The money has poured in but Beau­ti­ful Game is pure at heart

Irish Independent - - Comment - Bar­bara McCarthy

IT’S here, it’s fi­nally here. The World Cup, the great­est event in the his­tory of the planet. The most im­por­tant thing to hap­pen to us ev­ery four years. My brain is filled with vi­sions of my team lift­ing the cov­eted tro­phy once again, as my mind wan­ders from the mun­dane to the sub­lime.

“Is there a match on?” some ask in­no­cently? “Yes.” Sure it’s only the mi­nor is­sue of a bunch of over­paid, su­per­cil­ious prats – well Ser­gio Ramos and many a latino player – kick­ing a ball around the place in a cor­rupt host coun­try, nom­i­nated by a bunch of prae­to­rian of­fi­cials, with 3.2 bil­lion peo­ple watch­ing on across the globe, ex­hibit­ing fe­ro­cious en­thu­si­asm and ex­per­tise.

In 2014, one bil­lion peo­ple watched the World Cup fi­nal be­tween my team – Ger­many – and Ar­gentina in Rio de Janeiro, the big­gest live event of the 21st cen­tury and I can’t help but think to my­self, what the hell were the other six bil­lion peo­ple do­ing? Some­one must have for­got­ten to count a few pun­ters on the streets of La­hore, Mo­gadishu or La Paz, peer­ing at a telly out­side some café.

Who counts these things any­way and, more wor­ry­ingly, how?

Any­way, back to Rus­sia. Eight years af­ter win­ning the right to host the World Cup, beat­ing Eng­land on a stag­ger­ingly per­fid­i­ous day in Jo­han­nes­burg in 2010, we’ve ar­rived at the World Cup again – with­out Ire­land. Again.

Eng­land, who in­vented the mod­ern game, who were uniquely poised to host it with dozens of world class sta­di­ums, fan­tas­tic in­fra­struc­ture, en­dors­ing celebri­ties like Prince Wil­liam and David Beck­ham and a soc­cer­mad pop­u­lace, were screwed over. Rus­sia, which didn’t have ad­e­quate sta­di­ums or in­fra­struc­ture, won the bid and Eng­land only got two votes.

The FBI got in­volved, and one of the largest in­ves­ti­ga­tions of in­ter­na­tional graft and money laun­der­ing in Amer­i­can his­tory be­gan. As de­scribed by the ‘New York Times’, it would “ex­pose decades of deep-seated rot and cor­rup­tion in global soc­cer”.

Rack­e­teer­ing, wire fraud, money laun­der­ing, dozens of ar­rests – all over a ball.

It’s dif­fi­cult for non-soc­cer fans to fathom the mag­ni­tude of in­ter­est in 22 men play­ing with a ball, es­pe­cially when its roots are so sim­ple.

The first known team game in­volv­ing said ball – made out of

a rock in this case, oc­curred in Me­soamer­i­can cul­ture 3,000 years ago. Ac­cord­ing to his­tory, the ball sym­bol­ised the sun and the cap­tain of the los­ing team would be sac­ri­ficed to the gods. Kind of sim­i­lar to what hap­pens if the Ger­man team loses.

The world’s old­est foot­ball clubs were founded in Eng­land from 1857 and the FA Cup was founded in

1871 as the world’s first or­gan­ised com­pe­ti­tion, for­mally le­git­imis­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ism in 1885. Re­cently, CIES Foot­ball Ob­ser­va­tory al­go­rithms fig­ures found that the French na­tional team are worth

€1.41bn, Eng­land worth €1.39bn and Brazil worth €1.27bn.

The es­ti­mated trans­fer value for all play­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in the World Cup is €12.6bn. Money, money, money. Just look at Span­ish coach Julen Lopetegui get­ting sacked on the eve of the tour­na­ment be­cause he failed to men­tion that part about mov­ing to Real Madrid to his monied over­lords. It’s like the al­lies get­ting rid of Eisen­hower be­fore D-Day.

It’s all about club foot­ball now with coaches earn­ing up to

€20m, com­pared to Joachim Low, Ger­many coach, get­ting a measly

€3m. I know Ir­ish peo­ple love the Span­ish team, but I don’t. I hope they screw up.

I sup­port Ger­many, to a point of ob­ses­sion. I’ve been a fan since 1982 and I watch most of the matches in Ger­many. Like most Ger­man fans, it’s about be­ing bet­ter than we were last time round, but we are hard on our team. None of this ‘Fields of Athenry’ stuff when we’re los­ing.

The po­lit­i­cal storm sur­round­ing Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gun­do­gan be­ing pho­tographed with con­tro­ver­sial pres­i­dent of Turkey Re­cep Er­do­gan in May could cost us. Al­though Turks have been liv­ing in Ger­many for decades, hap­pily side by side, proud Ger­man fans, of which 70,000 odd are trav­el­ling to Moscow, said enough is enough – boo­ing the pair in the two un­der­whelm­ing warm-up matches and po­ten­tially bring­ing their ire to Rus­sia with Low.

This could af­fect the per­for­mance of the rest of the team. It’s scary stuff.

BUT enough about pol­i­tics and money, once you take them out what’s left is pure joy. Ger­mans call foot­ball ‘die schön­ste Neben­sache der Welt ’– the best dis­trac­tion in the world. If you ever win a World Cup, ev­ery­one is happy, no mat­ter how young or old. There is noth­ing in the world that com­pares.

There’s a man in Bangladesh who made the long­est Ger­man flag in the world – it’s 3.5km long. It took him four years. Who does that – only for the beau­ti­ful game?

It doesn’t mat­ter where you are, once you’re on a foot­ball pitch, be it in South Africa, Brazil, Ger­many, be it made of sand, stone or grass, it’s a place where peo­ple come to­gether for a uni­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Its sim­plic­ity, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and to­geth­er­ness make it so spe­cial. Most peo­ple can af­ford a ball, and any­one can play it.

So here’s to the World Cup. Let it be glo­ri­ous, let it be peace­ful. Let us be kind to the Rus­sians and them to their guests.

Let us en­joy it as a global com­mu­nity and let the best (Ger)mans win.

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