Breaking The Lines: One Year On

I launched Breaking The Lines as a young, confused kid coming off his first semester of college. I came into first semester thinking I was ready for the real world; it turns out I wasn’t even ready for secondary school. I dreaded every single option around me, from the mountain of student loan debt I’d have to pay soon, to the litany of internships and monotonous desk jobs that would come later, to the lifeless purgatory of a job I hate. I didn’t know what I wanted, or who I was, I just had a special, intense passion for the game of football. A little while after a tumultuous first semester, some Dutch guy on Twitter named Thomas asked to me to DM him. It went a little like this: “Hey dude, I love your lists, and I think we should make a website out of them.”

I had no idea what good repackaging my lists of “Best Footballers, Best Prospects, Best Breakout Stars” in a website would do, but I have always had a fervid desire to categorize things in lists: perhaps it’s OCD, perhaps it’s vehement anti-Taoist dogma, perhaps it’s just the need to simplify things in a hierarchical manner. I didn’t think it was a great idea, I didn’t think it would get much attention, I mostly viewed it as an inconvenient impediment to my winter break.

Besides, I didn’t have much to offer. Thomas and I aren’t Guardiola and Cruyff, we aren’t tactical experts, or football historians, or well-connected scouts. This was nothing more than a shot in the dark from two hungry, devoted college kids. The only cards I had on deck were a deep-seated love of football and American grit. Nothing more.

Still, I had a faint dream of getting a career in football. It was more like an insurmountable mountain than a sunny dog hill, but it was biggest dream. I decided to go through with it, as this might be my best chance of accomplishing the dream.

To my credit, I came up with a pretty amazing name with little time. Thomas came up with an incredible logo with practically zero time. I justified the name on my first tweets on the original Twitter account:

Whenever you watch football, whether it be at the professional or youth level, there always seems to be a massive focus on Breaking The Lines.

Whether you are a midfielder, a defender, or even a goalkeeper, you are expected to Break The Lines of defence, or a striker’s press.

Even with his passing, Johan Cruyff’s principles have stayed alive, and even grown in importance, especially in the last five years.

When you scout a promising youngster, you note “Sure, he’s physical and quick, but can he switch play, play any pass, and Break The Lines?”

As physicality and athleticism are mostly even across the board, technique and tactical nous are more important than ever in development. Can a centre back keep composure while being chased by two quicksilver center forwards?

Can he do enough on the ball against a deep block, with time on the ball? Can he vary his pass selection, and most importantly, is he capable of Breaking The Lines?

It started quicker than expected, much quicker. We gained 5k followers by the end of February, enchanting our followers with sublime Samir Nasri compilations hooked up to hip-hop instrumentals. We got our fair share of criticism, with people saying we exaggerate and overhype players, that we were just a flash in the pan, and that we were falsely analyzing players with lofty, foreign adjectives. Still, things were going smoothly, I was getting positive feedback, and in general, we were building a brand. I just wasn’t sure what that brand was yet.

Around the same time of my birthday, I tweeted something like, “…..Granit Xhaka is a stabilizing regista.” I got criticized mercilessly for my “haughty, foreign language,” but in reality, Twitter had not implemented the 280-character limit yet, and I was simply trying to cut down the character count. I’d have preferred to go with “Granit Xhaka is a stabilizing defensive midfielder,” but that would have gone over the limit. There are several types of defensive midfielders, some that destroy, some that dribble out, and some that stabilize the rhythm of the game. Nonetheless, it seemed the entirety of Twitter was against me just for using a foreign definition. But I didn’t give up, and to this day, some of the very same people who bashed and mocked me for using ‘regista’ are the same people that retweet our posts today.

A few days later, my friend showed me this tweet from a Brazilian guy named Mairon Rodrigues. “Queremos ser o Breaking The Lines do Brasil.” Mairon, and a few other friends like Gabriel Corrêa, Eduardo Dias, Vinicius Fernandes and many more, had started “@FootureFC,” a project with a website and a burgeoning Twitter account like us. They started out with criticism, as they wanted to change the landscape of football analysis in Brazil, a country that prides itself in its incredible technical players, yet fails to cultivate meaningful, tactical discussions. When your reputation grows and improves so much that some guys from Brazil want to base their entire project off you, that’s an indescribable feeling. They finished the year with 30,000 website views, and 60,000 listens on an incredibly popular podcast called “The Pitch Invaders.” Like us, they didn’t get an invitation to enter, they just invaded and took over.

Throughout the year, I got more and more messages and tweets from people in different places and different languages that they love Breaking The Lines, or that Breaking The Lines inspires them, or that I inspire them. That’s the best feeling there is.

We launched Breaking The Lines on December 29, 2016. We’ve had our ups and downs. There were some moments that I wouldn’t classify as ‘near-death’ but “Ah man, it’s been a good run but that’s it for the site.” There have been moments where, I couldn’t see how we could recover, and yet, we did. We’ve got a few partnerships, a few interviews, a few lists, and a ton of other fantastic projects coming up in 2018, and we could not have done it without our fans. I remember staying up at 3 a.m., making a Messi compilation vs. Sevilla, on my birthday. That really explains it all. It’s painstaking work, but it’s worth it.

Early on, in the infant stages of the project, my father told me that it’s not the followers that’s most impressive, but the reputation of the site. A few months later, and I’m starting to see his point. We created Breaking The Lines as a project to link people of different backgrounds, continents and ages, who shared nothing more than a burning passion for football. We succeeded.

Sometimes, there’s an open door, a window of opportunity that allows you to break on through. Sometimes, there’s gonna be a brick wall separating you from your dreams. Sometimes, you’ve just got to grab a jack hammer, and break the wall down.

By: Zach Lowy