Football is a cruel mistress. It doesn’t take into account any claim of deserving or taking something for granted. At its top level, it takes everything and gives nothing back. It is why very few of the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T) players have been able to complete the coveted trophy haul. Some have won the Euros but not the world cup. Some haven’t been able to win the European Cup/Champions League. But what football does give, are chances to achieve that and win everything.
Millions of fans all around the world watch football matches regularly. They support clubs all around the world and are very passionate for their respective clubs. Every four years though, those millions turn to billions. It is for this reason, the World Cup is a very unique thing. It is expected that this years’s FIFA World Cup will be watched by more than 3 Billion people, almost half of the Earth’s population.
Playing for top clubs, top players get a chance to win club football prizes regularly, in an increasingly polarised European club football. A chance missed or an error can be devastating for sure, but there is a chance to make it up the following season. International football doesn’t work that way. Tournaments come along every four years and at their peak, players are only able to play around 4/5 of them. That is why the joy is so ecstatic and pain so heartbreaking. Simply put, the World Cup is a tournament which makes grown men cry.
Some of the best storylines at any World Cup, are those of redemption. The amount of mental pressure it takes on an individual is unimaginable and the strength to overcome it is extraordinary.
Let’s take some examples of this World Cup itself.
Starting from the back, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico shined bright for his country before, but got crushed at club football in between the last two World Cups playing unsuccessfully for Malaga and currently or a club in an average Belgian league. He had a lot of doubters coming into the tournament, but he proved them wrong with heroic displays for his side especially in the defeat of World Champions Germany.
Another goalkeeper, Cho Hyun-Woo was relegated with his club this season, a pattern which is repeated several times in this World Cup. Even though, failing with his club side, he became a national hero with an outstanding performance against the Germans helping his team win 2-0.
Nancer Chadli got relegated with his club side West Brom, but redeemed himself with Belgium, scoring the winning goal with the last kick of the match in a thrilling 3-2 win over Japan. Xherdan Shaqiri got relegated with his side, Stoke City, but scored the winning goal against Serbia in a politically charged match in Group E and thus helping Switzerland advance to the knockout rounds.
This phenomenon also carries forward to the managers. Roberto Martinez, a manager who was in charge of a relegated Wigan Athletic side and then of a defensively shambolic Everton side had his reputation hanging on a thread. After being fired from his Everton job, he was widely touted as someone who’d not be getting another top-level job. He convinced the Belgium FA to give him the job. Belgian team could’ve been his last roll of the dice in top level management. Then he went on towards masterminding this golden generation of Belgians to a resounding victory over the pre-tournament favorites Brazil to advance to the Semi-finals.
The story of redemption also applies to one of the best strikers of all time, El Fenomeno Ronaldo and his perhaps is the greatest of such stories. The Brazilian striker is an icon for the World Cup. As someone on the top of his game in the 1998 World Cup, he was leading the line for an impressive Brazilian side on their way to a second successive World Cup triumph. He was their Golden Boy and all hopes were on him. Brazil played hosts France in the final. This was Ronaldo’s moment to write his name in the folklore. On the night before the day of the final, he had a panic attack. Something caused it. Maybe it was due to all these expectations piled on him. He couldn’t cope with it. He was in a haze the morning of the final. The coach elected not to play him, but he requested and forced himself into the lineup. Ronaldo badly underperformed and as did his teammates. On the day Ronaldo was supposed to write himself into history books, another player rose up and did, Zinedine Zidane. Zidane scored two headers and lead the hosts to a resounding 3-0 win.
Ronaldo was made a scapegoat in the media in his country. His reputation was in damaged. He could’ve retired from the national side under such pressure. He didn’t. But the hard times continued. Even worse was the fact that he ruptured his collateral ligaments in the qualifiers for the next World Cup. It took immense strength, both mental and physical from him just to be fit for 2002 one. What followed was a story of redemption even Hollywood couldn’t have written. Ronaldo scored twice against the German goalkeeping legend Oliver Kahn in the Final in Japan and exorcised his demons. Brazil won their fifth World Cup and Ronaldo remained the top scorer at the quadrennial global showpiece till being overtaken by Miroslav Klose in 2014. Ronaldo became the greatest footballer Brazilian ever produced after Pele.
There can be no doubts about the fact that the World Cup is the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet. Similarly, there are no doubts about the fact that it creates the greatest storylines in the history of this sport. But for the players and managers involved, it is the chance at redemption that has them coming back. A chance which if taken, rights all previous wrongs and exorcises all demons of the past. Oh, football, you giveth and you taketh away.
Published 07 Jul 2018, 20:46 IST