Spending my lonely days in the vast wilderness of Canada was becoming excruciatingly boring.
Save from the occasional trip to the town’s pub, or the daily routine of observing the Albertan squirrels in my backyard, life was moving at a painfully slow pace.
Solitude isn’t a terribly fun companion.
Still, I hold no grudges. Man City did what they had to do. I know they didn’t hire me for my skills in the first place, but rather as a statement. That’s fine. I can live with that. After all, I made a statement of my own by going there, didn’t I?!
And then, of course, there was that beautiful goal in the Carling Cup!
What a statement!
…things of the past, really. It’s all gone. Now all I have are squirrels in my backyard.
Alone. At home.
But then, quite unexpectedly, a break from my monotonous existence:
I was visited by a dear old friend.
I was sitting on my porch, doing nothing but staring out aimlessly, chilling out with a couple of ice-packs on each knee, when an impressively shiny black car pulled up.
The sharply dressed driver got out and opened the back door, waiting for his cargo to alight.
Very slowly, a grey head atop a long black coat emerged from the vehicle, and my heart skipped a beat – I could feel what was left from my knees shake.
Sir Alex Ferguson. In the flesh!
“G’day, ye olde curly-haired basterd”, he belted in jest, smiling through his chewing gum.
“Oh God! Sir Alex! What…what are you doing here?”
“No! No! Don’t get up Owen. You carry on icing those joints there. I don’t want to be blamed for any more accidents!”, he warmly interjected, as he approached me.
“Sir Alex, please pull up a chair, here next to me”, I pleaded.
He did so, right after relieving the attentive driver from his duties, requesting that he return in a couple of hours.
“What brings you here, Sir? And how did you find me anyways?”, I asked inquisitively.
“Oh, Owen. Yer a United boy, ye always will be. I can smell the blood of United soldiers from miles away. I don’t give a rat’s arse that you once wore blue. That’s forgotten. Ye see, once you leave the game, mistakes tend to get washed away, and what remains is the celebration of the golden days. That’s all. I came here to tell you that. Plus, I was around the neighbourhood looking to purchase a cottage, so I thought I’d pop by anyways. Hello.”
“What exactly are you trying to say, boss?”
“Ye need to leave the game, Owen”, he responded, quite briskly.
“Well, it’s not like I’m out there playing, is it? I spend my days watching squirrels and icing my knees, for Christ’s sake”, I followed up, quite desperately.
“But ye still hope to play, somehow. I admire that. It was that hope that took ye to the Blue enemy. Sure, they signed ye to piss us off, and ye went there to piss me off too, I get it. But at the end of the day, ye know why ye really went there: to play football, and they said yes. Again, I admire that. But ye won’t find peace again in football, Owen, believe me. Do ye feel in peace, here, right now, hoping for another chance?”
“…no”, I replied, defeated.
“Leave football, leave it for good. A clean break, and believe me, suddenly, the good times will rush back in, and everyone will love ye again, even yer enemies. Ye wouldn’t believe just how many Chelsea fans kissed me arse this week. People like to pretend they are cynical, that football is all about money and business and all of that. It’s rubbish. Football is about football. I know that. Ye know that. We play for the sake of playing. We play to create memories. But it’s also important to accept that football isn’t forever. And it’s even more important to know when to say that inevitable good-bye.”
“What difference does it make? No club wants me. I’m officially unwanted. Plagued. ‘Officially announcing’ my retirement now would be kind of petty, don’t you think?!”, I whined.
“Owen, it’s about making a statement”, the knight replied, gently.
I then smiled at him, and he smiled back.
And suddenly, it was all silence.
We just sat there, looking out, watching the sunset over the trees.
Two old men, sitting on the porch, silently reminiscing about the good old times.
Two old men, enjoying their well earned retirement.
Two old men.
I’ve been high on nostalgia these days (living in England will do that to you), and on a whim I recently decided to spend some very late and lonely evenings watching Brazil matches from the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups on YouTube (bless those footy nerds for uploading them).
I’ll tell you what I missed from those 2002 clips: Dunga.
Yes, that Dunga that was Brazil’s cranky Captain and later turned into cranky 2.0 manager in 2010.
I love him.
Say what you will about his supposedly “unlikeable” personality, but with Dunga in the squad as a player, Brazil won the 1994 World Cup and reached the final in 1998. And as a manager, Brazil won everything there was to be won ahead of the 2010 World Cup, and the team was back at the very top position in FIFA’s rankings, arriving in South Africa as uber favourites for the title.
Sure, sure, Brazil didn’t win 2010; and, well, yes, that was basically Dunga’s fault, since his sideline tantrums punched the squad into paralysis against Holland in the quarter-final.
However, whenever present (for the most part), be it as a player or manager, Dunga kept Brazil organized. There was a system at play, a formation to be honoured, and a desire to push ahead as a collective that’s essentially gone from the squad post-1998.
