e are in the thick of the World Cup finale. So just a few words from yours truly on the subject.
Pundits say that the World Cup 2022 will be Morocco’s World Cup, even though they lost to France today. It is extraordinary that they are the first Arab team and the first African team to get to the semi-finals. Why extraordinary? Well, politics. Traditionally, the World Cup has been dominated by teams from South America and Europe. The first World Cup was held, in fact, in Uruguay in 1930. Yeah! Those colonial, over-developed South American teams. Wait, what? Why Uruguay? Uruguay had been the soccer star in the previous two Olympics. So that’s why the first World Cup was held there. But what about Africa; I think that’s the question.
Even though FIFA, (Fédération Internationale de Football), was founded in Paris in 1904, this independent governing body had a hard time garnering support until the 1920’s. FIFA tells us that, “The 1924 Olympic football tournament in Paris proved hugely popular, with over 40,000 spectators watching Uruguay beat Switzerland in the final. Yet when the British associations, with their professional leagues, declined to participate in that event after a row over players’ amateur status, it was evident the time was ripe for a separate international football competition.” I believe this tension had continued from the Hundred Years’ War in the late Middle Ages between England and France, the details to which many school children are subjected.
Back to Morocco. Here is what FIFA has to say: “In July 2022, Morocco hosted a FIFA Talent Development Scheme workshop as part of the Talent Development Plan launched by FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development, Arsene Wenger in 2020. The country has demonstrated a strong desire to continue its development, making resources available to the youth sides that represent the future of Moroccan football. During the workshop, the President of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, Fouzi Lekjaa said: ‘The development of football in Morocco should be based on a three-pronged approach focusing on facilities, talent and well-qualified staff. My Federation colleagues and I are certain that these three elements must be in place to ensure proper development.’”
I have taught my students how to present a nuanced evaluation of two positions in an argument by beginning, “While it is true … Then you can say that something else is equally true or more important. Here we go!
While it is true that the Global Football Development efforts are to be applauded, promoting training facilities, talent and well qualified staff in Morocco, it is also true that no one mentions any of that in 2020 with regard to the European or South American teams. Voilà, Morocco is a scrapy self-made team, who made an excellent showing in this World Cup, making it all the way to the semi-finals.
Kylian Mbappe, the French superstar agrees. Here he is, consoling Hakimi, the Moroccan player.
And here below is Sofiane Boufal living it up with his mother on the pitch after Morocco improbably beat Portugal. They were seen as improbable throughout the games. Viva the improbable and viva Morocco. (And viva more investment in these African teams.)
GOODBYE UNTIL 2026
No, no! Wait. Before you call it a day, soccer speaking, throw in the towel, and go wash the dishes, there’s history in the making here. It is fascinating the way a game can give us a larger view of the socio-cultural dimensions of the countries. Last time we talked about Pelé, and capoeira, and something of Brazil as Pelé and his teams brought “the beautiful game,” joga bonito. Here’s a little joga bonito refresher. It takes a minute to get to the soccer ball!
And while it is true that Brazil is out of the World Cup and Morocco is out of the World Cup, we have a chance to visit the other half of soccer greatness from the twentieth century, which happens to be Argentina’s Diego Maradona. He and Pelé split the award for being the greatest player of the century.
Reader: Humor me. Why do we care about Diego Maradona?
Me: Well, with any luck at 9 a.m. EST you will be watching Argentina playing against France.
Reader: I will?
Me: Yes, because you will have a chance to see the player, Lionel Messi, who is arguably the world’s best soccer player. And at 35 years of age, this may well be his last World Cup. FYI His shoe size is a ten. (I mean, seriously, we need to know this.) And, moreover, he has been compared to Diego Maradona.
Reader: Okay! Diego-me.
He was born in 1960 and grew up in a poor area south of Central Buenos Aires in Argentina. At the age of eight, yes, eight, he played for Argentinos Juniors. The coaches suspected him of falsifying his age because he played like an adult. His shoe size was 39. (You’re welcome.) He was only 5 feet 5 inches tall, which is relatively short, although Leo Messi, born in 1987, is 5 feet 7 inches. An odd fun fact is that there is a church named after Maradona, Iglesia Maradoniana, and two of the tenets are to change your middle name to Diego and to name a son Diego.
SO CALLED GOAL OF THE CENTURY
Diego Maradona played in four World Cups, winning against Germany in Mexico in 1986.
PELE V MARADONA
While it is not really a competition, since they are both revered, it’s useful to see how the sports commentators assess the two.
“Pelé is the only footballer to win three World Cups, and has scored over 1,000 goals in his career. He was an extremely revolutionary player, more so than Diego Maradona.
“Because Maradona was a better player overall. Maradona had better touch, and better passing skills than Pelé. The only weakness of Maradona would be his over dependency on his left foot. But that same foot was magical. The 1986 World Cup was a one-man show, and part of the reason why I rate Maradona above Pelé. Pelé’s reluctance to leave Santos didn’t help either. Pelé worked wonders in a Brazil team which was filled with stars. But Argentina’s 1986 World Cup winning side didn’t have many stars. It was all dependent on Maradona. And he passed that test with flying colours.”
When different sportscasters were asked who among the modern footballers is taking up the Pelé – Maradona mantle, guess who was named? Lionel Messi reminded one of Pelé and he reminded another of Maradona. See what I mean about watching the game on Sunday?
Here are some assists and some goals from our best Number 10, Messi. (Not to be confused with Pelé, Mbappe and Zidane who also wore the jersey for the 10 spot.) Lots of fancy dancin’ on the part of our Messi, number 10. And despite his legendary status he has never won a World Cup. So the heat is on for Sunday. Note: FIFA has blocked clips of Messi on the blog, so here’s a treasure hunt: Messi’s assist against Croatia. You can see him in his glory.
I fear our vagabonds are rooted to the spot, waiting for Godot. This would not make for good soccer. But aren’t we all, in some part of our being, waiting for Godot? On Sunday, Godot will take the form of the World Cup trophy, but only for some. For the rest of us, we can only wait and hope that our very own Godot will actually arrive. Someday.