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The history of football is a sad voyage from beauty to duty.
Sunday, July 09, 2006

Zizou Zidane

Zinedine Zidane began life as a street footballer in La Castellane, the tough suburb of Marseille in which he grew up. He ended it last night as a street fighter in one of Europe's most historic stadiums and in front of a worldwide audience of millions.

And so a towering football career ended in humiliation as Zidane disappeared down the tunnel for the last time, sent off in the second half of extra time in a World Cup final for blatantly shoving his head into the chest of Marco Materazzi, with whom he had just had a bitter exchange of words. Footballers generally operate a law of omerta on such matters, so we may never be really sure what Materazzi said that provoked him into one of the acts of retaliatory violence that have studded his otherwise brilliant passage through the game. Whatever the cause, however, after 108 matches and 31 goals for France it was saddening to watch the great man leave the pitch, and football, in such an unsatisfactory manner.

In the Name of the Father

In the Name of the Son

That which is written is written: 'Mektoub!'
'When he came to France before the Algerian war, my father moved in just behind the stadium. In St Denis at that time there were just woodlands, hilly plots and ruined houses. That was where my father lived. My mother showed me a photo of him from those days...an old yellowed black and white photo. My father was young back then.'

In the Name of the Father

As it was, as it still is, as it will always be: the seething black suburb encircling the red belt, and everything that came before. The endless jumble of housing estates, already built on the water-sodden ground of a landscape filled with factorychimneys spreading their deleterious fumes far around them. In wintertime, the very snow falls from a sky bespeckled with soot. And the entire region is covered in a crust of piss and rust.

In the Name of the Son

You arrive, one behind the other, from the underground tunnel leading to the pitch. French on the right, Brazilians on the left. The two captains, Deschamps and Dunga, leading the way. Watching over you, around the ground, are blue and khaki silhouettes, helmets, clubs, uniforms, police, soldiers, and special forces. Further off are forgers, tricksters, counterfeit money dealers and football shirt-sellers clearing out their stock of blue. At the black market rate, a seat is 10,000 francs. In the stands, ministers, stars, officals, the president of the Republic and the prime minister.

In the Name of the Father

Mud, rain, dust, splatterings of tar, stunted, stubby trees brushing the ground. mean dwellings of recycled steel, chipboard, breezeblocks. Most foreigners who took root here finished by losing their roots. They worked hard to feed their families. And there, poor among the poor, they toiled at the everlasting vocation of their kind: survival.

In the Name of the Son

You arrive on the pitch to the thunderous acclaim of the spectators. The Brazilians raise their arms in salute. They sing their national anthem. Then France, the whole crowd sing as one. Eighty thousand throats at work. You! Lips scarcely moving. The president of the Republic and the prime minister...just as in 1789. Karembeu...mouth shut. The nation has waited years for the day of glory. But you, what are you thinking of at this moment? Of your boyhood room with the photo of Enzo Francescoli on the wall? Of that pair of Kopas you were given on your twelfth birthday? Of your earliest professional days at US St Henri?

In the Name of the Father

So it is today, within these slabs of buildings, many an immigrant arrives from the four corners of the world in search of a haven of hope. From street level rise the shrill yells and cries of their children as they play with a black-and-white ball. There is nothing that can save them from this encircling belt of towers that line the road. Further down still, the capital's ring road vomits traffic from both ends.

In the Name of the Son

The lines break up. Here you are, greeting the Brazilian players. You shake hands with each before lining up for the photo. Photos and cameras. The world is there. The whole world. With Djorkaeff's Armenia. Desailly's Ghana. Laurent Blanc's France. Thuram's Guadeloupe. Karembeu's New Caledonia. Zidane's Algeria...and all of you...'The blue-black-white-Arab cockerel'.

In the Name of the Father

Smail was born over there. Born hearing the echo of the soft singing of women, with their clear voices and long henna-stained fingers, cradling their delicate infants in their arms and languidly shooing away the tiny flies that danced and buzzed around their heads. He knows the parchment faces of the old Kabyle men, and the old women leaning against walls made of dry stones and adobe. He remembers their names.

