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Thursday, July 19, 2007


I’m an agnostic – which means I claim no particular knowledge about God – but if there is one theological consideration to which I’m very close to converting, it would be that of the football gods. Why, you ask? Not because they are beneficent, or because they are just – often they are neither. I could believe in the football gods because, man, have they got a wicked sense of humor. Consider these snippets:

  • Two years ago, when he was first bought by Liverpool, Djibril Cisse’s tibia exploded in a collision with Blackburn defender Lucas Neil. The break was so severe that the doctors who initially reviewed his x-rays were forced to inform him that they were considering amputation. 6 months after this sickening injury he returned to score a crucial penalty in the shoot-out vs. AC Milan in the European Cup Final. A year later, playing in an ill-advised friendly for the Les Bleus against China, he shattered his other leg and missed the World Cup. Wicked.
  • Two years ago, Carlito Tevez was playing for Corinthians in Brazil already a distinct persona non grata as a $20 million Argentine playing in Brazil - he did his reputation no favors by showing up at a press conference after losing a critical Paulista derby against Palmeiras, in a Manchester United jersey. His explanation, “My sponsor is Nike, they give me shirts to wear and this is one of them.” He was promptly fined a week’s wages. A friend of mine mentioned that perhaps it was a signal to Manchester United that he wanted to talk, and I was so dismayed at the idea that I dismissed him as a Neanderthal in cleats, incapable of such a subtlety and that the risk reward was far too heavily tipped towards risk (given the fines and disenchantment of the Corinthians supporters). 2 years later, he’s signing for Manchester United. Wicked.
  • Fabio Capello was brought to Real Madrid to rescue a dishearteningly under-achieving collection of prima donas from another year of futility, with the club suffering from its worst barren spell in years (no trophies in 3 seasons) while their more humble rivals in claret and blue seemed to be gathering them in buckets. So Don Fabio comes in and completely changes the way they play – no more trying to force the same set of galacticos into ever-more futile combinations and getting the same crap results. They were so bad on the field, and so bad to watch that it almost became a reason to tune in by itself. Beckham was relegated to the practice squad for announcing his departure to MLS, and Ronaldo was sent to Milan - not that Milan, the other Milan - to the dismay of legions of his fans. However, by the end of the season Becks was in the form of his life, Capello's mid-season Argentine buys were playing their socks off, and Robinho was making people forget the gap toothed assassin like so much of yesterday’s news…oh and by the way, they won the league. So how did they reward their Don – by sacking him for playing unattractive football. Wicked.
  • Gerrard Houllier spent 7 years at Liverpool FC playing second fiddle to Man U and Arsenal – so they sacked him after finishing 4th in his last year in the league and a whopping 30 points behind the record breaking Arsenal. Liverpool brought in Rafael Benitez who figured out a way to pip Barcelona and Real to La Liga twice in three years, to see if he could bring that kind of handicapped success back to Merseyside. A year later, Houllier is at Olympique Lyon, not to win the league (which they had already done 4 years in a row before him) but to win the European Cup (which no French team other than Olympic Marseille have ever done). So what happened? Liverpool finished 5th the next year AND won the European Cup and reached a final 2 years later, while Olympic Lyon won the league two more times but got dumped out of the only competition they truly cared about out in the first round of the knockout stages 2 years running. Wicked.
  • Chelski were thought to be such an immoveable object in the EPL, they chose to completely upset the balance of the team by buying a $30 million Ukranian striker named Shevchenko (though they had just paid $30 million for Drogba the year before who after 15 goals his first season, cost them about $2 million per goal) and a big German named Ballack who just oozed style and skill. So what happened – Shevchenko's 4 goals cost them about $8M each, while Drogba doubled his goal tally from the previous season and won the golden boot, and Ballack was injured so often that he couldn't play in the semi-final against Liverpool who beat them (AGAIN) in the very European Cup they sought to win by buying him - although it's questionable whether or not at this point Ballack would have been much help. Oh, and they lost the EPL title to Man U. Wicked.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo made himself a pariah by becoming the victim of an ill-advised act of aggression from his hot-headed common street rogue of a teammate ('es fat, 'es scouse, 'es come to rob yer 'ouse) Wayne Roo-ney in the World Cup against England, and he had his ticket booked for Madrid this summer to escape the derision. This is the same Real Madrid who was in the process of abandoning its galacticos era of “Zidanes and Pavons”. Man U made it clear to anyone who would listen that he wasn’t going anywhere – ever. So what did he do – he scored 16 goals (led his team) and won the Players’ and Football Writer’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards ALL IN THE SAME YEAR – 2007. Oh, and by the way, Man U won the EPL. Wicked.
  • Dunga is beleaguered by the Brazilian press for almost everything he does – even his choice of touchline attire. Brazilian coaches who wear suits are considered to be out of touch and arrogant (essentially a sell-out), so this poor guy decides to do his daughter a favor and wears one of her designed shirts at a friendly against England – he’s brutalized for it on both sides of the Atlantic for being to "flash". Then they complain about results, selection and style, and how he could allow Ronaldinho and Kaka to skip the Copa America. So what does he does he do? He plays a team full of players you’ve never heard of, tells his stars to go jump in a lake, and beats the vaunted and hated rivals, Argentina, in a final that wasn’t close from the start. And as he ran onto the pitch to share in the victory with his teammates, one photographer made the mistake of getting in his way - and Dunga promptly shoved him out of the way with more than a little glee...metaphorically I might add.

Yeah, the football gods have a wicked sense of humor.


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