THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

29 June ~ Sports reporters in the United States love nothing more than a human interest story. Europeans watching NBC's coverage of the Olympics for the first time find themselves caught between incredulous laughter and a gag reflex. Actual sporting events are often sidelined in favour of a heartbreaking feature on how any number of athletes struggled to overcome their grief at the untimely death of a relative (any relative will do, or a pet if necessary) to emerge as an Olympic qualifier against all odds. Football reporters may be sparse in the US, but those working for the mainstream media are instructed to follow a similarly tear-jerking line.

This season they found their perfect narrative arc in the comeback of on-loan DC United striker Charlie Davies. In October 2009, while in Washington DC for a US World Cup qualifier, Davies broke curfew, went out drinking, and ended up in a speeding car with two women in the small hours of the morning. The car crashed, but Davies and the drunken driver survived. The other passenger was killed. Davies woke up in hospital with several fractures, bleeding on the brain, a lacerated bladder, and no memory of the accident. But he defied talk that his very promising career was now over, and swiftly embarked on rehab.

He didn't recover in time for an unlikely spot in the US World Cup squad, but his French club Sochaux loaned him out to DC for the 2011 season, and so far he has scored eight goals. When he scored twice in the season's opener against Columbus, the journalists had their hook, and Davies was willing to supply the quotes. "Once that final whistle blew, and I looked at the fans, I lost it emotionally because their support meant so much to me," Davies said. "Throughout this whole process of me coming back as a player, they've stuck with me from the beginning to the end, till now."

This week, though, there was a blip in the comeback. Not quite as loud a blip as the time almost exactly a year after his accident when Davies was caught speeding in France at 125mph, again in the early hours of the morning. That time he was fined $1,040 (£650) and had his licence suspended. This week he received a slightly lower $1,000 fine, but it was from the MLS Disciplinary Committee, for diving. Late on in DC United's away game at Salt Lake the weekend before last, Davies went down in the penalty area under no contact at all, and converted the ensuing spot-kick to earn DC a point in a 1-1 draw.

So, "that's football", as Davies himself blandly pointed out, seemingly unconcerned that the defender who'd committed the foul, Chris Wingert, is an old friend who he used to room with at national team camp. Davies doesn't get sentimental about these things. He took a similar flop in the last minute of DC's home game with LA, where he also converted the penalty after what even DC United's normally bovine official website called "a highly dubious call". Final score: 1-1. MLS, though, is taking a different view. "This type of behaviour tarnishes the image of the League, is detrimental to the game and will not be tolerated," its statement said, promising suspensions for any further infractions.

Davies may think it's just being professional to win his team points by cheating, but the great comeback story is taking a disconcerting turn. His fans, his coaches and the US media have all granted him no end of good will in the course of that comeback, despite an evident immaturity when it comes to making bad decisions and repeating past mistakes. While it's clear that Davies has not yet regained the pace that used to see him breeze past defenders prior to the car accident, flopping to the floor instead will only get him so far, while losing him several friends.

It's not the kind of perfect human interest story the US public seemingly loves to hear, but then anyone interested in people knows they're not perfect. Real life is rarely a hokey Hollywood tale, where all setbacks are eventually overcome. In the case of Charlie Davies, though, you can't help but feel he hasn't learned a lot, and now seems intent on continuing to manufacture his own setbacks. For someone who looked two years ago like the greatest US striking prospect of his generation, that's less of a comeback, and more of an ongoing comedown. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (6)
Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-06-29 13:23:23

Stays out late - tut tut. Drinks liquor to excess - naughty boy. Goes with women - two at a time for pity's sakes. Drives like a total chuffing nutter - JEEZ, when will these kids learn eh? And to top it all... he's an habitual diver.

This fella should definitely be plying his trade over here. I'm surprised Arry hasn't put in a bid for him.

;-)

Comment by TomatoQueen 2011-06-29 13:42:12

"...Not quite as loud a blip as the time almost exactly a year after his accident when Davies was caught speeding in France at 125mph, again in the early hours of the morning. That time he was fined $1,040 (£650) and had his licence suspended. " Charlie wasn't the driver of the car in which he was severely injured, nor was he on curfew that night . You are equating the two situations when they are clearly not equal at all. If you want to make the argument that Charlie should never drive at night at high speed, then make that point, but do it with actual facts and don't be sloppy.