In the Name of the Son

There's a decision to make, the referee tosses a coin then picks it off the ground. The two captains part with a handshake.

In the Name of the Father

Over there, he is everywhere. On the mountain, in every white stone, in every spiny bush, in every tuft of grass, even in the bed of the wadi, in the dusty-violet-coloured far-off hills, in the endless skies where the wind still whistles, carrying muffled snatches of the voice of the muezzin as he utters the call to prayer from the Djemaa. Algeria: in this land, he is everywhere.

In the Name of the Son

It is nine o'clock in the evening. To the sound of the shouted applause of the crowd, the kick-off of the World Cup final. You look up to the stands, then kiss your wedding wing. The ball rolls right, left, then away, forwards. The crowd in the stands, painted in blue, exhorts, trumpets, shouts. This way you have a turning back on yourself...gliding as if on roller skates...balletic passing...applause, shouts, quiet periods...runs, accelerations, dummies, dribbles, breaks...control...This way you have of killing, of enveloping the ball between your legs, dancing as you feint with your body...and the ball that passes from right leg to left.

In the Name of the Father

Yet his presence in St Denis is beyond doubt. There, among the foreigners wrenched from their soil, like a plant pulled from the ground but whose tiniest roots still hold fast. in every one of the men's movements, in every inflexion of their voices, in every feature of their bodies, a timid pardon was asked of the world for that small patch of land they were doome to inhabit. As the days flowed by, they dwindled, so small that they might disappear. From time to time they...disappeared...

In the Name of the Son

Twenty-seventh minute. Emmanuel Petit places the ball on the corner spot. He strikes. The ball takes flight. You jump. You send your header speeding to the post. The ball slides to the back of the net. France 1, Brazil 0. In the stands, on the terraces, everywhere the crowd yells this exclamation: 'Zizou! Zizou!' The diminutive makes a circuit of the stadium. Your comrades clasp you to them. You kiss Emmanuel Petit.

In the Name of the Father

That day, he suddenly remembered memories so far distant, so long past, that it was like a miasma within him. he saw it like a dream, as if it was not real as if somebody else had lived it. That day, 12 July 1998, he remembered something far-off, forgotten. His arrival in Seine St Denis.

In the Name of the Son

In the stands, fabrics of many colours are waving. French flags mix with the red star and cresent of Algeria. Shouts of joy are heard in every language, from every mouth, in every accent. Once upon a time in the twenty-seventh minute. Twice upon a time in the forty-fifth minute. Djorkaeff places the ball on the corner spot. And the story begins, the legend...Frnace 2, Brazil 0. In the second half, Emmanuel Petit is six metres from Taffarel. You are into stoppage time. One minute to play. he scores from a pass by Vieira. France 3, Brazil 0.

In the Name of the Father

Marseilles, the northern suburbs. That night, Smail sighed and closed his eyes. His head gently lolled on to his shoulder. His breathing forced a great sigh into his pillow. He was already asleep. Fragments of images, images without order or logic, passed through his head, images of things he'd seen in childhood. it appeared to him that the house was full of visitors shouting his name. The images scrolled and whirled through his head. Some pleased him and so he tried to grab hold of them, but they passed across his vision and faded away. These images struck him with the power and the clarity of dreams, and suddenly, before his eyes he saw the blurred silhouette of Yazid stooping towards him. Between his hands he held a trophy. Smail ceaselessly intoned the strange words that seemed imbued with magic: 'Mabrouk my son! Mabrouk!' Gold flooded from the ball, from the cup, as if it were the light of a sun.

In the Name of the Son

The grandstand. Didier Deschamps leads the way. He kisses Michel Platini and the president. They shake your hand. They present you with medals. The president of the Republic hands the cup to the captain. The trophy is passed from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth. Then you all return to the pitch. you sprint, you careen, you spin around like whirling dervishes. Champions of the world, you dance to the tune 'I Will Survive', now truly your theme song.

In the Name of the Father

In the Name of the Father,
In the Name of the Son,
And so be it.
the ties between father and son are sacred.

'Whatever happens, my father will be with me. What he has taught me is the way to God.'

