In May 2012, something amazing happened in European club
football. It was the winning of the vital UEFA Champions League trophy by
Chelsea Football Club of England. The fact that Chelsea won against all odds
and expectations -beating the then-on-fire Barcelona FC in the semi-finals of
the competition, and doing same to match favourites, FC Bayern Munich on their
(Bayern’s) home soil in the finals was for many viewers a matter of divine
intervention. For them, Chelsea was simply favoured by the god of soccer. But
the veracity or even the rationality of this assumption certainly cannot be
taken for granted.
The game of soccer, also known as football is obviously the
most followed sports in the world, and apparently the most fascinating. Played
at all levels, from unrefereed teams of a few (not necessarily as many as the
standard eleven players) children without spectators in a field of any size,
with pairs of coats as goal posts, and not strictly conforming to the rules, to
strictly regulated games between teams of highly competent professional players
before enthusiastic crowds of 100,000 or more in a purpose built stadium-it is
virtually impossible to stride a kilometer radius of any human community without
finding a potential or actual play ground for the game of football. And
statistics show that at the turn of the 21st century, the game was played by
over 200 million players in over 200 countries, and with over 4 billion
spectators, making it the world's most popular sports.
Also read: I'm just a servant of football - Blatter
Little wonder that soccer is regarded as the king of sports,
and a popular media catchphrase would regard it as much more than a game.
Even more so a friend of mine once noted that ‘football is a religion, the
largest religion in the world’. This is most true, since the game is also
played at the national, international and club levels; played by people of both
genders. But if football is a religion, who or what is her god? Who is the god
of soccer? How does he operate?
For some people, the god of soccer is simply their hero of
the game; just as many would regard Pele, or Lionel Messi in contemporary
football. But this is not the sense which I wish to portray here. By the god of
soccer, I mean that god that decides the fate of the game of soccer; that god
that determines the result of a football match, especially in crucial ties; the
god that favours one side (the winners), and disfavours the others (the losers)
at the end of the ninety minutes or more of play.
The existence of this god would be readily affirmed by many
who might think that his manifestations are too obvious to be ignored or
denied, otherwise why is it that oftentimes, the pre-match favourites do not
get to win, and the underdogs dramatically do. Why is it that the better team
on the pitch does not always emerge victorious? Isn’t it a pointer to some
supernatural force that manipulates the outcome of the matches?
The beauty of a standard football match is that 22 players
battle in two camps of 11 each, with three umpires to moderate. Any one or more
of these have a huge role to play in deciding the result in the sense that a
slight error by one of the players, or on the other hand, a chance
manifestation of talent by a talisman; a collective team tactics; a display of
competence or otherwise by any of the umpires, etc. any of these can seal the
fate of the match. Someone had said that for a good team to win in a game of soccer,
all their players must stay focused throughout the game. But how is that
possible, I mean for all eleven to remain so for a period of ninety minutes
plus? On the long run, a brief moment of loss of concentration might make
or marl the match.
Taking the Chelsea vs Barcelona game as a case study, many
would say the soccer god favoured Chelsea against the run of play. But this in
my view is a mistaken stance. Barcelona FC had a formidable team which on paper
ranked higher than that of Chelsea. But remember also that experience counts in
this game, and this is where in my opinion, Chelsea had an edge. Moreover,
having tried several years without success to get at the trophy, Chelsea
players were both hungrier for the title and on the average a bit older in
experience than their Barca counterparts who incidentally had just lifted the
trophy a few years back. Again, Barca were unrivalled in their great attacking
football, embellished with long moments of ball possession. But they had a weak
point which was a porous defense. Chelsea on the other hand knew better than to
attack, and if they could not attack, they could at least defend, and rely more
on the counterattacks. This was a tactics that saw them through the two legged
encounter to the finals. And you would agree with me that subsequent football
clubs that defeated Barca simply borrowed a leaf from Chelsea.
The point here is not to take an atheistic stance on the
influence of God on human affairs, but to state emphatically that God (or god
for that matter) does not favour one team against another in a football match.
One might successfully predict, or even prophesy about the result of a match,
as the visionary Nigerian pastor T.B. Joshua is wont to do; or as the famous
octopus of FIFA World Cup, South Africa 2010. But God’s omniscience is not to
be confused with or mistaken for his omnipotence. God does not intervene in the
game of football any more than he does in deciding who takes first or last
position in a classroom, or who wins in an election. For just as an intelligent
student beleaguered by ill health, or distracted from studies, or careless in
tackling his exam questions, might not hope to perform well, so also is a good
team without proper preparations or reckless in execution of duty unlikely to win
a match. As (God’s) grace builds on nature, so does the god of soccer determine
the outcome of a football match. This is most true if a secondary school
football team can by no means defeat a top football club in Europe. So what we
see at the end of a football match is but the result of a twist of several
factors which include skills, strength, strategy, mental alertness,
carefulness, resilience, fairness, etc. These are the factors that determine
the winners of the game of soccer.
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