They say men think about sex every six seconds- unless of course you’re Stan Collymore in which case you only think about something other than sex every six seconds. Well as the world cup approaches it seems I can’t go more than a few seconds without getting distracted by thoughts of South Africa. Driving, reading, engaging in conversation and remembering to give my nan her insulin, have all become more or less impossible as dreams of next month’s- next month, sounds so close- tournament pop into my head randomly and without any form of catalyst.
Everyone gets excited around world cup time, even more so when the tournament kicks off and the sickies start getting thrown with care-free abandon. The commentators get excited- except John Motson who merely maintains the same level of giddiness he would for a Hull City throw-in, the newspapers get excited- either with a witch-hunt –‘one stupid boy, little winker’ etc, or the occasional hint of adulation- ‘make mine a Becks’ and the managers get excited.
It’s more often than not that the managers get more excited than anyone else, after all while watching the tournament is a joy in itself for them it has the added edge of being something of a scouting mission.
This world cup will be no different everyone knows that Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo will be the most talked about. However there’s no doubt going to be some, not unknown because in the cyber-age even most conference clubs substitute goalkeepers have Wikipedia pages, but shall we say lesser known players that emerge as stars.
It’s these hidden gems that will have managers reaching for their cheque books quicker than Chris Kamara can get himself confused. However it should be noted that while often the stars of the tournament do recreate their awesomeness at club level following a stunning world cup- that isn’t always the case.
Since I started watching the world cup in 1990- I was very young I might add- there’s been more than a few players who’ve seemed like world beaters only to play like panel-beaters when some poor manager’s handed over an extortionate amount of their clubs money.
In 1990 I remember running around the playground- I was a child I assure you- imitating a certain diminutive Italian striker called Toto Schillaci. He seemed to score in every game and the fact he wasn’t English had yet to manifest itself into the sort of footballing jingoism many of us start displaying when we reach a certain age. It dawned on me many years later, that while other stars of Italia ’90, such as Gazza and Roberto Baggio had become household names, the little Italian who’d I’d been impersonating all those years ago had all but disappeared. A quick check of on t’internet tells me that by the time the next world cup had come around the 1990 golden boot winner was plying his trade in Japan after a fairly unimpressive 4 years.
USA ‘94 was a somewhat depressing affair for me and no doubt the rest of England as we were forced to go all ‘Tony Cascarino’ and pretend to be Irish as Graham Taylor’s team had failed to qualify.
It was while watching Ireland that I, along with the rest of the footballing world noticed two new ‘superstars’ emerge. Phil Babb and Jason McAteer shone in an Irish side that defeated eventual finalists Italy before getting knocked-out by a Dennis Bergkamp-inspired Dutch side. Babb and McAteer returned home to England- which is where they were from no matter how much they pretended to be Irish- with hefty price tags on their heads. After all if they could do it against the likes of Baggio and Paolo Maldini then surely they could do it against anyone. Liverpool snapped them both up, Babb almost immediately, McAteer a year later, as part of the rebuilding project going on at Anfield under Roy Evans following 4 title-less years. Unfortunately for Liverpool and Evans, Babb and McAteer weren’t quite the stars they had seemed to be in New York. While both made over 100 appearances for the Anfield club, they never really looked like helping Liverpool put the skids on Manchester United’s emerging dominance and one league cup win for Babb, and an FA Cup final appearance for them both- with the worst suits in living memory was not really good enough.