In the Name of the Son

Pouring along the Champs Elysees. The crowds. Horns everywhere. Flags everywhere. On balconies, on cars, in people's hands, in trees, in bars. Your name lights up on the Arc de Triomphe. Millions are crying 'Zidane, president!' Everywhere are clutches of men, of women, of children, perched on phone boxes, car roofs, newspaper kiosks. Cheers ring out in all languages, from all mouths, from all ages, reaching to the very mountains of Kabyle. The sounds of ululating in the village while the shadows of night fall upon the trees of the Parc Clairefontaine.

*Zizou Zidane- The World's Best Player by Mounsi Mohand. First published in the anthology Le Foot- The Legends of French Football, edited by Christov Ruhn.

posted by Trilby at 3:25 pm
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Friday, July 07, 2006

Brothers in Arms

A ceux qui revent
A ceux que les reves d'enfants font avancer
A ceux, comme ces enfants Bleus qui les ont realises
Continuons a rever...

He is smiling. There he is, standing up amid a huge crowd. You can bet that he too would have liked to have worn his studs tonight. The entire country is as one, and Michel Platini, from high up in the VIP stand at the Stade de France, savours this victory from across the years. Time has passed but the hurt remains. Nagging, alive. 1982 and 1986, the two semi-finals in which French football brushed the heavens, and surely the very godhead of the round ball itself. On this 12 July, Les Bleus' victory is his victory as well. From up on high he signals to the players to take it all in, to make the most of the moment. With his long experience, he knows that some moments are more important than others. And tonight he is both a player and co-president of CFO (Comite Francais de la XVIe Coupe du Monde). He wears the blue shirt next to his heart, under his suit jacket. But there's room for others in his heart as well, especially for Fernand Sastre, his 'favourite co-president'. 'Merci Fernand' flashes the giant screen at the Stade de France, written and signed by Platini himself over a picture of the face of the man who started it all. It's now an hour since Mr Belqola whistled for full time, and sent Les Bleus straight to heaven. For all eternity.

Telling Le Pen where to get off

D-Day is set for 12 July 1998. Even though Les Bleus know that they have already achieved something special, they realise that beating current world champions Brazil will be no easy task. Ever since their victory over Italy, and especially since they overcame Croatia, the whole of France, man and woman alike, from worker to politician, is solidly behind Jacquet's men. The female supporters astonish everyone with the passion and devotion they demonstrate for the French team, as well as injecting fresh blood into the traditional cast of supporters. There is nothing more wonderful than to hear 'La Marseillaise' sung by thousands of women in a stadium.

People have gone crazy about this dream final. The players' wish to see the stadium filled with colour rather than suits has been fulfilled. The McDonald's fast-food chain, one of the sponsors, has offered $1 million to the scorer of a hat-trick in the match. And nobody could have foreseen the tremendous surge in popularity enjoyed by the president and the prime minister. What has become known as the 'World Cup effect' proves that nothing is more serious than sport. Television audiences took off during the semi-final stage, and slightly over 2 billion viewers are expected to watch the final itself. The whole country has gone completely mad over football.

But all this is secondary to the game itself. Jacquet's men prepared for the final in the same way as for the other matches. Although up untl then there had been no hint of gamesmanship between Jacquet and his Brazilian counterpart, Mario Zagallo, one hour before the match was due to kick off, Laurent Blanc reported to his trainer that the Brazilian teamsheet listed Ronaldo as a mere substitute. It was true that the Brazilian star had scarcely trained since their semi-final against the Netherlands, but it seemed incredible that Brazil would go as far as depriving themselves of the presence in the starting line-up of one of the best players in the world.

Jacquet didn't really believe what he'd been told, but nonetheless planned some changes. Four floors below, Ronaldo's girlfriend, Susana Werner, was weeping in the organisers' office, desperately awaiting news of her partner, who had been taken to hospital several hours earlier after suffering convulsions. Ronaldo eventually reappeared at 8 pm, just an hour before kick-off. The Brazilian teamsheet returned to its original form: Aime Jacquet had been wise to wait.

