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Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Seasons in the sun

1 January 2007
Posted in: Cricket, Football, Sport | 9 Comments

Usually, I hate the best and worst lists everyone seems obsessed with at the turn of the year. But here is one little list I couldn’t help making as the curtain came down on 2006. Amidst all the beginnings and ends, those that were important to me were the retirement of three sports personalites. They all come from different parts of the world, play different sports, and will be remembered for different things.

Martina Navratilova: Having been a fan of Navratilova since I was a kid, I always regarded her as a permanent fixture in the world of tennis. It came as a shock, therefore, to realize that she was *gasp* really retiring this time! With 177 titles in a career spanning three decades, it is no surprise that she is considered one of the greatest in the game. I lost my interest in tennis a long time ago, but not in Navratilova. No stranger to controversy, she has also lent her voice in support of underprivileged children, animal rights, and gay and lesbian rights.

It feels weird to think she won’t be playing any more…

Zinédine Zidane: “Zidane’s legacy was more than the goals he scored, the titles he won, the honours he was awarded. His legacy is a testimony to the fact that good guys need not finish last.” This is what I wrote on a detailed write-up after his controversial exit from the World Cup final between France and Italy in July 2006, and that just really sums him up. Despite the head-butt incident and the red card, his inspirational leadership in the 2006 World Cup still won him the Golden Ball. He’s reputed to be a shy, simple man, but it is really hard to sum up this footballing magician, father of four, former UNDP Goodwill Ambassador…

It is said that no person can be greater than the sport, but with Zidane, it makes you wonder.

Glenn McGrath: In 2001 I made my first Web site. It was to cover the Ashes Tests between Australia and England. I called it Line and Length… after Glenn McGrath! His unerring accuracy makes him one of the deadliest bowlers in international cricket. Tthe smiling mild-mannered countenance notwithstanding, he is hated and feared by batsmen near and far. McGrath’s Test retirement will come into effect after the fifth and final Ashes Test in Syndey, Australia. He will continue playing one-day games till the World Cup later in 2007.

I know I will really miss that easy run-up and smooth delivery action. Miss those bewildered batsmen facing him. Lately I have been feeling that I’m “growing out” of cricket, and the retirement of the Waugh twins over the past years increased that. When Glenn McGrath goes, there will be a one huge reason less to watch.

~PD

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A knight to remember

19 July 2006
Posted in: Football, Sport | 8 Comments

For everyone who watched the World Cup final between France and Italy, there was an aura of unreality about the proceedings. Yes, it was supposed to be a sporting spectacle; but more importantly, it was the last bow of a soft-spoken French magician, widely acknowledged as the greatest footballer of his time.

Yet the sporting climax that it was supposed to be was hijacked by arguably the most dramatic curtains to an illustrious career. That head butt… that red card… Rest assured, it will be talked about for a long, long time.

The truth is, the game would always have been as much, if not more, Zidane’s Final Match rather than World Cup Final, even had he not head-butted Marco Materazzi and got himself sent off. Thousands of football fans from all corners of the world switched on their TV sets as much to catch a last glimpse of Zidane as to find out who would take home the cup.

Zinédine Zidane always had a habit of mesmerizing his audience. Be it with those sublime passes, those dizzying shimmies past a handful of defenders, or a perfect shot curving into an inviting net. It is not just his extraordinary footballing skills that make him an object of interest. It is as much his enigmatic personality, his Algerian origins and his humility.

Zidane has always been fiercely protective of his private life, but because of his origins has had to field queries as well as accusations regarding his loyalties. Born in Marseille of Algerian immigrants, he was brought up in La Castellane, a council estate in the northern suburbs of Marseille. However, his stature overshadows any religious/racial divide that simmers in present-day Europe. He has always refused to get drawn into political arguments and steadfastly refused to take sides. That in part has been what has earned him the respect of family, friends, fans and players alike.

Despite fame and fortune, humility has remained one of Zidane’s most endearing qualities. As Michael Owen testifies:

[Players] are full of respect for him, and not just for his skills…. As we walked in after the final whistle [of a Euro 2004 game where France beat England in dramatic circumstances, with Zidane scoring both France’s goals], I looked up and saw Zidane heading straight towards the dressing room while the rest of the French players were dancing around on the pitch…. He’s an unbelievable player, but what we respected most about him was that he wasn’t rubbing our faces in it, unlike some. There’s no messing with Zidane. He doesn’t need to tell anyone he’s brilliant. He just is.

(Michael Owen, Off the Record: My Autobiography, pp.316–17)

On-field rushes of blood have not exactly been alien to Zidane. And though his dramatic exit from professional football shocked many of us, he might have done the footballing world a great favour. For the first time FIFA has owned up to the possibility of verbal abuse being a serious issue in the game. Zidane may have muddied his graceful exit, but it might well end up being a compromise towards making the beautiful game a little less ugly. And:

perhaps we’ll never know what was said or what he was thinking. Perhaps the greatest riddle of all is that in destroying his legacy as a sporting hero, he might have immortalised himself as the man who stood up to bigots, real or imagined, no matter the price.

(Simon Hattenstone, Guardian Unlimited Sport)

It is impossible—from any point of view, for any reason—to condone what Zidane did. But it is equally impossible to say with certainty that his rash action “snuffed out” his legacy, as the Hattenstone says in his Guardian article.

For Zidane’s legacy was more than the goals he scored, the titles he won, the honours he was awarded. His legacy is a testimony to the fact that good guys need not finish last.

Zinédine Yazid Zidane: Farewell. And thank you for the music.

~PD

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Is aggression an asset?!

25 September 2005
Posted in: Football, Sport | 3 Comments

The only problem with having a blog is that you don’t just need regular ideas, but also have witty and funny things to say about them! That said, things have been a bit hectic lately—not that it has stopped my very limited fan club 😛 from asking for updates! Anyway, here goes (this is a bit of cheating as what follows is my Goal Post write-up for the current issue! [In case you don’t know what the Goal Post is, it is a free e-mail football newsletter. If you want to subscribe, please drop me a mail.]):

If the Wayne Rooney fan club—in other words about every commentator, analyst and other mediaperson covering football—is to be believed, aggression is an asset.

In keeping with the tradition (?!) of the Goal Post, we beg to differ. And if you don’t agree with us, how about we take this outside and
settle it with our fists, you ****?!

Apologies ;), but that was just to make a point. Getting worked up seems to be universally acknowledged as the best way to get an adrenaline rush, but it also is a shortcut to saying goodbye to reason. Case in point: Mr Rooney! And, indeed, if it were that easy—get angry and snarly and get a high from it—there would be more of us playing professional sport! Why would we need to bother to actually play—have rules and adjudicators? Why not just line up and hurl obscenities at each other? No warm up and stretching required, either! You could argue that sport is a competition and any competition has an element of aggression. True, but competitions also have rules so that the competitiveness does not get out of hand. Sport is just entertainment; not life and death. It is irresponsible to millions of watching youngsters to hype being aggressive as a positive personality trait. Apart from the fact that it is shockingly bad manners, it is
bad for health!

Gary Linekar—who, we all agree had a reasonably distinguished career?—never got booked in his professional life. Michael Owen shows Aes Sedai calmness, usually even in the face of extreme provokation. Don Bradman didn’t average 99.9 in Test cricket because of his expansive vocabulary or iron-hard fists. Martina Navratilova isn’t playing (and still winning) at almost 50 because of her aggressive personality traits.

Sport—and life—ain’t that easy! Funny that, as intelligent beings, humans invented sport. And now they take that same sport as an excuse to behave like animals. Of course, technically we *are* animals… Oh, perhaps that explains it!

~PD

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