When footballers play Icarus

pic from Flickr user 'clappstar'

pic from Flickr user 'clappstar'

“Men of genius are the worst possible role models for men of talent”
Murray Edwards

There are three things in football which should only be the preserve of the greats. When players untouched by genius partake in one or more acts of this holy trinity, they are condemned to be justly and ruthlessly exposed. It is my hope that this post serves as a warning to any foolhardy, lesser-talented footballer who is close to acting upon his burgeoning delusions of grandeur. Remember the cautionary tale of Icarus: unless your wings have the brilliance to stand the heat, you will never reach the sun.

pic from Flickr user 'rc!'

pic from Flickr user 'rc!'

The first offence is to wear flashy, colourful football boots – such as the eyesores above – instead of solid and reliable black ones. An inept player will wear gaudy boots because he craves glory and attention, and sees dazzling footwear as a quick means to these ends. He will be granted his vain wish, as the sparkle of the boots will draw the eyes and expectations of the crowd, but it is inevitable that he will also suffer his downfall. When an average player sporting outlandish footwear receives the ball, it is only ever a matter of time before an industrious black boot hoofs it out of his possession and leaves him in a crumpled heap of his own foolish pride.

By and large if you are good enough you can wear what you want, but a brief case study of Zinedine Zidane, one of the true legends of the game, will prove that no-one is immune to the humbling power of colourful boots. His finest moment on the pitch came in May 2002. His team Real Madrid, eight times winners of the European Cup, had made the final once again and were pitted against Bayer Leverkusen. Raul had opened the scoring for Madrid inside ten minutes of the first half, only for Leverkusen defender Lucio to equalise soon after.

At the stroke of half time came Zidane’s moment. Santiago Solari chipped an inviting pass down the left flank to put Roberto Carlos in behind the full back. The diminutive Brazilian hooked a hopeful ball over his shoulder to the edge of the penalty area, where Zidane was lurking in space. As a Leverkusen defender closed him down from the front and a midfielder charged towards him from the rear, Zidane stood motionless and ready. The ball dropped to him and, after a balletic swivel and a sweet connection, was dispatched into the top corner of the Leverkusen goal with a sumptuous arching volley. History will forever say that the black boot on the left foot of Zinedine Zidane won Real Madrid the European Cup in 2002.

Fast forward to July 2006. Zidane had gone from the biggest stage in club football to the biggest stage in world football, as he captained France against Italy in the World Cup Final. This time, he was wearing garish golden boots. Lady luck had smiled on him in the opening stages of the game. A controversial seventh minute penalty was nonchalantly dinked down the middle of the goal by Zidane, and after hitting the underside of the crossbar, the ball bounced just over the line to give France the lead. Italy equalised twelve minutes later, and for the rest of normal time the match remained locked at 1-1.

Zidane was denied the chance to be the hero again, as Buffon in the Italian goal tipped his header over the bar in the first half of added time. It was in the second half of extra time when Zinedine fell to his footballing nadir. Sparked by a comment from notorious aggravator Marco Materazzi, Zidane was angered and span round to confront the Italian. In a now legendary moment of visceral footballing drama, Zidane landed his hairless dome on the chest of Materazzi and duly received his marching orders. The match eventually went to penalties, and the Italians were victorious. History will forever deny the golden boots of Zinedine Zidane the chance to have won the World Cup for France in 2006. Coincidence? I think not.

The second mistake is to enter the field of play with excessively long hair. This is not only an affront to decency, but more crucially, to aerodynamics. The mind of the footballer should be on the job of helping his team win each game at all times, and it is obvious when a player enters the heat of battle with the fatal flaw of being primarily concerned with how he looks. Knowing that the cameras are on him, he becomes wary of heading the ball, instead seeking to preserve the shape and shine of his tresses, both essential factors in securing his next lucrative modelling contract. This is just not football, and it will eventually be exposed. For these men, it is not hair but hubris which grows on top of their heads.