As Mr Belqola blew his whistle to signal the start of the game, the models who had just appeared in the Yves Saint Laurent fashion show were still changing in their dressing room. In even more of a hurry than the rest was the future Mme Karembeu, Adriana Zverenikova.

Very soon after the match began, Aime Jacquet's Bleus found the weakness in Zagallo's system: poor marking from place licks. Didier Deschamps and his team heeded their coach's advice; all that was left for them to do was to fire the machine called Zidane into orbit.

The kid from Castelle was the undisputed hero of the final. He scored twice, with two searing headers from corners, giving Les Bleus a comfortable lead as the teams left the pitch at half-time. The other unforgettable image is of Fabian Barthez soaring above an out-of-sorts Ronaldo, who was nevertheless only two fingers short of stopping French celebrations dead in their tracks. Emmanuel Petit rounded off the scoring in this sixteenth World Cup final. The national team had achieved one of the greatest victories in the annals of French sport.

France went mad. In Marseilles, Lens, Toulouse, and Bordeaux the landmark town squares were invaded. The historic moment was celebrated across the land, in town and countryside alike. Rouget de Lisle had not been thinking of the World Cup when he described the feeling in the French national anthem, but this too was truly a time when 'le jour de gloire est arrive'. In Les Bleus' changing room the joy was unrestrained. Chirac and and Jospin couldn't keep away, and the champagne flowed non-stop. The Champs Elysees was overrun by a jubilant crowd chanting 'Zidane President,' and the same message was taken up on the electronic display as the Arc de Triomphe.

Even compared to the jubilation that followed Les Bleus' victory over Croatia, this was celebration on a colossal scale. And what a kick in the face for all those facists, in their various guises, to see black, white and Arab marching hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder. From the Kanak to the Armenian, the Spaniard and the Ghanaian, this French team represented the victory of an entire multicultural generation, a generation others had been too ready to characterise as ruined or lost. The world's most beautiful streets hadn't seen such crowds since the Liberation. And indeed french football had put an end to the lean years of disappointment and was free again.

The team coach took almost three hours to reach Clairefontaine, where a dinner was laid on for the players and their partners. The night was still young and France was embarking on a well-deserved binge. And Platini was smiling.

posted by Trilby at 4:53 pm
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Esse Est Percipi

As an old roamer of the neighbourhood of Nunez and thereabouts, I could not help noticing that the monumental River Plate Stadium no longer stood in its customary place. In consternation, i spoke about this to my friend Dr Gervasio Montenegro, the full-fledged member of the Argentine Academy of Letters, and in him I found the motor that put me on the track. At the time, his pen was compiling a sort of Historical Survey of Argentine Journalism, a truly noteworthy work at which his secretary was quite busy, and the routine research had accidentally led Montenegro to sniff out the crux of the matter. Shortly before nodding off, he sent me to a mutual friend, Tulio Savastano, president of the Abasto Juniors Soccer Club, to whoe headquarters, situated in the Adamant Building on Corrientes Avenue near Pasteur Street, I hied.

This high-ranking executive still managed to keep fit and active despite the regimen of double dieting prescribed by his physician and neighbour, Dr Narbondo. A bit inflated by the latest victory of his team over the Canary Island All-Stars, Savastano expatiated at length between one mate and another, and he confided to me substantial details with reference to the question on the carpet. In spite of the fact that I kept reminding Savastano that we had, in yesteryear, been boyhood chums from around Aguero and the corner of Humahuaco, the grandeur of his office awed me and, trying to break the ice, I congratulated him on the negotiation of the game's final goal, which, notwithstanding Zarlenga and Parodi's pressing attack, centre-half Renovales booted in thanks to the historic pass of Musante's.

In acknowledgement of my support of the Abasto eleven, the great man gave his mate a posthumous slurp and said philosophically, like someone dreaming aloud, 'And to think it was me who invented those names.'

'Aliases?' I asked, mournful. 'Musante's name isn't Musante? Renovales isn't Renovales? Limardo isn't the real name of the idol aclaimed by the fans?'

Savastano's answer made my limbs go limp. 'What? You still believe in fans and idols?' he said. 'Where have you been living, don Domecq?'

