Forlán, Football and Fairies – Why No Players Are Coming Out Of The Closet

This piece is something I was going to write a while back.

It all stems from a thought-stream that originated when I heard the rumour about Diego Forlán being gay and saw the reaction in South America.

Forlán had split up with his model fiancée Zaira Nara and there were rumours she was trying to sell the story of his sexuality to the highest bidder. Libre published quotes from an unidentified source, but one “absolutely irrefutable and very close to the couple” that the – at the time – Atlético player “could have cheated on his fiancée with another man“.

Forlán had long been nicknamed la rubia by his team-mates (the feminine form of ‘blondie’) but suddenly observers were using this as proof of his homosexuality. Being gay was even latterly used to explain his fallout with his coach at Atleti, his subsequently poor Copa America and why he has struggled at Inter, each time with no proof or an iota of credible reason, “a goalscorer like that can’t be a queer”, I remember reading – albeit in the comments section of a website.

Whether he was gay or not was no longer the question buzzing around in my head, instead it had got me thinking about how a major footballer over here would be received if they were indeed gay.

The Latin American culture is very different, where macho peacocking and rampant homophobia is a given. We have seen recently – when every Liverpool fan became an overnight linguistic expert on Rioplatense Spanish – how vital the context is within which events are lived out; and coming out of the closet where Forlán is from would be a far more difficult thing to do. Richarlyson, a Brazilian footballer who deserves  at least 1000 words on his own amazing story, tried, and was scared out of it at the last minute. Though someone, somewhere, must lead the way.

In England, Justin Fashanu did that, and with tragic consequences.

The effect of this is undoubtedly still felt by the very fact that no footballer since has felt safe or comfortable to come out of the closet since.

I have, above, left out the example of Anton Hysen, an openly gay player in Sweden. Not to belittle his courage in coming out of the closet, but one of the major fears of the players must surely be crowd abuse, something still hurtful but far smaller in volume at the fourth division matches he plays in.

I will qualify my comment on crowd abuse being a major fear by referring you to the superinjunction granted to a footballer who claimed that he would be subjected to abuse in the workplace if news of his extra-marital affair came out. The superinjunction stands.

No matter what we do, the chants and songs from the crowds at a football match will always be part of the game. Hell, singing for my boys and then getting stuck into theirs one of the main reasons I go to games and have done for so long. I like nothing more than trying to wind up the opposition’s hot-headed striker, hoping they’ll lose their head and I will somehow contribute to my team’s win. I remember singing “who’s the midget in the dress” to volatile little forward Leon Knight, whose Brighton shirt was far too big for him, while I also remember a chorus of “freak” ringing out for Peter Crouch in 2004/05 – he got sent off.

But there are times when it goes beyond that (arguably quite fluid) line between ‘banter’ and abuse. I don’t think Crouch is a freak – I’m only a couple of inches shorter than him – but the songs aimed at Sol Campbell, for example, would certainly be enough to scare me off coming out of the closet, given the vitriol they are sung with, not to mention the lyrics. It’s safe to say that Sol (married with a child) is called far worse than a ‘poof’ or a ‘fairy’.

While we may wonder about the changing room reaction to a player coming out – the excellent Musa Okwonga here raises some other issues as to why a player would be reluctant to do so – I talked to a Surrey cricketer in the summer about the reaction to his teammate Steven Davies coming out and he said the guys couldn’t have been more supportive. Whether football would differ due to a more diverse range of nationalities is uncertain.

All of this came back to me, as I watched the documentary tonight about gay footballers in Britain.

Unfortunately, the programme will represent to me, a missed opportunity to really dig deep into the subject and perhaps, maybe, convince players that it would be feasible to be an openly gay footballer.

Possibly, given that it was broadcast on BBC Three, one could have guessed that it would not rival Panorama for investigative work and that may not have been their aim. The producers and commissioners may have decided that humanising it by having Amal Fashanu present a show largely about the legacy of her uncle, Justin, would be better viewing and we don’t have any point of comparison.

Unfortunately, the show seemed to be more about Amal’s journey than anything else, we saw her Mum helping her to unpack her new home and the obligatory appearance from Max Clifford but there was nothing new; no evidence that we had come closer to a footballer being openly gay, or more understanding of why.

Barely passing into ‘documentary’ territory, it was a missed opportunity to look into something that may be a hot issue every couple of years or so, but for some players, is a lifetime of secrecy. For these few(?), it is surely a question of humanity to for them to be open and happy in their daily lives without fearing abuse from the stands.

Football is, by its very nature, tribal: it’s one of the things we love about the game. But whilst this tribal aspect is something to be cherished – with its rivalries and its rawness – we must try to progress the attitudes from the prehistoric.

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | Leave a comment

Just For Posterity

No-one is supposed to read this, I would just like to put it in writing on the 19th Jan 2012 that I think Nathaniel Clyne will play for the England senior squad inside two years.