Think back to World Cup 2006, when England were labouring against Trinidad and Tobago. What gave them the breakthrough? The Rapunzel-like locks of defender Brett Sancho, to which Peter Crouch illegally clung to gain the necessary leverage and leap to score England’s opener. Consider also some of the biggest flops to have disgraced the Premier League in recent years. Toothless Blackburn ‘striker’ Corrado Grabbi. Long hair. Villa misfit Bosko Balaban. Long hair. Newcastle letdown Hugo Viana. Long hair. Man United’s Massimo ‘played four, conceded 11’ Taibi. Fairly long hair, was certainly growing it. Nottingham Forest’s Andrea Silenzi, who eventually lost his place in the team to the even more outrageously coiffeured Jason Lee. Case closed.

Again there are exceptions. The perm was king on Merseyside in the 1970s, when Liverpool were at the top of their game. Each member of the 1973-1974 season squad is committing some form of follicular crime in this picture, but their appalling barnets are vindicated by the two pieces of silverware gleaming in front of them. Phil Thompson, third from right on the second row, must get a special mention for somehow being able to fashion a helmet out of his own hair. No wonder he was such a good defender.

Perhaps the hairiest of them all was Columbian midfield maestro Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama, pictured above, whose head was crowned by a shimmering golden chandelier of hair. He only left the centre circle or broke into a trot when he was gearing up to deliver a killer pass, and rarely disturbed the blonde Eden at his summit by attempting to head a football. His rare talent was such that his feet were capable of performing an abundance of little miracles in most games he played, yet I cannot help but imagine the extra dimensions to his play which could have been possible without his golden shackles.

pic from Flickr user 'Brian Auer'

pic from Flickr user 'Brian Auer'

The final act is the heinous crime of speaking in the third person. For the real heroes of the game, the biblical gravity of this form of speech only serves to reinforce their genius. Diego Maradona is one such example. As Martin Amis points out here, many statements in Maradona’s autobiography are written in the third person, and rightly so:

“Maradona routinely refers to himself in the third person, not just as Maradona (“We made him bigger than Maradona”, “That’s the most important thing Maradona can have”, and, amusingly, “The drug trade is far too big for Maradona to stop it”), but also as El Diego: “Because I am El Diego. I too call myself that: El Diego”; “Let’s see if we can get this point across once and for all: I am El Diego”; “I am the same as always. I’m me, Maradona. I am El Diego.””

The best player ever can get away with it, but I would advise all other players to let their football do the talking. If a footballer must be interviewed, it is important he does not let his ego take over and begin to speak about himself from some remote astral plane. This happened to Robbie Keane on Saturday evening, after his Liverpool side defeated West Brom. Talking after scoring his first two league goals for his new club, Keane said: “It’s been a while coming, but I knew it was only a matter of time. I’ve not got too down about it and hopefully you will now see Robbie Keane back at his best.”

After just two goals league goals, Keane has seen fit to shatter rule number three. To make matters worse, he netted his brace while wearing white boots, as this photo on the Guardian website shows. What is next for him? It looks like he is on a slippery slope, and will soon be scouring the Anfield changing rooms to see if Patrick Berger left any of his old alice bands lying about. The only way he, and indeed any player who falls foul of the three rules, can excuse his behaviour is to maintain his form and become one of the greats. Over to you Robbie.

~ by seanbradbury on November 10, 2008.

3 Responses to “When footballers play Icarus”

  1. “Taibi. Fairly long hair, was certainly growing it.” – Class
    “After just two goals league goals” – read it through before pressing submit bellboy.

    You also neglected to mention Gabrielle Batistuta’s Samsonesque decline after being forced to have his hair cut by the Argentina coach.

    Overall 7.5/10 A good start but could (and should) do better.

  2. Cheers, error noted and corrected. Hope you are saving up for the grand you will soon owe me

  3. Just to let you know that Valderrama is the Gary Lineker of South America at least when it comes to potato based snacks. When in Colombia I bought a packet of ready salted, when in rome, only to find his cheeky little face looking up at me. For everything else there is Mastercard lad.

    Next trip you are coming as team writer

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