At that moment, a uniformed office boy came in, looking like a fireman, and he whispered to Savastano that Ron Ferrabas wished a word with him.

'Ron Ferrabas, the mellow-voiced sportscaster?' I exclaimed. 'The sparkplug of Profumo Soap's after-dinner hour? Will these eyes of mine see him in person? Is it true that his name is Ferrabas?'

'Let him wait,' ordered Mr Sevastano.

'Let him wait? Wouldn't it be better if I sacrificed myself and left?' I pleaded with heartfelt abnegation.

'Don't you dare,' answered Sevastano. 'Arturo, tell Ferrabas to come in.'

What an entrance Ferrabas made- so natural! I was going to offer him my armchair, but Arturo, the fireman, dissuaded me with one of those little glances that are like a mass of polar air.

The voice of the president began deliberating. 'Ferrabas, I've spoken to De Filippo and Camargo. In the next match Abasto is beaten by two to one. It's a tough game but bear in mind- don't fall back on that pass from musante to Renovales. The fans know it by heart. I want imagination- imagination, understand? You may leave now.'

I screwed up my courage to venture a question. 'Am I to deduce that the score has been prearranged?'

Savastano literally tumbled me to the dust. 'There's no score, no teams, no matches,' he said. 'The stadiums have long since been condemned and are falling to pieces. Nowadays everything is staged on the television and radio. The bogus excitement of the sportscaster- hasn't it ever made you suspect that everything is humbug? The last time a soccer match was played in Buenos Aires was on 24 June 1937. From that exact moment, soccer, along with the whole gamut of sports, belongs to the genre of the drama, performed by a single man in a booth or by actors in jerseys before the TV cameras.'

'Sir, who invented the thing?' I made bold to ask.

'Nobody knows. You may as well ask who first thought of the inauguration of schools or the showy visits of crowned heads. These things don't exist outside the recording studios and newspaper offices. Rest assured, Domecq, mass publicity is the trademark of modern times.'

'And what about the conquest of space?' I groaned.

'It's not a local programme, it's a Yankee-Soviet co-production. A praiseworthy advance, let's not deny it, of the spectacle of science.'

'Mr President, you're scaring me,' I mumbled, without regard to hierarchy. 'Do you mean to tell me that out there in the world nothing is happening?'

'Very little,' he answered with his English phlegm. 'What I don't understand is your fear. Mankind is at home, sitting back with ease, attentive to the screen or the sportscaster, if not the yellow press. What more do you want, Domecq? it's the great march of time, the rising tide of progress.'

'And if the bubble bursts?' I barely managed to utter.

'It won't,' he said, reassuringly.

'Just in case, I'll be silent as the tomb,' I promised. 'I swear it by my personal loyalty- to the team, to you, to Limardo, to Renovales.'

'Say whatever you like, nobody would believe you.'

The telephone rang. The president picked up the receiver and, finding his other hand free, he waved it, indicating the door.

posted by Trilby at 9:41 am
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Once Upon a Time...

Sir Football was a renowned Englishman who travelled abroad in order to colonise natives and force them into field labour. He landed in Brazil where to his delight he found indigenous people, bananas and voodoos.

"This is going to be a piece of cake,' he thought through his top-hat.

And he didn't waste any time. With his fierce hooligan soldiers he initiated his evil doings by challenging a local tribe that was observing their antics with suspicion and mockery. 'Pretty nice Jesuits, don't play too bad, call the chief to have a look.'

The noble Englishman gesticulated, shouted, commanded, while also trying to hide tactical aspects of the game. Chief Pele enters the field. He takes hold of the ball, smells it, shakes the foreign 'coconut' and starts showing exotic tricks (later to be known as 'embaixadas') which the Englishmen imagined to be some sort of homage paid by the chief to show submission. In reality, it was a sign for the natives to assume their poitions on the pitch for an all-out attack. Sir Football and his hooligans came close, I mean really close, to being transformed into bowling pins, which would have consequently changed the name of the game forever.

Chief Pele and his tribe didn't give the Englishmen a chance to get near, let alone touch the ball (this is the origin of the current Brazilian expression 'for English eyes only').