I’d go as far as to say that the 2002 Brazil was highly inferior to that of 1998, even though they won in Japan/South Korea. Indeed, they had better individual talents – Ronaldo and Ronaldinho were at the top of their game in 2002 – but as a team, they left much to be desired; and, frankly, won the World Cup mainly due to a very easy campaign: meeting with Germany, their only truly strong opposition in the entire tournament, in the final match.
Much of the Dunga hate still hails from THIS - the man’s historical failure to stop Maradona’s catwalk towards serving Caniggia, who scored the goal that eliminated Brazil at the 1990 World Cup.
Brazilians tend to be very forgiving when it comes to their politicians, but never when it comes to a footballer’s mistake.
But, hey, I was 7 in 1990, so what do I know?! To me, Dunga remains a towering presence in midfield.
The other criticism that’s often thrown at him is the idea that he’s “unBrazilian”: too tough, too crabby, too violent, too pragmatic (both as a player and manager), too conventional, too much without flair…etc etc…
It’s bollocks, really.
Dunga had a specific job to do: to break the flow of the opponent’s attack. And even when he failed, he failed while truly trying to get that job done with all of his might and will – he was never a highly skilled player, but one whose desire to do well was larger than his physical ability, and usually made up for any absence in talent .
Moreover, unlike so many of the “classically Brazilian happy boys” (Denilson, Robinho, Ronaldo, etc etc), he could never be accused of laziness, or of being a sellout, or a mercenary. He played for the passion of playing. In that sense, he was – and this is another criticism often throw at him, although I see it as a virtue – “old fashioned” .
Nevertheless, his most remarkable skill was vision – in both the physical sense, of being able to find a distant striker through exquisite long-balls, and in the sense of pulling the squad together behind an idea; a principal; a collective wish. In short, he was an astute captain who inspired his mates to work hard in order to win – as simple as that; as “old school” as that.
As a manager, Dunga ultimately failed at the World Cup, but we understood his Brazil. There was, again, that strong vision at work in his squad. Many called it a “pragmatic” team – mainly because, well, they were pragmatic – while others called it “European”, “unBrazilian”. In other words, the same old criticisms that were thrown at him as a player were now applied to the entire squad.
I actually respect him for that – what other player (especially one so, well, average in overall skill as Dunga) was able to transfer his personality into an entire team like that successfully (remember, he won everything but the World Cup; and in 60 matches, Brazil lost only 6 during his reign)?
I say let’s celebrate Dunga, however flawed and lackluster the man was as a footballer – and as a man.
If anything, for his integrity, and for being truthfully in touch with his own nature.
Old fashioned values, but that’s what nostalgia is all about.
Let’s be honest, these are grim times for the Selecao.
Currently positioned at 18 in FIFA’s ranking, Brazil have never, ever, sunk this low before.
Sure, FIFA’s ranking system is something of an insignificant puzzle (are Brazil really worse than Greece? Ecuador?), but the truth is that such low placement still hurts – I mean, the English are placed at 6th! C’mon!
And Brazilians cannot avoid the fact that the beautiful game belongs very much to the Spaniards these days.
Felipe Scolari is back in charge (God, Menezes was awful), and he’ll indeed need a great deal of ingenuity and innovation in order to pull the squad back together and escape sheer embarrassment on home soil in 2014.
Thus, without further ado, here are the lads I’d call up right now if I were in Felipao’s shoes – it’s a mix of experience and energetic youth =
GK: Cassio (Corinthians)
RB: Maicon (Man City) // Danilo (Porto)
CB: Thiago Silva (PSG)
CB: David Luiz (Chelsea)
LB: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
DM: Paulinho (Corinthians)
DM: Hernanes (Lazio)
RAM: Ramires (Chelsea) // Lucas Moura (PSG)
LAM: Oscar (Chelsea)
RF: Leandro Damiao (Internacional)
LF: Neymar (Santos)
And there you have it.
May the Gods help us.
PS – I miss Dunga…
No one probably truly cares or even noticed (if you did, aw, you’re a charmer, thanks), but I haven’t posted anything in this space since this past summer – Brazil losing to Mexico still hurts.
The true reason for such silence, though, can be found in the “About” section of the blog.
I’m off in England doing some intense theatre work, and my level of concentration, energy and creativity for the writing aspects of my life have fallen immensely.
Having said that, I still, obviously, follow the game. In fact, this past weekend I had the immense pleasure of visiting Shepherds Bush’s Loftus Road stadium. I attended the (insert sarcasm) bombastic meeting between QPR and Reading.
Both sides have yet to register a victory this year, and both look set to sink into the depths of relegation – which is truly sad, since I’ve grown terribly fond of Queen’s Park Rangers (seriously, scarf-wearing and all).
The match ended in a 1 x 1 draw, but my spirits were mighty high. After all, I got to see keeper Julio Cesar, Djibril Cisse (who scored a beautifully gentle goal), Anton Ferdinand, Jose Bosingwa, Bobby Zamora, and many others live, in the flesh.
An occasion to savour.
