Back in January 2015, Lothar Matthäus, hero of the Italia ’90 World Cup victory, was embroiled in a bout of verbal sparring with Arsenal striker and compatriot Lukas Podolski. Speaking on German television, Matthaus remarked that “Lukas has his qualities; now he must prove them by bringing them back to the pitch. In the past we heard how he tweets more than he plays. He needs to concentrate on football.” The comments came during speculation regarding a potential move for Podolski to Inter Milan. It was advice that Podolski did not take too kindly to however. Apparently not content to leave it there however, Matthäus also took a swing at his former club, saying, “Inter is no longer the team of the past. Italy lost charm. Too many scandals, little modern infrastructure. In the 90s Inter and AC Milan have written the history of football, had players like Gullit, Van Basten, Hansi Müller and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Today the top players play in Spain, Germany and England, not in Italy.” The Nerazzuri tifosi must have loved that one. ‘A fanabla, Lothar!’ Continue reading →
There’s a certain type of wisdom that only comes with age and the experience; of seeing many things; by observing quietly and absorbing; by understanding. Sitting in the suburb of Santa Úrsula in Mexico City, the Estadio Azteca is not only an imposing architectural edifice, it can also boast a rich history of hosting some of the most celebrated matches in the history of international football. Being the first venue to host two World Cup Finals, it’s fair to say that the old stadium has witnessed a fair bit of the ‘beautiful game’ with some of the rarest of talents ever to grace the international arena treading its turf. When the Azteca speaks of greatness therefore, it’s done with the authority of age and experience. It’s beholding on us all to listen. Continue reading →
Sometimes football is bigger than a single match. ‘The Game’ is bigger than the game. No matter that a particular match may carry great significance in its own right, sometimes what it represents, what it portrays, what it speaks of to the watching world is much more important. Even if the match is a World Cup semi-final, a mere single step down from the most important match in world football. Even if there’s historical antagonism of armed conflicts between the protagonists. Even then. The significance of it to football as a whole and how it should be perceived can even be bigger than that.
It’s eighth July 1982. The venue is the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, in Seville, Spain. It’s the semi-final of the World Cup between West Germany and France. A game that Michel Platini, captain of France and the leader of a French team full of flowering romanticism, suggesting an apparent ennui at the fatalism of life expressed by football, later described as something that, “No film or play could ever recapture so many contradictions and emotions. It was complete. So strong. It was fabulous.” His summary neatly fits with the image of the French team as poets eschewing concern of any future consequences, merely lost in the moment. Extravagant and grand gestures dominating the imagery, and ignoring tomorrow. It was however not fabulous in the way it spoke to the world as to how the game should be played. How it should be loved and cherished. Simply put, the result was wrong. Continue reading →
Linesmen, Referees’ Assistants or simply ‘Linos’, the guys running up and down the sidelines of half of the playing area are often considered the least significant characters in the passion play that is a football match. These are the ‘extras’ that make up the lower listings in the dramatis personae.’ They’re the ‘non-speaking’ participants, who have to wave a flag – or perhaps press a buzzer as well these days – to remind the rest of us that they’re there.
When you’ve been following the ‘beautiful game’ as long as I have, you’ve seen a few World Cup tournaments. I think I remember elements of Chile 1962, but can definitely do so with the one that followed four later as England were crowned as champions of the world. The downside of this of course means that I’ve also seen some skulduggery of the lowest order in the four yearly event that should present the highest standards of the game.
The genius of Maradona was sullied when when he punched Argentina past England and then was banished as a drug cheat in the 1994 tournament. Harold Schumacher assaulted French full back Patrick Battiston with a malice that may have earned a prison sentence had it occurred anywhere but on a football pitch. And then Luis Suarez reprised his dental belligerence by biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in last year’s tournament.
For conspiracy and mass inclusion however, there’s one instance that stands out, and it involved neither violence or cheating per se. No-one was banned. Indeed both of the ‘guilty’ parties progressed in the tournament, and the only injuries and damage were to broken hearts and shattered dreams. It occurred in the 1982 tournament in Spain – the very same event where Schumacher displayed an aggression well beyond the pale, but on this occasion the problem was a lack of aggression, rather than a surfeit of it. Continue reading →