As the season draws to a close we were reminded around the world this weekend of the highs and lows in football, with a few players in particular standing out as the type of footballer I admire. But first, I must mention the fans. More often in football it is the fans that show the heartache and disappointment for their club after a dismal season, whilst the players spend the summer enjoying their lavish holidays as agents scramble to secure them a transfer to a bigger club. As supporters, we support our team through the good times and the bad like we would a loved one as we share the pain and ecstasy that comes with every result. We stand and we sing for our team “Until we die”, for that is football. You may consider divorcing your wife, but you never divorce your team. Never.
West Ham fans are still coming to terms with their team’s relegation from the Premiership this weekend. The general feeling seems to be that of disappointment instead of anger or sadness, as after having so little to cheer for they now might actually win something! The Hammers’ fans are disappointed in the clubs’ owners, the now former manager and the players that don’t really seem too bothered. It’s already common knowledge that their best players, well, Scott Parker will now be leaving after finding it too hard doing all the work for ten players. I’m sure he was just grateful the Premier League doesn’t play the rule allowing ‘rush goalies’. They should. The rest of them will urgently seek an immediate move back to the Premiership in the form of another club. Had they shown such urgency on the pitch throughout the season they may not have got themselves in this fine mess, as too often they showed no fight when a game was there for the taking. They were clearly saving it for the end of season party.
The decline this season of West Ham is nothing in comparison to Sampdoria. The blucerchiati started this season in the Champions League Playoff, only missing out with a late goal conceded in extra-time. They were still in contention for a place in Europe until a public bust up between ‘the bad boy of Italian football’ Antonio Cassano and President Riccardo Garrone. Cassano was banished from the team in mid-October and sold to Milan in January, whilst Garrone also decided to cash in on Giampaolo Pazzini. Less than a year ago, Garrone had scoffed at selling Pazzini “Pazzini to Juventus? Not even for €100m”. Inter Milan signed Pazzini for a reported fee of €13m, with forward Jonathan Biabiany moving in the opposite direction. Selling their two best players and successful strike partnership was a disastrous move for Samp, they scored a paltry 13 goals in 21 games since their attacking duo left. With their form slumping, Di Carlo paid the price and was replaced by Alberto Cavasin.
Sunday’s 2-1 home defeat to to Palermo ensured Samp became the first team in Italy to be relegated the season after qualifying for the Champions League. The fans, understandably angry and upset, decided to applaud the players rather than jeer their team. Clearly humbled by the fans, captain Angelo Palombo came back out to the pitch in floods of tears to ask each end of the Marassi for their forgiveness. This was such a noble and humble act of a footballer who shared the fans’ sadness.
There were tears of joy at the Superclasico in Argentina, as Martin Palermo scored the decisive second goal in Boca Junior’s 2-0 win over arch rivals River Plate. ‘El Titan’ was especially delighted having scored in his last ever clasico before retiring in June at the age of 37. Speaking to reporters after the game, Palermo fought back the tears as he explained how important the game was to him. “I could not ask for more, I dreamed all my life of a game as special as this one. From the man above or my guardian angel who has watched over me my entire life, I could not possibly ask for more”. Another veteran playing in the match was Matias Almeyda, the ‘lionheart’ of River Plate. I’ve always been a fan of Almeyda since his days at Lazio and Parma and was sad to see him retire in 2005. The story of how he came out of retirement is a truly inspirational one.
“My idea was to do some farming, and I didn’t think I was going to have a hard time dealing with retirement,” said Almeyda, explaining the personal problems he endured after giving up the game. “I was wrong, though. When you stop playing your dreams evaporate. I went through a phase when I only ever went out to pick my children up from school. I suffered panic attacks and there were times when I felt like I was going to die.”The turning point came when his eldest daughter drew a picture of him at school, a picture that took his nickname of El León (The Lion) as its theme. “It was a sad and tired lion, who spent the whole day lying down,” he explained. The depiction prompted him to go into therapy and embark on the long road to recovery. Returning to the game with Norwegian side Lyn Oslo and making his appearances in the Showbol tour alongside Diego Maradona. He then got a helping hand from Uruguayan legend Enzo Francescoli, who set up a trial for him at the club where he started, and in his heart never left – River Plate.
El Pelado, to use another of Almeyda’s nicknames, made the grade and quickly became the leader of a side struggling to find its way. His first game back came against Chacarita Juniors in August 2009, Almeyda received a caution moments after coming on as a late substitute. “I thought they were going to send me off in every game, but it was the most beautiful day of my career,” he recalled. “I was bursting with happiness.”
El León was sent off in stoppage time in the superclasico after clashing with Boca’s Clemente Rodriguez and needed riot police to escort him off the pitch, but was able to fight them off to kiss his badge in front of the opposing Boca Junior fans – twice! He’s not crazy – just passionate, and perhaps learnt something from Prince William. Since then he has verbally agreed to captain River through to 2012, where most of his team-mates were only four years old when he made his league debut.
It wasn’t all blood, sweat and tears at the weekend. Kevin Prince Boateng honoured a promise he’d made several weeks earlier to perform Michael Jackson’s moonwalk on the pitch at the San Siro. ‘If we are to win the Scudetto, I will dance the moonwalk dressed as Michael Jackson, hopefully on the pitch. I have never won anything important in my career. The Scudetto would be a great conquest.’ He went one better when he did an incredible step by step performance of ‘Billie Jean’.
Who said footballers were only in it for the money?
By Chris Treloar – Juventus fan – @ChrisTreloar