The 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament kicked off yesterday in Qatar. In excellent news for my haters, I once again failed to qualify for the US men’s national team, which plays its first game of the tournament today against Wales. Too bad, because my making the team would have been an underdog story for the ages.
The Beautiful Game, AKA soccer is the world’s favorite game. Its biggest stars carry millions of peoples’ hopes on their shoulders—and millions of dollars of natural diamond jewelry on their necks, wrists and fingers. When I first started at the ripe old age of five, I remember feeling like a knight riding into battle, risking bloody knees and bruised shins all for the glory of carrying home that little plastic championship trophy. I didn’t advance too far (more details to follow) but I can imagine as one progresses, the little plastic trophy doesn’t quite have the same effect. And boy, you should see some of the hardware these guys adorn themselves with.
In the third grade, my friend John and I would co-goalkeep during recess soccer while munching on snacks we had smuggled out of the lunch room. We’d jibe back and forth before descending into useless panic if Mikey was on the other team that day and came zooming toward us. Mikey, you see, knew how to do a rainbow kick where you run over the ball and somehow flick it up onto your heel and pass it to yourself over your head. He could also do a bicycle kick, which is when you leap up into the sky and do half a backflip while booting the ball out of midair. We were ten years old for God’s sake! I just wanted to eat my fruit snacks.
A couple of years later, I auditioned for the travel soccer team, because that’s just what you did in those days. I had recently started wearing glasses and during the tryout when the ball flew toward me, I had the bright idea to do what real soccer players do: Look at me coach, I’m gonna show you a header! What actually happened: I mistimed my jump and the ball hit me squarely in the face. I crumpled to the ground in shock, glasses askew and my nose bleeding from both bridge and nostril. Needless to say, I did not make the team.
A couple of years later still, I was working at a local seafood restaurant (shoutout to the Bridgwaye in Humarock, MA) where nearly all of the kitchen staff were Brazilian. They taught me some dirty words which I still know how to say, but not how to spell, and they also asked one night if I’d like to join them for their Sunday morning soccer game. Sounds fun, I’m in! Reader: I was a disaster. They were calling plays, they were wily dribblers, crisp passers and sharpshooters—even the guys well past their prime. I was not only outclassed in every facet of the game, but was a liability for my team. But yeah, that was fun.
I tell you this because I believe my childhood soccer escapades are emblematic of the general American attitude toward what the rest of the world calls football. I gravitated toward baseball and American football. The kid who was good at it seemed to me to have been born with that ability; I was not. The guys from other countries embarrassed me in The Beautiful Game. And rather than participate, I was content to stand idly by with my buddy John cracking jokes, eating chicken nuggets and being ill prepared to participate.
Since those heady days I have become an international man. I happened to be honeymooning in Rome when Team Italy was blazing through the Euro Cup. My wife and I were eating at a restaurant in the middle of a square surrounded by residences when Italy faced Belgium in the quarterfinal match. The lights in every window flashed in sync, the televisions tuned to the same channel, the oohs and ahhs, curses and cheers ringing out from all around us as the game raged on. And for those ninety minutes, I was a hot-blooded fan of équipe Italia.
I have enthusiastically watched the last two World Cup tournaments, and shortly afterward my interest in soccer dropped off to near zero. I don’t have a deep enough understanding of the game to enjoy its nuances in a vacuum—I need the jingoistic hysteria to truly draw me in. But I don’t know—you watch enough of it and start to wonder. That Italian town square was vibrating far more intensely than any Super Bowl party I’ve ever been to. A sixty-minute game of American football lasts an average of three and a half hours, with the ball being in play for only eleven minutes total. Nationwide, the parts of the Big Game that get talked about the most are the commercials and the halftime show. A soccer game is composed of two forty-five minute halves that tick by uninterrupted, followed by a couple of extra minutes and possibly an extra period or two. It’s far more hypnotic, if you can just put your phone down and key in on it. And while I may not understand all the nuances, I do know what I learned from playing with Mikey back in third grade: get the ball to the guy who’s best at putting it in the net. Maybe this time around I will break free from my all-American roots and fall more deeply in love with the global obsession.
If you don’t usually pay any attention to the soccer world, then you may not have any idea how shockingly famous these guys are, and just how much the various clubs–with their absurdly deep pockets–are willing to shell out to get the top stars on their team. So! Here are some of the game’s brightest stars to look out for in this World Cup, along with some of the shiny trappings they invest their earnings in:
Christian Pulisic is the best player the USA has produced in recent history. Team USA is an underdog for sure in this tournament, but if they make a run for the title, it will surely involve this man’s feet. Here he is rocking a CP pendant iced out in white and black diamonds:
Harry Kaneis the steady and extremely productive captain of England’s Three Lions. He isn’t too flashy, but he always gets the job done. You won’t often see him dressed up too flashily, but he did give his high school sweetheart Kate this big fat rock when he asked her to marry him back in 2017.
Side note: I’m 32 now. Nearly all of the players in the tournament are younger than I am. Kane is 29 and Pulisic is 24—but they seem older than me. Maybe it’s because I assume they can beat me up. Anyway:
Kylian Mbappé is the Parisian born superstar of team France. Four years ago, at the ripe age of 19, he became just the second player in history to score a goal in a World Cup final as a teenager. Despite inking a massive contract with Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe has managed to maintain the aura of a happy kid playing the game he loves.
He has begun his own classy watch collection, seemingly a rite of passage for pro soccer, but appears to be holding off on over-the-top purchases at least until he finds out if he will transfer clubs next year. Were such a thing to occur, it would cost the club who wants him $300 million. When he’s not rocking a silver bear pendant, Kylian wears a diamond studded KM dog tag.
Neymar Jr. you may know as the most overly dramatic flop artist the game has ever seen (for the uninitiated, a part of the game that many if not all fans wish could somehow be removed is players faking injuries to stall the game). But that aside, he’s also an insanely talented forward for team Brazil (where players are known by one name only).
Neymar is not afraid to roll around on the pitch, and he is not afraid to roll around in jewels.
Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi will be making what is most likely his final World Cup appearance this tournament, as he is an absolutely ancient 35 years of age! Lionel has an extensive watch collection, the crown jewel of which is pictured here: a white gold Rolex Submariner with blue baguette sapphires and baguette diamonds at the hour markers, and more diamonds on the lugs and crown guard. You don’t have to be the highest paid athlete in the world to afford one of these—just make sure you’ve got a cool $92,000 in petty cash.
Also making his final World Cup appearance is global icon and star of Portugal Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s amazing how far you can get when you’re an incredibly handsome, once-in-a-generation athletic talent.
I wonder what it feels like to wear over $750,000 worth of jewelry on your wrist and fingers, just out and about. Not something you borrowed— something you bought with your money, that you earned, because you’re better than everyone else at playing soccer. Is it burdensome? I think it must be. If Ronaldo lost his Rolex covered in 30 carats of diamonds and Mbappé lost his little silver bear pendant, who do you think would be more distraught? I honestly don’t know.
To each their own! I hope you all enjoy the matches. Go team!