The World Cup intensifies, bringing the planet earth together to witness what our host nation so elegantly calls fu-chee-bol. It’s been a rewarding tournament, but in a perfect world, a few things would be different this year in Brazil.
BUYING FIFA: FIFA has many proud traditions but none is more time honored than their propensity for accepting bribes. The organization shows prejudice to no currency, accepting hundreds of millions of (insert currency here) over the years. All kinds of figures are flying on how much Qatar greased FIFA for the 2022 Cup. Rumor has it that these sheiks have rooms of cash, literally. Enough to buy a global phenomenon and host it in a dessert. It’ll be like beach soccer, but without the ocean.
NOW PLAYING, SEPP BLATHER? Show FIFA president Sepp Blather’s face on a screen in any stadium and you’ll feel the rain of universal boos. Squandering $30 million from FIFA’s coffers to produce a bio-pic about himself hurt more than helped. The movie billed itself as the story of “a group of passionate European mavericks that join forces on an ambitious project: the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.” Critics at Cannes panned it for lacking drama. Might we suggest a better use of funds? Hire a few more refs to cover that massive field.
REFEREE! A two hundred foot hockey rink is patrolled by two refs and two linesmen. Additional officials in Toronto evaluate every goal and penalty in real time. An American Football field is one hundred yards long and at times it looks like there are more refs on the field than players. The results in both leagues are mostly excellent officiating.
But an international soccer field– one hundred and twenty yards long and eighty wide– has only one ref and two linesmen. No wonder they’ve blown so many high stakes calls. Too many to count over the years it’s. Last World Cup, Frank Lampard of England took a shot that hit the crossbar, pinged down across the goal line, and was punched out by the German goalie.
Thousands of screaming fans saw it live and celebrated. But the ref, thirty yards away, waved on the play– no goal. When England protested, he postured like only a soccer ref can, refusing to brook objection. Fifty million viewers world-wide watched multiple replays of the obvious goal. The game ended. England was knocked out. Luddite FIFA looked incompetent.
There’s a long history of ill credited calls or lack there of, but the Lampard goal was so egregious that after years of the French equivalent to hemming and hawing, FIFA had no choice but to install the technology professional tennis has been using since 2006.
Side note: It’s rumored that Sepp Blather’s next laptop computer will have something called “interweb access,” allowing him to stream his movie via the world wide interweb.
DIVING: No other sport deals with such a humiliating blemish as soccer’s faux injuries. It devalues the game, and the FIFA brand, beyond repair and it’s all the ammunition any anti-soccer fan ever needs.
“Don’t they know we’re all watching in hi-def, slo-mo, multi-angle close-ups?” I heard a green fan exclaim. “Aren’t they ashamed?”
A legitimate question. When you’re clipped on the left shin, don’t roll around on the ground holding your right. The infamous Robben, of the Netherlands, consistently falls before contact. Mexico was knocked out after his third flop. An Argentinian player was pushed in the upper part of his back and proceeded to drop and roll as if struck by an appendicitis. Miraculously, he recovered in time to take the free kick.
THE RULES: Article 57 of FIFA’s disciplinary code state that a player “who violates the principles of fair play or whose behavior is unsporting in any other way may be subject to sanctions.” But sanctions are rarely exercised. It’s time the rule be re-written with a bit more bite. “Any player who throws himself onto the pitch with amatuer theatricality and howls like a wounded seal when not really injured, will be publicly beaten in a way that will make him wish he actually was.”
VIRAL FLOPPING: When diving showed signs of going viral during the Stanley Cup Finals this year, the NHL crushed it like a cucaracha by calling “embellishment” penalties. The flopper went to the box and felt shame. The manliest of sports handled cowardice with impunity. What would happen if NFL players start faking it for calls? What would happen if all of us started flopping. You’re in a restaurant, a waiter brushes past you. Fall and grab your ankle. Cringe up your face and grind your teeth. When the owner offers you a free drink, rise, shake his hand, and say, “How about a round for the table?”
As far as FIFA is concerned? Come on fellas! The cameras are already rolling. Why not use ‘em for replays on all questionable calls? Why allow the fate of a team, and a nation, to be decided any other way? Determining the legitimacy of a call would be worth the break in action, and players would stop diving if refs awarded a penalty kick the other way. The game is already stopping for fakers. Now stop it for a review. Especially when we can pan the guilty party.
