Off the ball: A new star is born
In his irreverent World Cup column Off the Ball, Golson Santos (formerly known as Andy Goldberg) looks at the lighter side of the football championship. This time he ponders the importance of glamorous names for footballers.
Decades after my abject failure to make any impression on the footballing world as a scrappy midfielder I have finally figured out the reason and have taken immediate steps to rectify it.
No footballer worth his studs has ever been called something as unsporting as Andy Goldberg. Which is why I logged on to a seminal football website (www.minimalsworld.net) which is devoted to automatically generating Brazilian football names and was summarily rechristened as Golson Santos.
This might seem like a narcissistic waste of time given that games are won by footballing talent alone (plus a little help from lady luck and the proverbial men in black) - rather than the name on the back of the shirt.
But surely it has not escaped the attention of football fans, especially the growing number of hooligettes (the new word for female followers of footie) that the best players are endowed with both film star good looks and exotic names - Wayne Rooney being an obvious exception to both those otherwise immutable laws.
On the surface this effect seems to defy logic. What possible influence could a person's name and facial features have on their ability to manipulate a football, understand intuitively the time- space football continuum and cooperate with teammates to grind the opposition into dust?
The only explanation I can come up with is that these endowments imbue their young owners with the all-important confidence required to compete at the top level. Or alternatively it could all be a giant conspiracy by the marketing gurus who now dominate the business side of football.
Real Madrid's platoon of galacticos including David Beckham, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos failed to win anything for a crushing three years - but still led the club to its best ever financial results.
So now I have my name and all I have to do is figure out how to roll the clock back 20 years or so and take my place among the pantheon of football greats like Pele, Jarzinho, and their successors like Ronaldinho and ... Kaka.
FIFA president Joseph Blatter is probably the last person you would expect to mouth off about the intense commercialism that has taken over the football world. Under his reign the World Cup has become a multi-billion dollar operation dominated by global sponsors who have snapped up most of the tickets that should have gone to fans.
Talking to the German newspaper Der Tagespiegel, Blatter said he was unhappy about the way that rich football clubs were able to buy up all the world's top players. "Millions of pounds are flowing into leading clubs. Nobody knows where the money comes from. The rich clubs are getting richer and the poor poorer."
In a pointed reference to Germany's captain Michael Ballack, who will play for Chelsea from next season, he said: "Look at Chelsea's latest acquisition." He added acidly: "They can only actually put 11 players on the pitch at one time."
He may be wrong about the World Cup but at least he's right about Chelsea.
Auf Wiedersehen England
It's also hard to disagree with his assessment of England as the most boring team in the competition, while the response of the England camp does little to inspire confidence that Sven's doughty battlers will take the field against Portugal eager to throw off their reputation with a display of dazzling skills.
"I'm delighted that teams are playing offensively," Blatter said. "One exception is the English, who appeared in the second round with just a single striker. This isn't the kind of offensive football you expect from a contender for the World Cup title."
"We feel under pressure to perform and win games, and that's what it's all about - winning games," said England captain David Beckham. "There have been better performances by other teams in this competition and they're out."
Germany was at a virtual standstill Friday prior to the evening quarter-final against Argentina. The flag-waving German masses are actually taking their role almost as seriously as Klinsi's players with a cool million expected to gather in the sprawling public viewing zone in the city centre.
Cheering the national team requires extreme dedication. Bars that have been packed all week were unusually quiet Thursday night. "The fans are resting for the game tomorrow," said the owner of Druide, a bar in the trendy Prenzlauer Berg district in the former east Berlin. But Friday the legions of fans appeared to be well rested enough to be guzzling bottles of Becks as they streamed towards the giant screens at 10 a.m. - seven hours before kick off.
The newspapers meanwhile were busy with headlines like Adios Diego, showing Argentinean legend and now chief cheerleader Diego Maradona in a pose of pain - with the hope it would be repeated later in the day.
30 June 2006
Subject: German news