From greatest players to disliked nations, one match can alter your views
26 June ~ José Mourinho can add another blow to his recent six-month driving ban: I don’t like him anymore. Lionel Messi can augment his fourth Champions League winners’ medal with the news I’ve decided he may indeed be the greatest player ever. Rather than the content, fans and pundits often judge each other’s opinions on their intractability. But when football stops changing our minds, we should stop watching.
I’m no expert. I can’t rely on my own judgement of Messi. But when an ex-pro tells me, via Sky, ITV or the BBC, he’s “undoubtedly” the best the world has ever seen it feels premature. Medals provide the laboratory test conditions. So when spreading his limited stamina across Brazil 2014 to drag Argentina to a World Cup final, Leo resembled Diego Maradona – my reigning All Time Greatest – doing likewise in 1986 and 1990.
Against Juventus in Berlin this month, he didn’t become the first player to score in three Champions League finals. But his pivotal contribution put him, for me, alongside Alfredo Di Stéfano, scorer in Real Madrid’s five successful European Cup finals from 1956 to 1960.
Despite lacking value, my opinions guide my appreciation of football. With everyone pretending Barcelona had never signed a dirty player nor turned a profit, I enjoyed Mourinho’s Inter beating them in the 2010 Champions League semis. I loved him claiming Barça turned the sprinklers on their post-match celebrations to wash away Inter’s sweat and blood.
Taking to The Hawthorns’ pitch last month, however, completed José’s subsequent slide down my estimations, which began with his eye-gouging antics at Real Madrid. Defiant gestures to travelling Chelsea fans and dismissing their 3-0 league loss to West Brom as a friendly was one petulant obfuscation too far.
Our club and country affiliations don’t change. But they’re informed by today’s wall-to-wall football coverage merging with the seminal games and pivotal football lessons you can’t unlearn. Brazil at the 1982 World Cup was a TV movie summer romance. I was 13. Rangers and Scotland were rubbish. Falcæo, Cerezo and Sócrates; Zico, Júnior and Éder: rangy strides, languid passing, long-range goals and strips from another planet. I was intoxicated.
Then low-scoring Italy, like a pilot who’d survived a crash behind enemy lines, made a startling reappearance, scoring three to Brazil’s two in a de facto quarter-final. I was shattered that such beauty proved so unreliable. Then Rangers won the League nine times between 1987 and 1997, with decisive away wins secured on the counter attack.
By Euro 2000 my favourite game was ten-man Italy’s semi-final penalties win over Holland, after a 0-0. I now recognised defending an art form too, one which could be captivatingly dramatic. By 2002, watching their millionaires ostentatiously kneeling in prayer round the Yokohama centre circle after winning another World Cup, I didn’t care if I never saw Brazil again.
In my mid-40s now, I fear my opinions are hardening as quickly as my arteries. Instead of the sports car and grey pony tail, I’ll recreate my youth through the buzz of having my opinions changed. José Mourinho taking the Rangers job would be a start. Alex Anderson