[FOUNTAIN]The beauty and boredom of footballSoccer is a sport that demands the most abstinence from players. Strict temperance and training are basic virtues for all sports, but special discipline is expected of soccer players. Except for the goalie, soccer players are in constant motion for 90 minutes and run almost a half marathon. Moreover, they need to keep an eye on the ball and spurt in a matter of seconds, so they burn off a great deal of energy. When a player is tempted by a shot of alcohol or a puff of a cigarette, his career as a footballer can be fatally damaged.
After each game, players need to rest at least four days to recover. But members of elite European clubs cannot afford that luxury. Spanish soccer star Raul has complained that it would be nice if he played 65 games a year, but in reality he has to play 10 more games. But the clubs, which have paid enormous sums of money for stars, have to make the best use out of the players to make ends meet.
The world’s best players are gathered in Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s Primera Liga, England’s Premier League, and Germany’s Bundesliga, and they have to play a game every week except in June and July. On top of that, major clubs participate in the annual UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup. Every four years, the players participate in the European Championship and World Cup preliminaries for their nations.
In Euro 2004, which ended Monday, soccer powerhouses such as Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France failed to make it to the semifinal round. Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Michael Owen and other stars were apparently exhausted from the beginning of the tournament.
In contrast, Greece, an underdog with no star player, wrote a new chapter in soccer history by winning the cup with teamwork and speed. Greece’s head coach Otto Rehhagel reportedly ordered the players to leave the team if they could not run for 90 minutes without a break. Following the director’s strategy, players displayed a certain geometric beauty of alternating between defense and offense in perfect order.
But defensive soccer, where a match is won by effective shooting, is mechanical and frustrating. What the audience wants to see is the bold and imaginative plays that Pele and Diego Maradona once made. In boring and gloomy days, even soccer has become stingy in providing pleasure.
by Lee Young-ki
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.