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Two footballers, a winner and a loser

Jun 03, 2018 Success, Sunday Nation

(Photo via fourfourtwo.com)

The UEFA Champions League final took place last weekend. The team expected to win, Real Madrid (a record holder in this competition) won 3-1. The challenger to the throne, Liverpool FC, was vanquished with some ease.

No news there, so why are we discussing it this Sunday?

I want to zoom in on two footballers today: Real Madrid’s captain, Sergio Ramos, who lifted the trophy for his team for the third year in a row; and Mohammed Salah, Liverpool’s lightning-quick Egyptian forward. One epitomizes all that is wrong with modern life; the other tries to do things the right way. One of them was injured badly during the game and now faces the prospect of missing out on the forthcoming World Cup tournament.

Mohammed Salah has been a revelation this season: he has broken all sorts of goal-scoring records with his new team, and was England’s footballer of the year. He was the main threat to Real Madrid in its attempt to clock a trio of back-to-back titles. He therefore had to be taken out of the reckoning. And Sergio Ramos is just the man to take people out.

Very early in the game, Ramos grabbed Salah by the arm, kept holding on to him as they fell together, executed a near-perfect judo flip, and made sure he landed on Salah with all his weight as they hit the deck together. Salah writhed on the floor in obvious pain; tried briefly to continue; then left the pitch in tears as he saw his Champions League and (possibly) his World Cup hopes disappear before his eyes.

The referee took no action. Ramos smirked as Salah left the pitch. Job done. He then moved his attention to other key players: Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Loris Karius, who was elbowed craftily in the head when the ball was elsewhere; and striker Sadio Mané, whom Ramos tried to get sent off after faking an eye injury when he had not even been touched.

It all worked. Liverpool were left without their most potent attacker; and then suffered a meltdown when their goalkeeper committed two bizarre blunders. The glory was Real’s and their “legendary” captain Ramos took the trophy home.

I am writing about this because I think all lovers of football, and of fair play in life, should be outraged and refuse to accept this.

Real Madrid is a team of legendary players, some of the best talents ever assembled together. They don’t need to do this – and yet they do, year after year. The head assassin is always Ramos, who has a long record of nasty fouls, vile provocation and fake injuries aimed at key opponents. It’s not just him; this team (and many others these days) see this part of the game as vital if you want to be “winners.”

Many footballers and parents can be heard saying these days that talent and dedication alone are not enough; you have to be “smart” and know how to win. You don’t win just by being good footballers; you also have to practice the dark arts.

So Mohammed Salah, who works incredibly hard and is by all accounts a humble and devout man, gets carried off; while the snide and nasty Ramos gets plaudits and bouquets. I was watching the game with my son; what should I tell him about success? Be like Salah if you like, kid, but there are no guarantees; if you want assured success, be like Ramos: game it, rig it, fix it in your favour. Just be clever enough not to get caught…

Because that is what success has increasingly become. The match referee in the final did not seem to notice a single thing wrong that Ramos did; UEFA will not look at video footage to take retrospective action. And so the Real/Ramos formula is clear; don’t rely on talent or hard work or luck; do the thing that guarantees wins. Cheat.

If this is the world we want for our kids, then let’s all look away as the scum of society rise to the top. Let’s clap as the liars, fraudsters, scammers and spivs take over our worlds, make all the money and grab all the trappings of success. Let’s watch as the beautiful game itself suffers, and actually playing it well becomes optional.

If we refuse to express our outrage or acquiesce in the face of degradation of rules and fair play, let’s also do nothing as our worlds are run and dominated by the worst, most corrupt amongst us and regulators are made irrelevant.

Or did we already do that?

(Sunday Nation, 3 June 2018)

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