care about any lack of steel – it’s not like the Premier League overall lacks for steel, does it? No, what you want are the players who bring something different to the party. Like Bryan Ruiz. Who brought poetry. To the party. Anyway.
Bryan had a good World Cup (interestingly, as one of his big boosters, I didn’t think his World Cup was as good as widely perceived) and all of a sudden our man was kind of respected again. With Fulham’s relegation and persistence with hard-man coach Felix Magath, there seemed to be little room for Bryan’s brand of graceful clumsiness, so we all agreed that we had, sadly, seen the last of our flawed genius.
Bryan thought so too, and was open about this: he wanted to play at the top level, which had been why he’d joined Fulham. He’d had that good World Cup, he thought he deserved to play at the top level, he expected to leave, and badly wanted to leave. He had played well for Fulham but had been booed at the first sign of a bad game (that softer edge was something of a red rag to the crowd’s bull: football fans smell vulnerability instinctively – it helps them know who to be angry with).
But he could not leave.
This came up on twitter last night, and it was pointed out (by Alex Locatelli) that Ruiz is/was inhabiting something of a Kafka-esque world. The first thought was that his life had turned into The Trial, but it became clear that his situation was not unlike The Castle and, well, why not then the Metamorphosis too? What?
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know Kafka inside out, but I have read the major works, albeit a long time ago. So let’s just work from back covers to begin with.
First, the Castle:
This is the story of K and his arrival in a village where he is never accepted, and his relentless, unavailing struggle with authority in order to gain acceptance to the castle that seems to rule it. K’s isolation and perplexity, his begging for the approval of elusive and anonymous powers, epitomises Kafka’s vision of twentieth century alienation and anxiety.
It’s almost as if Bryan Ruiz is a Kafka creation, isn’t it? He arrives in the village (Fulham) where he struggles for acceptance. The castle here is a metaphor for the Fulham fans, whose “elusive and anonymous powers” hold far more influence than ought to be the case. More literally, Ruiz arrives at Fulham, plays well, but his tragedy is that the good things he does are ignored because people can only see the bad things. More literally still – he gets caught on the ball four times a game, which leads to four big groans from the castle, but creates a bevy of chances that are more useful than anything anyone else not named Clint Dempsey is accomplishing, but absolutely nothing changes.
Begging for approval? I think so. Bryan just wants acceptance. That acceptance has been with-held on grounds he doesn’t really understand, so he has withdrawn into himself further. This is a typical vicious circle in Ruiz’s world: the main one would be, of course, his tendency towards carelessness in possession – take a player who is playing with nerves, boo him when he gets the ball, see how that affects said nerves and his ability to play good football. Yes, exactly. It’s perverse.
For The Trial things are simpler. In this book, K (again) is arrested (the famous opening lines: “Somebody must have laid false information against Josef K, for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong”) and faces trial (he doesn’t know what for). K must continue his work for a bank, but with the undercurrent of the unknowable trial gnawing away at him. Various people question K’s attitude to the trial, suggesting that he isn’t taking things seriously enough, but really, what is he supposed to do? At the end (from Wikipedia):
On the eve of K.’s thirty-first birthday, two men arrive at his apartment. He has been waiting for them, and he offers little resistance – indeed the two men take direction from K. as they walk through town. K. leads them to a quarry where the two men place K’s head on a discarded block. One of the men produces a double-edged butcher knife, and as the two men pass it back and forth between them, the narrator tells us that “K. knew then precisely, that it would have been his duty to take the knife…and thrust it into himself.” He does not take the knife. One of the men holds his shoulder and pulls him up and the other man stabs him in the heart and twists the knife twice. K.’s last words are: “Like a dog!”
I think what we’re seeing here is Ruiz’s time at Fulham likened to a trial. He didn’t know what he was getting himself in for, some men just summonsed him (from Holland) that morning, he went, he thought it would probably be okay, it wasn’t, then he could never leave.
This is of course still happening for Bryan – he has been in and out of the team, injuries, a (blessed) loan back to Holland, a time in Felix Magath’s loading bay awaiting transit to parts elsewhere (nothing), then a pause as he is rehabilitated by Kit Symons, but still he wants to get this off his back, to get away, but in spite of everything NOTHING CAN BE DONE. And so he stays at Fulham. A loan move in the transfer window seems likely, but even that collapses. When the end comes it will be welcome. But will it come?
The loan move is where things really get interesting though. Back to The Castle:
The administrative machine it represents is depicted in similarly contradictory fashion. Despite several claims made for the castle administration, we see instances of ludicrously inefficient bureaucracy: letters go astray, only to be answered years later; one official’s office is characterised by the sound of columns of files continually crashing down; the distribution of dossiers to officials is shown to be hopelessly confused.
From here, notes by David Whiting.
And what are Levante saying about the collapse of Ruiz’s loan move?
“The transfer was going ahead in the evening [of deadline day] when the player requested the move but the paperwork didn’t arrive in a timely manner,” he told Marca. “Fulham didn’t realise that the deadline was Friday because they thought it was Monday. We must abide by and respect the decision of FIFA, but I just don’t understand it, although the rules are well established. I have little else to say.
Pushed on whether a move was deliberately sabotaged, Catalan added: “Neither do I want, nor can I think about that. It wouldn’t be fair to the player or Levante. I’d be doing a disservice to football. [Fulham] didn’t manage their time well. There’s little or no argument from us. Basically we didn’t adhere to the deadline and 12.01am [on January 31] was too late.
“It’s nothing we didn’t know already, but there’s the feeling of powerlessness and misunderstanding, though we respect the logic [of the decision]. Money wasn’t a problem, I wish it was one. Fulham regarded Bryan as a key player. If there’s a delay of one minute, it’s because the documentation wasn’t submitted in time. The player’s conduct has been excellent, for him it was a dream to play in Spain.”
Goodness me. Kit Symons, Fulham manager, said:
“It’s a tough knock for him but he’s a great character and loves his football, so I know he’ll just want to get on and play.”
And so it continues.