But finally managed to have a penalty called in their favour, the score already being more than 1,000 goals to 0 for the natives. The situation was chaotic, when suddenly Sir Football had the brilliant idea to offer a bet. 'Your kingdom for a goal!!!'

Chief Pele accepted, and to everyone's astonishment, went to lie down in his hammock for a nap. Sir Football himself got into position to take the penalty, made ready, smirked a malicious smile, and kicked...kicked hard...kicked with class...and hit the post! It was a nice post made up of two charming banana trees that, with the ball's impact, dropped a bunch of bananas into the goal, adding the final touch to the Englishmen's humiliation.

Contrary to legend, Sir Football didn't end up the main course at the natives' victory banquet. He did, though, humbly substitute his top-hat (as now a symbol of power) for a coloured gourd, and departed with a few remaining odds and ends, for England. It is said that he changed his name to 'Futebol' to be able to enter his Kingdom unnoticed.

As for hooligans, they never managed to play again and so formed a guerrilla brotherhood known to operate undercover among English football fans.

Pele is well known today all over the world as the biggest 'Top-Hat' hunter around. His collection is visited daily by people from all over the world who are interested in the art of scoring more than 1,000 goals per game.

posted by Trilby at 9:40 am
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The history of football is a sad voyage from beauty to duty. When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms from the joy of play got torn out by its very roots. In this fin de siecle world, professional football condemns all that is useless, and useless means not profitable. Nobody earns a thing from that crazy feeling that for a moment turns a man into a child playing with a balloon, like a cat with a ball of yarn; a ballet dancer who romps with a ball as light as a balloon or a ball of yarn, playing without even knowing he is playing, with no purpose or clock or referee.Play has become spectacle, with few protagonists and many spectators, football for watching. And that spectacle has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world, organized not for play but rather to impede it. The technology of professional sport has managed to impose a football of lightening speed and brute strength, a football that negates joy, kills fantasy and outlaws daring.Luckily, on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.

posted by Trilby at 8:03 am
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Thursday, May 18, 2006


The match-fixing scandal which has engulfed Italian football has stunned fans across Europe. It is an extraordinary tale involving wiretaps, illicit meetings and even allegations of locking referees in dressing rooms.

The passage below is taken from the book, A Season With Verona, by Tim Parks.

There is no people more ready to imagine a conspiracy than the Italians. No people could be more constantly on their guard against the stab in the back, more willing to blame an unhappy turn of events on a diabolical plot against them. Why?

You haven't been long in this country before you notice how people have a vocation for arranging themselves in groups and factions: families, clubs, unions, whatever. And the characteristic of all these groups, whether they have official status or not, is that one isn't so much a publicly enrolled member- that will get you nowhere- as an initiate in an exclusive society whose actual powers and range of influence are never clarified or declared. How powerful exactly is Gianni Agnelli? Could the professor I am attached to at the university swing a national selection commission to make me a full professor? How much clout does Pastorello have in the Football Federation? Nothing is clear.

Of course, none of this is peculiar to Italy. In any country there is a gap between formal boundaries and reality. But the peculiarity of Italy lies in the exact balance between rival versions of the world, the equal intensity of people's emotional commitment to private loyalties and moral commitment to public justice. Everyone wants their team to win at all costs and everyone earnestly wishes the world to be fair. It's not an easy state of mind to administrate.

'Anybody with false papers should be expelled from the country at once!' Pastorello leans across his desk to tell me. He's furious. 'It's a fraud! It's criminal!'

But the Federation has decided that before the sports world can proceed to sanction the offenders 'penal law must first take its course'. Which means we are talking about a decision in five or ten years' time. At which point it will be meaningless to say: Verona wouldn't have gone down if Inter, or Udinese or Verona, had been docked ten points. Procrastination, it turns out, offers the easiest compromise between intense commitment to fair rules and an equal determination to fight one's corner to the bitter end. The rules are always about to be reformed, in Italy. Things are about to be clarified, we promise, after the forthcoming event, which is of paramount importance to us. The cruel fight goes on.

