Out of this world

Nearly three weeks have passed since a magnificent World Cup concluded with Germany defeating Argentina 1-0 in Rio de Janeiro, and I’m still suffering severe withdrawal systems. It could be said that I’m going cold germany – but that would be both clunky and unfunny. Anyway, it’s nothing to worry about: I’ll be completely recovered in 201 weeks’ time when Russia 2018 kicks off (assuming there’s still a world around to have a cup).

Brazil 2014 was something else. There’s no need for me to add to the vast quantities of written material about the tournament already out there; instead I want to look at some of its more esoteric aspects.

The injury inflicted on Brazil’s star player by Camilo Zuniga in the last few minutes of the 2-1 quarter-final win over Colombia destroyed Brazil’s chances in an instant. Without Neymar’s sparkle, pace and ideas Brazil are a very limited side. As the seriousness of the injury became apparent all of Brazil, including the players, knew they would not now rectify the Maracanazo of 1950, the shock defeat by Uruguay the last time Brazil were hosts, and thus fulfil the country’s manifest destiny by winning the World Cup at home. There was only one thing for it: pray. Hence more arms outstretched heaven-wards and tearful incantations to the Lord than at a Pentecostal scripture reading. For any injury to have such big consequences is unusual – but then this was a very unusual injury in itself. Zuniga broke Neymar’s back! Yes, that is actually what happened – yet nobody felt able to put it so bluntly, so the “broken vertebra” formula was universally adopted – though when a leg is broken it’s described as such, not a “broken fibia”. This general squeamishness can be explained by the extreme rarity of a broken vertebra in football. It’s not common in any sport, which is why recent examples in horse racing (jockey JT McNamara’s paralysis after a fall at Cheltenham in 2013) and rugby union (promising Cardiff Blues centre Owen Williams’ serious spinal injury in Singapore last month) captured headlines.  I cannot find or recall another example of this type of fracture in football, where lower body injuries are the norm. Neymar is very lucky he will ever walk again, much less kick a ball. Had the point of contact been a millimetre away he would have been paralysed for life – just imagine the reaction to THAT! Frightening, huh? Nearly as frightening as the worst football injury ever filmed:

Zuniga didn’t even get a yellow card for his assault on Neymar, and nor did Luis Suárez for digging his gnashers into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini during the Uruguay v Italy match. The ref didn’t see it and  Uruguay won a corner – from which they scored to knock Italy out and proceed to the next round.  TV replays clearly showed the brilliant striker dining out on a delicious spalla cotta and, following the predictable outrage, FIFA threw the book at him, banning him for nine internationals effective immediately (the longest ban in World Cup history) and from all club football for four months. While not defending Suárez, I agree with wonderful José Mujica, the President of Uruguay, who called FIFA “a bunch of old sons of bitches.” The bite was totally harmless, requiring nothing more than a dab of TCP to be healed – so why the vast, disproportionate over-reaction when a straight red card after a seriously dangerous tackle results in a mere two-match ban? Apparently, it’s because there’s supposed to be something particularly disgusting about a bite that puts it in a category all of its own; something animalistic, something unmanly, something evil even.  Such was the moralistic humbuggery whipped up by the British media, always trying to deflect from Brit barbarism, with all the usual racist undertones about Anglo-Saxon civility versus Latin uncouthness and nonsensical formulations about copy-cat children imitating Suárez the role-model in school playgrounds. It was all hypocritical bullshit of course, and it came back to, um, bite both FIFA and English football immediately: FIFA lost a great player from the tournament and the English Premier League lost its top striker, Barcelona snapping him up from Liverpool to confirm the diminishing status of the Rupert Murdoch Memorial League. Diego Maradona, as usual, was spot on, calling FIFA “a mafia.” Hey, that gives me the excuse to show this:

The most sensational football match anybody alive has ever seen broke so many records and has so many profound implications it is no exaggeration to say that, after those utterly gripping 90 minutes, the beautiful game will never be quite the same again. Brazil’s bubble wasn’t just burst; it was abolished. Their extraordinary 56-year era as the touchstone of football, which began in Sweden in 1958 when 17 year-old Pelé scored his first World Cup goal against Wales in the quarter finals, is well and truly over.  How are the mighty fallen; the Emperor wears no clothes; flying too close to the sun…such a real-time annihilation in such a context summons up hosts of similar age-old proverbial truths. When Sami Khedira virtually walked the ball into the net to make it 5-0, Germany’s fourth goal in six minutes, I was so over-stimulated I kept up a high-pitched scream for the remaining hour of the game, emptying the house and bringing complaints from neighbours. This wasn’t just a defeat; it was a death. And there can be no recovery for Brazil because it is irreversible. The carnival is over; we are privileged to have lived to witness it. Obrigado Brasil…and here’s the consolation: you rose the highest, it is right and fitting that you should sink the lowest.

