When I was 14 years old, I spent a summer working at a shabby miniature golf course in Sea Isle City, New Jersey. I manned the place during the day when no one golfed, so mostly I read. I remember reading two books at the mini golf course, Notes from Underground, by Dostoevsky, and It, by Stephen King. The first one was a revelation. The latter was an epic disappointment.
The reasons for my opposite reactions had as much to do with my expectations as any intrinsic qualities of these books. I knew nothing about Notes from Underground, except that it had a cool title. But I was dying to read It. Earlier that year, I had delved into Stephen King, and although I didn’t really like horror, I had loved The Dead Zone, which, I felt, was more than a scary story. This new book, It, was supposed to be better. Plus, it was so damn long that it seemed important. It was going to be great.
This summer, when Real Madrid bought Xabi Alonso, Kaka, and Cristiano Ronaldo for a gazillion dollars, it seemed momentous. I’m not a Madrid fan – I prefer Barcelona – but I couldn’t help being excited to see this team like I was excited to read It. The neo-galacticos, as people called them, were going to be scary good.
I’ve watched Madrid play a few times this year, and I’ve been disappointed. Against Marseille in the Champions League last week, they lumbered about. Some time in the first half the screen said that Madrid had 60 percent of the possession. But do you call that possession? The ball was in the air a lot of the time, with people just knocking it here and there aimlessly. The galacticos finally broke the deadlock with a long ball that left Cristiano Ronaldo alone with the goalkeeper, who jumped straight up in the air as if he were performing some weird exorcism. Ronaldo just rolled it under him. Nothing special about it.
Of course, Madrid haven’t been bad. In fact, before this weekend they’d won all their games. It’s just that my expectations were enormous. I wanted them to play in a blistering, acrobatic style that caused delight, awe, and rage. I wanted to hate them and love them at once. I wanted them, like I wanted the book It, to be metaphysical.
Against Sevilla this weekend, this time without Ronaldo, Real Madrid again looked out of sync. But there was a surprise: Sevilla was outstanding. They had a player named Jesus who burst down the wings at a frenetic pace. They were always dangerous, and occasionally, unexpectedly brilliant, like Notes from Underground was when I encountered it as an adolescent. Madrid had to rise to the challenge, and at times they did. Iker Casillas, their fuzzy-faced goalkeeper, amazed. Even Guti, the mercurial Spaniard who for large stretches just jogged alongside Kaka as if he didn’t know where else to go and then yelled at somebody, improved. The team began to pass, but Sevilla was too much. The galacticos fell to earth, 2-1.
When I finally finished It that summer, I felt cheated. I thought it was dumb and sentimental in a way that left me cold. I had invested a lot of my mini-golf time in that book. For what? I’m not quite ready to give up on Real Madrid in the same way. The Sevilla game was fantastic. I just might have to adjust my expectations for It, the team.