Yet however paranoid some fans are about betrayals and suspect refereeing, this never prompts them to abandon the game. Rather, it intensifies their engagement, it makes them all the more eager to win against the odds. The more people are against us, the more players let us down, the sweeter the victory if we do scrape through.

posted by Trilby at 4:18 am
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Friday, April 21, 2006

The Man Who Saved The Beautiful Game

Tele Santana, has died at the age of 74. He had spent the last month in hospital in the city of Belo Horizonte. This sad news marks the fading of the light for the man who saved the beautiful game.

Here is a tribute by Tim Vickery:

Football is the poorer for the passing last week of Tele Santana.

But the death of Brazil's 1982 World Cup coach has given the game an opportunity to reflect on one of its most important but least fashionable themes: it ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.

Socrates was one member of the magnificent midfield Brazil had in that World Cup. They won hearts all over the planet. But they didn't win the trophy.

After Santana's death Socrates wrote a tribute article in which he depicted the scene in Brazil's dressing room in the wake of their elimination by Italy.

Players were in shock, some were in tears. Amid the desolation, though, Tele Santana was a picture of serenity.

"We gave it our best shot," he said. Proud of the team he had built, proud of the way they had played, he knew that only one country could win the World Cup.

If it was not to be his side, then at least they should go out with a smile as well as a tear, faithful to their principles, true representatives of their country's wonderful tradition.

It would be cruel and inaccurate to portray Santana as some kind of footballing Don Quixote, a faintly ridiculous dreamer obsessed with romantic quests.

He wanted to win, and he achieved his objectives on a truckload of occasions. After all, his early '90s Sao Paulo side beat both Milan and Barcelona in the annual Inter-Continental Cup.

But he always understood that there was much more to football than the result, that if the final score is the only point of interest then we might as well all give up and get into numerology, that football is not all about winning.

It is also how you go about seeking the victory. It is about self-expression and art and nobility.

The 1982 team went about their business with such style and swagger that they are still talked about with affection wherever football is played.

Indeed, they are remembered much more clearly than many sides who did go on to win the World Cup.

It is hard, though, not to dwell on the "if onlys". Had Brazil won the trophy in 1982 the team would be more than a fond memory.

They might be the blueprint for future sides, because winners are always copied.

Nowadays, though, not even Brazil produce all-round midfielders with the delightful touch and passing skills of Falcao and Toninho Cerezo.

If centre-forward Careca had not been injured on the eve of the 1982 tournament. If the gangling blunderbuss Serginho had not been chosen to replace him.

If Italy had not played the game of their lives on that afternoon in Barcelona - then perhaps the technical and artistic level of football played today would be better than it is.

But what's done is done. There is no turning back.

Hence the importance of making your choices, sticking to your principles and living with the consequences - as Tele Santana knew so well, even in the hour of his most painful defeat.

posted by Trilby at 4:13 am
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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tunisian Cash Cow

It's a quiet day on the betting front but the African Cup of Nations again offers some interest, especially with Tunisia in action against the hapless South Africans. Tunisia are fast becoming the cash cow of this competition and anyone who backed them in their previous game, or to win their group outright, will be very happy at the moment. With Dos Santos (as much as 16s prior to the opening game) embroiled in a shoot-out with Eto'o for the tournament's golden boot, there are multiple opportunities to be quids in. South Africa should offer little opposition today and you can read a small article about the decline of the Bafana Bafana here. The other game in the ACN sees Guinea back in action against winless Zambia. The Zambians gave Tunisia a stiff battle for an hour of their match but were eventually undone by their naivity and inexperience. The heavy scoreline did not really reflect the pattern of the game but I still can't take Zambia for a win over Guinea today, although it should be very close. To recap, I will be taking the Guinea and Tunisia win double to keep the bank ticking over today.