Not just the clueless, milksop England team, but the stinking English Premier League, awash with the dirty money of despots and oligarchs and stuffed with obscenely overpaid, preening mercenary millionaires who make it impossible for English players to progress. Bankrolled by debt and hedge funds and overseas leverage scams, the over-hyped, over-sold and over-rated Premier League could save us all a lot of bother by not bothering to play any football and just settle league positions by the assets of the owner. My prediction for the 2014/15 championship: Manchester City (Abu Dhabi oil, see). Meanwhile, all the most impressive players in the World Cup – Rodriguez, Muller, Messi, Schweinsteiger, Mascherano, Hummels, etc –  ply their trade in other countries.

This World Cup established inarguably once and for all the primacy and superiority of international football over club football. There is just no comparison between the sheer intensity, importance, passion, physicality and theatre of the international game, which cannot be purchased, and the routine, season-in-season-out, merry-go-round parochialisms of the club game, which are entirely determined by money. International football is the pinnacle. And in Wales it is particularly important to state that fact because here, uniquely in the world, that precious international game is treated with contempt and by permitting six clubs to play in the English pyramid we don’t even bother to create the viable national league that is the precondition of international health because it’s the only way to produce enough players. We should actually be more committed to the success of our international team than other countries, given that our status as one of FIFA’s 209 members is our solitary global calling-card. But because to embrace Wales as a truly international identity ipso facto requires the acceptance of Wales as a national entity, the British nationalists who pervade every corner of Welsh life and set the parameters of Welsh possibilities have a visceral loathing of international football, a loathing that can never be articulated outright. The World Cup puts these NotWelsh on the spot, and they get really uncomfortable. During the tournament I heard many a Cardiffian, unfortunately of my acquaintance, say things like “It’s boring, can’t wait for the new season, I’m a City fan!” These brainwashed collaborators and stooges always instinctively big up Britishness and belittle Welshness wherever and however it manifests itself in order to make our colonised servile political status seem natural and go unchallenged. They can be found everywhere in Wales – and are particularly abundant in the BBC, the Welsh Assembly and, of course, the FAW.  Since I last wrote about the FAW on this blog, in the wake of my submission to the Assembly’s 2012 Inquiry into the Welsh Premier League, nothing has changed and therefore, since in football to stand still is to decline, things have got a lot worse. The FAW produced this strategic plan. A classic of its kind, I think you will agree. Meanwhile, two venerable Welsh clubs and former Welsh Premier champions, Barry Town and Llanelli, went out of business for the sake of peanuts without the FAW lifting a finger to assist them and without a murmur of concern in the Welsh media. The FAW, a snakepit of petty local rivalries and dumb incomprehension organised like the Byzantine Empire, even tried to make the phoenix clubs that then emerged start at the level of parks football before Barry fans went to the High Court to overturn what amounted to an attempt to wipe out football altogether in two sizeable Welsh towns.  As it is, Swansea City and Cardiff City are doing the job for them.  My ignored submission to the Assembly stated that these two institutions, essentially rogue foreign franchises operating within Wales’ borders and answerable to no-one, are like giant leylandii, denying light, water and nourishment to native plants in a 50 mile radius. So it is proving. Every country in the world rejected the Premier League’s idea of holding a one-off “match 39” in their territory, knowing it would cause grievous damage to their own domestic games – yet Wales slavers over the damaging absence of Swansea and Cardiff and the other four. Swansea City competed in the Europa League as representatives of ENGLAND, garnering UEFA coefficient points for ENGLAND, reducing the total points available for all other nations including WALES (PS: Swansea is located in Wales). Anywhere else on the planet such a club would be forced to play in their home league; in pathetic Wales all we get is the strange strangled sound of the likes of Rhodri Morgan telling us Swansea City’s success in England is “good for Wales”. The day is not far off when there won’t be a single semi-pro club left in all of south Wales and the Welsh Premier won’t have a single member south of Aberystwyth – where ¾ of the population live. For season 2014/15 there will be just two: Carmarthen Town and Port Talbot Town. The nightmare two-club league I have predicted (Airbus UK and The New Saints) cannot be far off. Meanwhile, the multi-million Swansea and Cardiff squads are being assembled for the forthcoming season – and there’s barely a Welshman among them. I must ask Rhodri next time I see him buying his organic beef at Riverside Market on a Sunday morning whether this too is “good for Wales.”  This question of the six clubs continuing betrayal of Wales and thus their continuing systemic wrecking of our chances of ever qualifying for the World Cup, is the litmus-test of genuine Welsh nationalism, since football is the only sphere of international affairs in which Wales exists. Yet lately I have met many who describe themselves as Welsh nationalists who have a peculiar blind spot when it comes to this starkly obvious issue of Welsh territorial integrity and sovereignty. Their otherwise implacable support for Welsh independence evaporates if it means, say, Swansea won’t be playing Sunderland any more. That’s how bad things are in Wales today: even self-styled “nationalists” don’t, or won’t, get it.