As for diving, well I never, WSC has an anti-diving campaign going, we should all join in and point our fingers at these bad boys, after all there's no diving in any other league, no youngsters with points to prove or parading pomaded self-involved showponies who make rather a specialty of the trick and are never called on it. Pot meet your friend kettle.

Comment by imp 2011-06-29 15:10:24

@TomatoQueen: Did I say he was driving the car? "His accident" refers to the accident he was in. And he did break the US team curfew - he was out at 3am the day before the US had a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. That he would drive a car in the small hours of the morning at 125mph one year after being involved in an accident where a passenger was killed and he was severely injured... yes, I think the two situations are worth equating.

I look forward to reading the manifesto of your pro-diving campaign. Ian

Comment by coyotl666 2011-06-30 00:19:25

spot on article in many ways. not only pointing out what's so annoying about sport coverage in this country i've adopted, but the charlie davies version has always bothered me more than most on several levels. no, he wasn't driving when his drinking companion was killed, but surely by sitting drunkenly in the motor while the drink impaired driver proceeded to severely injure him and kill another he shares some of the culpability. that his sporting promise and determination to continue, and so giving the usa team a potential star striker is put forth as a story of redemption even as he apparently continues with immature and risky behaviour - including himself driving what surely should be considered recklessly - doesn't strike me as any kind of heartwarming story nor exemplary behaviour to be praised.

as for the blatant and rather pathetic dive, not sure that there's that much of a connection between the two behaviours, but if it does manage to take some of the sheen off davies' inexplicable store of goodwill his comeback story built for him that can only be a plus. also, good on mls for retroactively fining him for quite probably thiefing a point. it's a start at least, i'd personally like to see more severe punishment, including possibly point deductions for such obvious behaviour.

cheers, mark

Comment by alexbe11 2011-07-01 11:20:58

I was 'lucky' enough to see him live in a recent MLS game (final result DC United 0 - NY Red Bulls 4) and he was really really average & wouldn't have looked out of place in League 2. He spent the entire match more offside than Pippo Inzaghi & on the couple of times where he got into space his touch was so heavy the ball squirted away and the chance was gone.

Even taking into account his serious injury, if he's the great hope of US Soccer then they're looking at a good few years in the wilderness.

Comment by FCKarl 2011-07-02 09:31:50

Ian, thanks for the article. Yes, you've well pegged the NBC (USA's National Broadcasting Company) and its ubiquitous grotesque Olympics coverage (alas, they're broadcasting London 2012, too). There is many a Yank who wishes just for the pictures from these sports extravaganzas and ZERO audio/commentary from puffed-up, locquacious TV personalities.

No, most don't like the "compelling" personal life stories either. They tend to be a bit too contrived.

And so it turns out for Charles Desmond "Charlie" Davies of the US state of New Hampshire and college days in Boston.

Note that he is now 25 years old. A bit too old for youthful excesses, yes? And already being passed up by younger, speedier opponents and teammates.

I think that it is also worth mentioning that his Swedish league stint for Hammarby IF ended on a truly ugly note as he elbowed an opponent and was given a 5 match league suspension.

What galls me about these athletes is the self-focus-all-the-time. Driving drunk whilst speeding in France after nearly dying while drunk in October 2009?...after Sochaux patiently waited for him?

These arrogant athletes always make it seem like they healed themselves. Doctors and medical staff worked very patiently (and at great expense) to restore Davies after his very critical condition in October 2009. Rehab? Oh yeah, he achieved that all on his own also.

No, the USA's sporting football hopes do not reside in Davies. Charlie is just the next in a long, long, long line of athletic talents (all around the globe) who haven't the mental capacity or goodness in their souls to be anything truly special.

The diving (cheating!), elbowing, and driving incidents listed above will not be the last. One would like to hope, but, no, his final chapters will not read well. Graced with health, size, speed, and opportunity, Charlie wastes what God has given him.

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