Loftus Road was a nice change from the Emirates, where I saw Arsenal play last year. Sure the Emirates stadium is an amazingly impressive, high-tech and comfortable venue…but I’m a romantic (read: I like suffering), and there’s nothing more romantic than a tiny (tiny!), incredibly uncomfortable and thrown together, vintage football space. I loved it.
I’m also a big fan of crowds chanting – the English are particularly good (and creative) at this art form. Sure, most of the chants involve poor language, cheap rhymes and a complete lack of proper poetry, but they’re fun and passionate. “We are QPR. We are QPR” and “clap clap clap CLAP…RANGERS” are now part of my shower repertory.
I may write something on the idea of enjoyment in football via suffering…I’m looking at you, When Saturday Comes magazine Writer’s Award .
Stay tuned…I may produce something of some (some) worth anytime soon.
RB, suffering with delight
“At 2-0 down I’d have given my right arm for a draw, but I’m glad I didn’t as I wouldn’t have been able to clap the fans at the end” – Gary Peters, Shrewsbury manager, 2006.
“It was a game of two halves, and we were rubbish in both of them” – Brian Horton, Oxford United manager, 1990.
“Too many players were trying to score or create a goal” – Gerard Houllier, Liverpool manager, after a home defeat; and seemingly unsure of what type of game football is.
“You are always one defeat away from crisis. On that basis, we’re in deep shit” – John Gregory, Aston Villa manager, during a losing sequence, 1999.
To paraphrase (and translate) the great Brazilian football poet Armando Nogueira (1927 – 2010), when speaking of Zico, applying the thought to Damiao instead:
The ball is a flower that blooms on Damiao’s feet, with the perfume of goal.
May Brazil finally achieve Golden glory this Saturday, 11th of August, 2012.
Roberto Carlos da Silva Rocha was always a goof-ball.
Sure, known simply as Roberto Carlos, he was also one of the greatest footballers the game has ever seen.
He was a constant presence in my childhood, growing up in Brazil. Hell, to those who followed football, he was a constant presence anywhere in the world in the 90s.
Indeed, he was widely regarded as the world’s finest left-back, a position that, since his departure from mainstream football (i.e. since he left Real Madrid), still hasn’t been properly filled.
And now, as he leaves the game altogether, that void has only grown darker.
Roberto’s qualities were many: lighting speed, stamina (one day we’ll learn he had not 2, but 5 lungs), panache (for a stocky man with incredibly thick thighs, he was surprisingly light and elegant on his feet), power (let’s just say that he didn’t give a damn about Physics and had not feet, but rocket launching pads) and extreme acute vision and passing skills.
Indeed, he was the most versatile left-back we’ve seen in ages.
But, above all, the image that sticks in my mind is of his goofy smile.
Roberto never grew up, and that’s what made him so special and endearing. He played the game with a smile on his face. Yes, he was one of those who, fundamentally, played for fun and pure enjoyment.
In fact, it was that naturally delightful boyish quality that made it possible for us to forgive his occasional blunt mistakes (cue the abortive bicycle kick against Denmark at France 98, which culminated in Brian Laudrup’s equalizer against Brazil; or his inability to keep his legs closed as Frenchman Zidane headed into the Brazilian net, through Roberto’s thighs, at the 98 final, twice; or Roberto’s incompetent marking of Thierry Henry, which culminated in France’s goal that eliminated Brazil at Germany 06…).
It doesn’t matter. None of that really matters. It’s all in the past – as is his footballing career, now.
What he’ll be remembered for – aside from that dorky teenage smile – is his greatness; his ability to curl the ball past a wall of players that, in absolute puzzlement, watched it go by at the speed of light, bursting into the net as if, for at least a few seconds, we lived in a universe where reality didn’t apply. Have a check:
What amazes me the most about that legendary free-kick goal against France (what’s with Roberto and the French?) isn’t the beautiful goal in itself, but Barthez’s reaction – or lack thereof – as he watches the ball sink into his net. The man just stands there, completely confused, feet planted to the ground, as if saying “What the merde!?”
It’s a shame that, on multiple occasions, a player of his caliber and status had to endure racism in Russia after he signed with club Anzhi, with bananas and offenses thrown at him from the stands. On one occasion he had enough, and walked off during the game, refusing to play. Imagine the pain.
Thankfully, he retained his jovial spirit and remained committed to Anzhi not only as a footballer but also as a sporting director for the club – becoming one of those rare player-manager entities.
And at Anzhi he announced his retirement.
Recently, Dutch legend and former Real Madrid player Clarence Seedorf signed with Brazilian club Botafogo. When asked how he had learned Portuguese, Clarence said: “I roomed with Roberto Carlos for 4 years in Madrid. Never heard someone talk so much! That’s how I learned!”
It’s hard to let go of those players that are not only great, but also truly cool; players whose presence transcend the game and continue to shine off the pitch due to their captivating personalities, cheeky one-liners and funny anecdotes.
Roberto Carlos is now a member of our collective footballing theatre of memories, and although most will remember him for that stunning goal against France, I will continue to think of that smile of his…
That goofy, goofy smile.