One seperate game of interest could be the Copa del Rey quarter-final clash between Real Zaragoza and Barcelona. I am always wary of betting on domestic cup games but there is some considerable value to be had on Zaragoza, who are as big as 6.00 in some places. The mighty Barcelona are on a record unbeaten run but when it eventually comes to end it will most likely be away from home in this competition. Rijkaard has several injuries to contend with (Xavi, Deco and Giuly) as well as the absence of Eto'o on international duty. The incredibly important defender Puyol is also being rested, and there are rumours that Ronaldinho could sit it out (although this hasn't been confirmed at the time of writing). I would not suggest people go heavy on Zaragoza here, but a small nibble could yield a nice unexpected bonus.

posted by Trilby at 12:48 pm
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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

International Duty

Kameni (Espanyol)- Angbwa (Lille); Ateba (PSG); Kalla (Bochum); Song
(Galatasaray)- Atouba (Hamburg); Djemba-Djemba (Aston Villa); Emana
(Toulouse); Geremi (Chelsea); Kome (Murcia); Makoun (Lille)- Douala
(Sporting Lisbon); Eto'o (Barcelona); Webo (Osasuna)

posted by Trilby at 2:36 pm
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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Togo Down the Pan

It's official: Togo are an African Cup of Nations bust after just one game. The shambolic manner of today's 2-0 defeat to DR Congo will be a sickener to all those who have tipped the Hawks as the competiton's darkest horses; while the ensuing post match fall-out will frustrate Emmanuel Adebayor backers in the top goalscorer market.

The towering Adebayor, responsible for 11 of the 22 goals Togo bagged in their successful World Cup qualifying campaign, had been named in the starting line-up for the DR Congo game. At some point in the 30 minutes prior to kick-off- doubtless the time when many punters were confidently staking their money- Adebayor contrived to pick up a mystery 'stomach bug' and was sat down for the first hour of the game. What followed was a lamentable Toga display, one that veered from early comical profligacy in front of goal to a progressivly listless and largely aimless effort once the Congolese took the lead. When Adebayor finally took to the field he was unable to significantly influence proceedings. The scenes after the game, including a heated exchange between Keshi and Adebayor on the team bus, will have done little to quell the growing furore in Lome and elsewhere. What is unclear is just what effect the turmoil will have on the team for the rest of the competition. Will Adebayor leave the camp or can the striker and his coach put their differences to one side? Will the traumas of the opening game now galvanise the team, or further splinter an already fractious situation? Whatever happens from here, the Togo team has become so unbackable in the market that only those with a granite stomach should now consider parting with their hard-earned Communaute Financiere Africaines.

The Togo situation is an interesting one. The national team have undergone a quiet revolution under the tenure of Stephen Keshi as coach, reaching their first ever World Cup and squeezing out Senegal in the process. They are a well-organised and hard-working team, built around a miserly defence that leaked just 8 goals in 10 qualifying matches. Prior to this tournament Toga had a growing reputation that always looked incongruous to their pre-ACN odds. Perhaps the market sensed trouble on the horizon, or more likely it had taken note of a poor friendly tournament performance in Tehran. The side finished last behind Paraguay, Iran and Macedonia and Keshi had lambasted the FA for severe unprofessionalism. I had been willing to brush this aside when making an assessment of Toga's chances here, hoping the situation would not be revisited in the ACN. In hindsight, I have learnt another rule when evaluating a team. That is to say...Never underestimate the destabilizing effect that behind-the-scenes problems can have on a team!

posted by Trilby at 2:19 pm
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The Journal

This blog is written by a thirtysomething man who awoke one day to a startling epiphany. If you spend thirty years of your life playing, watching, listening, reading and debating football, the chances are, football is all that you will know.

This is a blog about a thirtysomething man who awoke one day to a startling epiphany. If you spend thirty years of your life playing, watching, listening, reading and debating football, then chances are, football is all that you will know.

The Writer

This is a little bigger with the line-height adjusted to fit the style.

This blog is written by a thirtysomething man who awoke one day to a startling epiphany. If you spend thirty years of your life playing, watching, listening, reading and debating football, the chances are, football is all that you will know.


Zizou Zidane
Brothers in Arms
Esse Est Percipi
Once Upon a Time...
The history of football is a sad voyage from beaut...
The Man Who Saved The Beautiful Game
Tunisian Cash Cow
International Duty
Togo Down the Pan


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