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"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an agèd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Lessons from Lineker

One of my favourite footballers is Gary Lineker. I don't remember watching him much; I was 3 when he won the Golden Boot in Mexico 1986. And my memories of him from Italia '90 are also vague.

Lineker, who presents football games on TV these days, has many claims to fame. He belongs to a select group of footballers who have scored 10 or more goals in World Cup finals. He captained the English side for two years, won the Copa del Ray and the Cup Winners' Cup playing for Barcelona, and is also England's second highest scorer in international games.

But the one record that sets this favourite son of Leicester apart from other great players is this: he has never received a yellow card in his entire playing career (and no red cards either). Not a single booking in such an illustrious career. This record he shares with very few others (Wikipedia names only 3 others), and he is the only practitioner of the modern game to hold this distinction.

That is not say that footballers should take to the game with the sole intent of being labeled "Mr. Nice Guy". Not being booked at all, or being booked sparingly during a top-flight career spanning a decade or two speaks highly of the discipline which these footballers bring to the field.

One can easily turn Machiavellian and retort that it is only what is achieved on the field that counts, and not how. Future generations might remember Lineker the Golden Boot winner, while relegating his disciplinary record to a piece of trivia. But nothing can erase the fact that Lineker, while being just as competitive as anybody else, also brought a humane touch to football. Indeed, we call football the beautiful game. We talk of "joga bonito"; we give our competitions taglines such as "a time to make friends". Why? To headbutt opponents?

Should Zinedine Zidane's act of crashing into Marco Materazzi disturb the pedestal he was standing upon? That is something for posterity to decide. My guess is that we will remember him as one of football's all-time greats, but (just like we have done for his fellow countryman Eric Cantona) we will also reserve a footnote for his disgraceful, even shameful exit from the final.

A better stage could not have been presented to the Frenchman. Had France won, he would have held aloft the same trophy he helped win eight years ago. Even as a losing finalist, he could have held his head high, could have heard a few words of consolation from the great Franz Beckenbauer, and could have thanked the whole world for cheering him on.

But that head, that famous shaven head, that struck twice in St Denis in 1998, it only struck a poor (provocative?) Italian defender, and has been missing from public view ever since. Before the final began, a friend has set his IM status message to "employez la guillotine". It is sad that the guillotine fell on -- rather, was self-inflicted upon by -- France's favourite son. Monsieur Zidane, surely you could have had a better farewell!

They say that it only takes a moment of madness to bring down years of hard work. In Zidane's case, "bring down" might be an exaggeration, but no one can gainsay that his reputation has not been dented. Zidane lost not just his head, not just the World Cup, but also his status as an ambassador for the game.

Meanwhile, Gary Winston Lineker watches on...

5 Comments:

Blogger Soccer Mania said...

Lineker's record is truely marvelous. But, Lineker being a striker, and a pure striker that is, did not need to go "physical" and the game played two decades back did not need defending from the strikers- a stark contrast to the current state of affairs. I guess the best example from this WC is Fabio Cannavarro. He did not get booked a single time and his anticipation of his tackles are brilliant. He is in the mould of a pure defender who are becoming increasingly rare in football these days. He is the worthy heir of another truely marvelous defender- Paolo Maldini.

Zidane has never been the "nice guy" in soccer.
He has been sent-off 14 times in his 100+ appearances and has the worst disciplinary record in the current WC (3 yellow cards and 1 red card in 6 games)
the (http://worldcup.goal.com/enindia/articolo.aspx?ContenutoId=91069 )

His dismissal summed up this ordinary world cup. The team that makes the least mistake wins it. It is more like a WC where a opposition team (in this case France) losses than a team winning it (Italy winning it). FIFA needs to look into this WC as it makes this game a mere tactical one with the team making the least mistake winning it. Just a few instances:

Zidane's sent-off and the substitution of Ribery and Henry screwed France.
Portugal's Carvalho's mistake lost the game in the S/F
Pekerman's blunder lost the game for Arg.
Perrerra's abrupt change in the starting XI lost it for Brazil.
England's screwed up tactics and the dismissal of Rooney lost it for England.

7/10/2006 07:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A site claims that it has decryted the conversation between materazzi and zidane leading upto the incident using lip reading experts

http://sport.independent.co.uk/football/internationals/article1171388.ece

Muhi

7/10/2006 09:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if we are in the position of zidane we would do the same thing.
no point of arguing whether he is good or bad.

7/10/2006 09:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Vijay Krishna said...

@SoccerMania: Yes, the allegation that Lineker never came back to defend has been levelled against him. Despite this, his record is amazing. I concur with your point about Maldini - he is the greatest defender of all time. Cannavaro is a worthy successor. In fact, I felt sad that "il capitano" wasn't around for this World Cup.

@Muhi: Thanks for the link. What Zidane says will be taken as truth, and Materazzi will be branded a villain.

@Anon: There is no argument about Zidane being good or bad. As a matter of fact, abuses are thrown around on the sporting field all the while. If Zidane reacted to it, then it is a shame.

7/10/2006 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger The Talkative Man said...

I watched Lineker in both the 86 and 90 cups. The Sportstar in its countdown to Mexico 86 referred to him as the man to watch("the son of a fruitcart vendor"). He grabbed attention with a hat-trick against Paraguay and had the knack of being there at the right time. Scored against Argentina too but couldnt stop Maradona. However he was not the guy who can run rings around a defence or rip them to shreds. Some used to refer to him as a rabbit-killer. Anyway the Mexico display earned him a contract with Barcelona.

Linekar flopped in Euro 88 where it was Van Basten all the way.

For 1990 Alan Shearer was tipped as the man to watch. But Gary returned to form with a goal in the opening match against Ireland. He was steady as usual but by no means spectacular. Against Cameroon it was the genius of Gascoigne that ensured England's survival, the Africans leading 2-1 till minute 66.
Gascoigne ripped apart the defence, was brought down, and Linekar slotted home 2 penalties.
But against top quality opposition, he was not really reliable. Does have the knack of entering the scoresheets though in very ubobtrusive fashion.

7/14/2006 06:36:00 AM  

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