Speaking with musicians about sports has been loads of fun, but for those who know me and know my obsession with fútbol, also know that for a long time now, local legend Ian Hammond and I have maintained a rolling conversation about the sport. Aside from being part of some of South Florida's better rocking outfits like R.A.F. and the D.T. Martyrs, Hammond's also been known to rock the leads on stage with Charlie Pickett.
More than respecting him as a musician with incredible reach and pedigree, I've routinely enjoyed ribbing him about his love for one of Greece's most successful clubs, Olympiakos F.C. I had a chance to speak with Ian about Olympiakos and Greece's showing in this past World Cup without ever mentioning to him that the only club worth following in the Greek Super League is Asteras Tripolis.
Lord knows I'll get an angry call for that barb. Keep an eye out for his upcoming album Proud Flesh.
Ian Hammond & the Riot Dogs
New Times: I guess we should first establish how you became a fan of the sport.
Ian Hammond: Like most kids in South Florida I played in a youth league, in my case Coral Springs, which during the late '70s was probably one of the larger, more prominent programs. I was a goalkeeper and also became a FIFA-certified youth referee. At the time there was really no American "soccer" on television. I normally don't use the "S" word by the way. I pretty much grew up watching Mexican fútbol on the Spanish stations, which explains my El Tri obsession.
You are an ardent supporter of Greece's most successful side, Olympiacos F.C. and as such you live the highs and suffer the lows. What is your take on this past season of the Greek Super League and how they managed their 41st championship?
It's funny, my connection to Olympiakos is far more tenuous than that of Mexican football. When I was in Greece, 2002 and most of 2003, part of the time I lived with a woman who had a son. At the time, he was eight years old, and a huge football fan. So I asked who his favorite player was, "Predrag Đorđević," and who does he play for? "Olympiakos." So I signed on as a supporter of O Thrylos the legend.
Olympiakos is a gargantuan fish in a small sea. Greek football has been in a bit of turmoil these past few years due in most part to the economic situation in the country. One need look no further than the gutting of A.E.K. (Athlitiki Enosis Konstantinoupoleos) and their eventual relegation as an example. To a degree, Olympiakos has suffered the least economic impact and in that regard the squad has been able to come first for the club.
How do you feel about coach Míchel's job this past season? As the fifth peg of a famous Spanish side does he get scrutinized harder in your eyes?
There's no doubt that's true. A lot was expected, and in my eyes he's delivered for the most part. Certainly an improvement over Ernesto Valverde, who had me pulling hairs during his tenure! The club's performance on away fixtures during the Champions League or Europa Cup are problematic. They can dominate at Karaiskakis, but a lot of work is in order for more consistent results during those away matches.
Is Olympiacos' superiority partly responsible for a stacked showing in the national team's roster?
Absolutely, and it speaks much to the work of Míchel. Torosidis of Roma spent six years at Olympiakos before transferring. Go beyond Greece for further evidence, Kevin Mirallas with Belgium, Joel Campbell of Costa Rica. Historically the reach of the club is quite wide. Going back further years you find Yaya Touré, Nery Castillo, and many others who spent time at Olympiakos.
How do you feel about Greece's showing in the World Cup? Do you feel like Kostas Mitroglou was misused by management in favor of Theofanis Gekas?
Easily the most vexing football happening for me this year was the transfer of Mitroglou to Fulham. From top scorer in the Greek Super League to a basement-level Premier League team soon to be relegated. I wished I was more fluent in Greek when that deal came down as I really couldn't sort the whys and wherefores on that move.
An injury and a lot of bench time in the lead-up to the World Cup makes the decision to favor Gekas over Mitroglou understandable. Then the injury during the Japan match spelled out for me the fact that he wasn't going to deliver much during the balance of tournament. I was greatly disappointed. However, it's my understanding that a summer transfer is in the cards for him; so once again, it'll be interesting to see where he ends up playing.
Will Gekas ever live down his failed PK against Costa Rica? The Greeks were the only ones to give the Central American side any trouble until that point.
That was a tough loss. The Greeks run hot and cold so until he manifests some act of contrition they'll blame the missed opportunity on the fact that he's played the last two years in Turkey...
I really enjoyed the style of play of Borussia Dortmund's Sokratis Papastathopoulos (and what a fun name to say), what do you think of him and who stood out in the roster for you?
No kidding, and it's a laugh to hear what play by play commentators can do to his name! I've really only followed him through the Ethniki squad, owing to the fact that he came out of Athens A.E.K. He's a physical presence, and quite fast. For me one of the few standouts would be Andreas Samaris, who scored during the Cote d'Ivoire match. But of course I'd say that as he's Olympiakos!
Why do you think Celtic FC did not renew Georgios Samaras' contract? He was one of the funner guys to see on their pitch. Do you think it's because of their large amount of active forwards in the squad who average six years of age less?
No doubt, he's about to turn 30. While he's very entertaining on the pitch, he does have a tendency to dribble himself into a hole in the ground. He's had good phases and bad, both on the club level, and with Ethniki. It'll be interesting to see where he lands.
What has been your overall impression of this World Cup?
A lot of great football this time around, but as usual I had some maddening moments. Some of the referee's decisions at the moment had me wringing my hands. But that's part of the game. A decision falls against you one minute and the next a dodgy call helps your team out.
On the whole I was quite happy with the showing made by El Tri, if you count out the Colombia match. I'd been watching Miguel Herrera since he went back to Atlante in 2010, and was thrilled when he took over Club America. One of my favorite clubs since first seeing Ochoa debut with them, I follow goalkeepers more than anything. The tenure of De La Torre drove me crazy, and I couldn't wait for him to be sacked. I hope Mexico keeps Herrera on for the 2018 Cup.
As for the Ethniki, all I can say is "the Pirate Ship" foundered once again. Some great players, some great matches won, and frankly I can't fault Santos. His contract is up now, and much like Herrera and Mexico, I keep thinking Míchel and Greece.
A couple of questions for you, Abel. Please explain your obsession with FC Nantes and are we actually going to go see a Strikers match?
What can I say Ian, I was a fan of coach Michel Der Zakarian during his playing years there, even more so than when he spent the second half of his career at Montpellier. You follow keepers and I follow defenders, that's what I played in my youth and continue to do so these days. The NASL season is back on, let's do this!
Cool, in the meantime don't forget the great work being done by the One World Fútbol Project, make sure you mention that.