‘Thicker than fossilized dino-dung’ says scientist
Ok, he hasn’t been called anything of the sort really*. But, recently, I have noticed that there is a common assumption that footballers are thick. Much of the media hoopla and general national hand-wringing that consumed Britain this year during the great ‘Will Wayne go to London or Manchester?’ debacle concerned the young Liverpudlian’s ability to take care of himself. Countless inches of tabloid (and broadsheet) chatter made absurd predictions about his future and nearly always made the parallel between the careers of England’s hottest new star and that of the infamous Gazza.
The perceived wisdom is, that a key factor in the decision to sign for United was, in fact, Sir Alex Ferguson‘s famed ability to guide talented but inexperienced stars to maturity. Giggs and Beckham are the two most famous examples. This is also the club and manager that tamed Roy Keane, another player who I have heard accused of being a ‘gouger-made-good’.
So, the logic goes, Rooney opted for United on account of the fact that, in Ferguson, Rooney would have his Obi-Wan: a stern hand to guide him through the perils of becoming a global superstar and always there, to keep his cash flow limited – on account of the fact that young Wayne is too stupid to look after it himself.
Now I don’t know Wayne Rooney. Never had the pleasure. But from what little we have seen of this kid, it’s kind of clear that he is not the most articulate of men. Of course he isn’t. He’s Eighteen for God’s sake. Do you remember what it was like to be Eighteen? It was horrible. You were horrible. Horrible, uncommunicative and grumpy.
And you weren’t having a TV camera shoved in your face and being patronized and ripped off by an army of yes-men, agents, marketing executives and other assorted bloodsuckers. So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a while, shall we? You know, leave him alone until he’s done with puberty and then let’s ask him for his view of the world?
Which rather inarticulately brings me to my point. Footballers are not thick. They’re not. Occasionally they can be stupid, oversexed and overpaid thugs; sporting haircuts that would pique the curiosity of most anthropologists. But so can many politicians. Now, I’m sure that there are professional footballers out there who are dimmer than the light-bulb atop Ireland’s new National monument, but I believe that, on average, most footballers are actually quite smart people. And here’s why…
I hadn’t played football in a very long time. About four or five years. Then, this January, urged by boredom, I started playing again. Needless to say, the first few games were hell, whilst my body took its time to recover from the shock of me trying to kill it. Eventually, my general fitness got better and I got into the pace of things and really started enjoying myself.
Then, slowly, as the weeks blurred by, I started to notice something about the guys that I was playing with. Mostly Spanish, these guys were good. Really good. I’m talking about speed, ability, fitness and simply awesome ball control. It was that which shocked me at first: how effortlessly even the most mediocre player on the pitch could perfectly control a ball. It never seemed to be beyond any of them to squirm, dodge and dribble their way out of any hole on the pitch. Or at least get a free-kick whilst trying.
And then there’s the shooting. First game I played this year, a guy let rip with a 25 yard, left-foot volley which came within fractions of decapitating me; only to miraculously miss my head and cannon off the bar with a rasping bang, leaving the woodwork flapping. This continued to happen all night.
What does this have to do with anything? Ok, consider the following scenario. Real Madrid – I don’t like them, but it’s an excellent example – big game. Beckham smacks a ball from just outside his own penalty box, right-footed, a lot of air on it, looping across 60 yards of the pitch, swinging from right-back to left-wing channel, as Zidane (who has been motoring down the pitch like an express train, his marker trailing in his wake), turns his head, takes a half-body twist , slowing his pace slightly, allowing the ball to fall (unmolested) over his shoulder and land on the end of his left foot, unleashing a fifteen yard volley which narrowly fires wide. Now.
Let’s carry out a little experiment. Go out of the building you are in now and bring two mates and a football. Start running. Very fast. Now, keep running.
One of your mates has to launch a pin-point accurate cross, over 60 or so yards. You, have to run, full-tilt, towards an (unknown) given point, to make contact with a projectile the size of a human head, which is traveling from a point behind you. That you can’t see. Then, hit the object (without altering it’s trajectory before shooting) as hard as you can with your wrong foot. Oh, and get it on target.
And (sorry), this at the same time as a great, hulking, hairy-arsed defender (your other mate) is charging after you with the express intention of crippling you. He may or may not be wrestling with you as you run, holding your shirt and kicking like a mule. He may be biting you. He may or may not be screaming a great cacophony of insults at you, his legs pumping furiously as he tells you that he’s going to violently copulate with your girlfriend and then defecate in her mouth.
Oh, you think I’m making this up? Beckham (who I generally don’t have a shred of sympathy for) used to have the weekly joy of 60,000 ‘fans’ singing to him about the fact that his missus takes it up the pipe. And still people scratch their heads and wonder why more and more footballers are heading for Spain.
Consider it. Consider the timing. Consider the accuracy. The judgment of pace, trajectory and rotation. Consider the blend of clinically executed mathematics, instinctual geometry and physical fitness. Consider the fact that most of these guys drive Aston Martins. Damn.
So, are footballers a previously unrecognized genus of savant? Should we be looking to them to save our nations and educate our children? Um, nope. We shouldn’t. But let’s stop assuming that they are all as dense as the proverbial Irish bog from which they may or may not have sprung.
*No thick footballers were harmed during the writing of this text.