Liverpool were not alone in getting their appalling coloured Armani pants pulled down. Tottenham forked out £2.6 million for a player coach Ossie Ardiles said would have: ‘the freedom to go wherever he wants on the pitch’. Unfortunately Ilie Dumitrescu took him literally and could often be seen wandering round aimlessly as Ardiles embarked on his one-man crusade to make the 0-0-10 formation a viable option. Dumitrescu had been one of the stars of Romania’s surprise USA 94 showing, where they reached the quarter-finals. Gheorghe Hagi had been the other star and he’d moved to Barcelona after the tournament, where 35 games in two seasons –albeit due to injuries rather than form- saw him leave for that footballing Babylon Galatasaray
France 1998 was meant to be the year of Ronaldo, fat Ronaldo obviously as CR7 or is it 9 now? was still a young schoolboy dreaming of playing for Real Madrid- until he moves on from there in which case he was dreaming of playing for wherever he ends up. However the media may have thought it was going to be Ronaldo’s year, the fans may have agreed, I personally thought it was going to be David Beckham’s merely because I got carried away by the Happy Mondays Adidas advert, but it was without a doubt Zinedine Zidane’s tournament. In fact that’s not wholly fair as early on in the competition a certain Mr Thierry Henry seemed to be the rising star, so much so that in Ronaldo’s only real television interview during the tournament granted to his former manager Bobby Robson- no doubt for being so lovely to him, Ronaldo named Henry as the player who’d impressed him the most.
Ronaldo failed to live up to the hype- although to be fair the hype was that great only a hat-trick every game followed by some form of fishes and loaves type feeding of everyone in the stadium would have lived up to the expectation placed on the buck-toothed one. However, some of his countrymen emerged with their reputations enhanced none more so than Denilson. Denilson was the sort of player you love if you’re a neutral. Skilful, amazingly so, there was once a Nike billboard that said ‘If dribbling’s an art meet Rembrandt’ and following France 98 I couldn’t have agreed more. He was also inconsistent and suffered like a lot of Brazilians do of that famous ‘I’m not really *rsed disease’ which can occur without warning at any time. However he’d shown enough brilliance in France to make Real Betis fork out around $32 million US dollars for him. Whether he was a success or not is pretty much proved by the fact Betis were relegated two seasons after his arrival.
South Korea and Japan 2002 was another one in which Brazilians- players, not pubic stylings-caught the eye of many managers and the assembled media. Ronaldo put the ghost of whatever on earth happened the night of the ’98 Final behind him- personally I think he just wanted to cause a row between Jimmy Hill and the rest of the match if the day team. However, while buying Ronaldo was an obvious non-starter for English clubs- no Russian billionaire’s or Arab trillionaires in those days, there was still a few ‘gems’ from the Brazil side who may have been good enough to grace the Premiership.
While this is no doubt true, the two players who did come to the premiership were barely good enough to grace the Worthington Cup. Kleberson and Roque Junior arrived at Old Trafford and Elland Road respectively with quite a bit of expectation heaped upon their inept shoulders. Kleberson had been one of the unsung heroes of a triumphant tournament, so much so that Luis Scolari singled him out as being the driving force behind their win- presumably he had a coach license. I remember him hitting the bar in the final and that’s about all I do recall about him, including from his time at Old Trafford.
Roque Junior’s arrival at Leeds drove Peter Reid to declare how Leeds had obviously turned the corner after the previous season’s relegation battle, which was proven by the fact they could attract a player of Junior’s quality. Unfortunately for Reid, Leeds and Junior himself, he was an unmitigated disaster, making many who saw him play wonder just how good the Brazil attack must’ve been to be able to cope with him in defence. Reid’s sacking and Junior’s exit were not long in coming.
Germany 2006 was the time for the Italians to surprise everyone- including the bookmakers- and win the trophy for a fourth time. One player who caught the eye was Gianluca Zambrotta a man so versatile he actually, picks the squad, organises the kit, does the teams massages and helps the players fill out their tax-return forms. Following such an inspired tournament where Italy lifted the trophy –which Zambrotta had welded himself as a baby- it was obvious he would not be staying at relegated Juventus.
The only way is usually down when you leave the Old Lady of Italian football although it can be sideways if you leave to go to Barcelona which is what Zambrotta did.
Less than 60 games later- one of the true stars of Germany ’06 was leaving Catalonia after a hugely disappointing spell.
So, managers take heed, just because a young African dances through the Korean defence doesn’t mean he can get past Nemanja Vidic on a cold wet Manchester night. If you see a South American defender marking a Swiss striker into near-anonymity ask yourself whether he’ll be able to do the same to Fernando Torres? I’m off to ring my nan, haven’t heard from he in a while…
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’