Side note: Killer write up on All-Star flopper from Slate.
CROWDING: It’s not uncommon to see a ref besieged by players after a controversial call. Five, six, seven players impinging, whining, gesturing, even shoving. He has to back peddle himself to safety. You worry for the man with the whistle. Either punish that behavior, harshly, or give the ref a hip holster of pepper spray so the man can defend himself.
BITING: Let’s make it an official part of the game. You can’t use your hands, so why not your teeth, tongues and lips? It would add an entirely new subtext to the game, provide tantalizing close-ups for fans, and spice up post-game analysis. Suarez is already teaching youth how to do it properly during his summer camp. He has a four months off to perfect his method.
IT AIN’T OVER TIL IT’S OVER: Diving is as un-American as giving up before the Fat Lady sings. When the USA is down (or tied, in the case of Ghana), you see a concentrated offensive push in the final minutes of the match. Some European teams who do it, like Portugal did to the US, but it doesn’t seem to have the same level of desperation, and it definitely doesn’t stop them from diving and splaying about instead of sprinting back into play.
England looked utterly resigned with 30 minutes left against Italy. They were only down a goal but they milled around, passed backwards more than forwards, and jogged casually to throw-ins. Same with the Greeks versus Costa Rica when they only had 10 men. They just didn’t pump up the volume and ended up losing in a shoot-out. Thousands of plates weren’t broken triumphantly as a result.
Play hard till the final whistle! And harder still if you’re losing! Blow your brains out trying to make something happen! Throw every last strand of DNA into it! It makes for the kind of undeniable drama you don’t have to fake. You’re getting paid ludicrous amounts of money for a 90 minute work day with big ass bonuses for winning the whole shabang. Yes, World Cup athletes are not just playing for their homelands. There’s a sizable paycheck. So make the extra effort. Especially at the end!
EXTRA TIME: Here’s another soccer oddity we should incorporate into our daily lives. Say you’re waiting for a table at a busy restaurant. The four top in the corner already paid the bill but they’re lingering. Clearly, they’re in extra time. An official should stand by their table with a digital board reading “3” in bright red lights. When time’s up, a whistle blows three times and fervent gestures are made toward the door.
FLUORESCENT BOOTS: So many respected athletes said “yes” to endorsements having no idea they’d be mailed lightning yellow or hot pink cleats, upholding the truism that you never get what you don’t pay for. Let’s hope the trend of wearing two different colored boots goes the way of the vuvuzela. Both are annoyingly loud and totally unnecessary.
BRAZILIAN FANS: Bless their incessant jubilation regardless of which teams are playing. They dance and chant and undulate while scantily clad, along side the Belgians or Morrocans or Australians. They just love their fu-chee-bol that much.
But their commitment to euphoria might be greater. As we saw in the last World Cup, even when they lose, the party still goes off. It’s a quality we should all emulate. Our children would grow up better people knowing that win or lose, after the game, they’re going to fry plantains, pound capirinias and have three ways sans pubic hair to pulsating samba music.
JACK WHITE: The guy can write a lick, but did he have any idea that millions of people populating multiple countries would be shouting the first seven notes of “Seven Nation Army” to rev themselves up in the stands? And how many of them have ever been to Wichita?
U.S.A.: If possible, we should score in the first 30 seconds of all games. Also, we should prevent goals against in the final seconds of extra time by not thinking the ref’s going to blow the whistle even though the world’s greatest player has the ball on the far wing…
THE TROPHY: For a game that involves so many different countries, and boasts the most fans of any sport, the World Cup Trophy feels a little puny. Then again, every trophy seems puny compared to the NHL’s Stanley Cup. The only trophy in sports that will continue to get bigger as they add more rings to include the names of the victors. The World Cup trophy could use a steroid or two. No one should be able to hold it up with one hand.
SAY WHAT? A Bosnia-Hertzegovenian and an Iranian are battling on the soccer pitch (this is not the beginning of a joke). The whistle blows but the skirmish escalates after the play. A shouting match ensues in each others faces. A South African ref steps in and issues warnings. Fellow teammates rapidly descend to argue their cases. The question is: what the hell language are they all speaking? Does anyone understand anything being said?
The answer, of course, is yes. The language is universal when it’s futbol. The beautiful game. The most popular sport in the world… save a future few improvements.