When he makes his debut, I will send the link of this piece of writing to anyone and everyone to prove that I am world winning champion of the world. and stuff.

Signed,

Ed Malyon

 

19th January 2012

 

 

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | Leave a comment

Punchy And Straight To The Point

Just a wee blogglet…

Two Argentines got themselves in a spot of bother this week and now we know why.

Roma forward Dani Osvaldo punched team-mate (and fellow countryman) Erik Lamela in the changing rooms following their loss against Udinese.

There was a minor confrontation on the pitch after Lamela failed to pass for Osvaldo, but the heated stuff continued behind closed doors.

Back in the dressing room, Osvaldo approached the former River Plate playmaker and said:

“I am better than you; we’re not at River here, when I speak to you, you must respond”

Then – and all of this is according to El Confidencial – Lamela responded by telling Osvaldo to:

“Shut your mouth. You’re no Maradona”

It was at this point that Osvald0 – who has elected to play for Italy following consistent snubs from Argentina – struck the youngster in the face and the two had to be separated by club officials.

 

 

I must confess, Osvaldo comes off as a bit of a bell-end.

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | Leave a comment

March 4th 1918 and why depression in football is not a new thing

This is an article that was written before the untimely and tragic passing of Gary Speed. It has since been adapted. It is at points incoherent and rambly but I hope you bear with it.

The public consciousness and recognition of depression as an illness is better than it ever was, yet in football there seems to still be a reluctance to approach the issue, as there is also with other taboos like homosexuality and the lack of black mangers within the game.

Robert Enke’s suicide in 2009 shook world football. For a high profile player to kill himself was something never thought of in modern football, and the press that only interests itself in players’ off-the-field exploits when they are appropriately scandalous, was suddenly forced to deal with something important, rather than an Italian stumbling out of nightclubs following a night of cocaine and debauchery.

Enke’s case has seen a shift in attitudes in Germany, and one that allowed the resignation of Ralf Rangnick from his post as Schalke manager. In a post of such intense pressure, a perfectionist and obsessive such as Rangnick could no longer deal with the ‘nervous exhaustion of the role’ and stepped down.

Would this have been possible prior to the Enke tragedy? Would he have been mocked for lacking the mental fortitude to continue, or would he simply not have been brave enough to make the decision, with a whole range of possible consequences? Nobody knows; but the acceptance of his choice signalled an improvement in German attitudes towards the sullen monster of depression. Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern Munich boss, said that “the lesson to be learned is to look at sport as sport, and not give it excessive importance” – but the fear is whether this human approach will be ignored when owners and oligarchs are faced with losing millions through failure.

The footballing fraternity in Germany may have modernised its view, but seemingly the authorities there have not. Following the well-publicised issues faced by Breno, jailed for setting alight to his own home, Uli Hoeness – general manager of his club Bayern Munich – strongly criticised the police’s treatment of the depressed Brazilian saying, “to lock up a young man with a fragile psyche is absurd” and his case is still ongoing.

Referees have never been under such pressure as in the modern era, and in November, there have been suicide attempts by professional match officials in both Germany and Belgium. To simply blame a lack of support for players on the macho attitudes within sport is as ineffective as it is simplistic, but there must also be a support network in place for everyone else in the game. Officials, coaches and managers all come under the extreme pressures of the professional game and should be entitled to as much help as others if a network is truly being rolled out to help players.

Enke’s suicide is not unprecedented, and the original reason I wrote this piece was to inform people of the case of Abdón Porte as an interesting historical point. I have deleted large swathes of what I’d written as talking about suicide in football no longer seems so distant or unusual. Two high-profile cases in two years mean that looking back on this is not done with the same feelings as when I first came across his story a few months ago.

Porte was a defensive midfielder who was a multiple title winner with Nacional and had won the Copa America with Uruguay in 1917. Nicknamed ‘the Indian’, he was Nacional’s number five and wore the captain’s armband on many occasions.

He was described in the following manner many years after his death by ex-teammate and friend Lucas Scapinachis:

“Abdon Porte was remarkable, with extraordinary virtues and qualities, defensively and as a team player. Well-known and -remembered for a long time by old football fans. He was a great man, ‘friend of friends’; a farmer boy done good.”

He was a hugely successful player, winning an astonishing eighteen trophies in just six years of playing the game.

In the season of 1918 however, he had begun to lose his place in the team. On the 4th of March he played for Nacional against Charley – winning 3-1 with el Indio playing well – and as was customary, the players and directors headed to the club offices for a small celebration.

At around 1am, Porte left the party unnoticed and headed to the club’s stadium, Parque Central, where he made his way to the centre spot. At just 25 years of age, and with his wedding scheduled for the 3rd of April, Abdón Porte shot himself through the heart and died immediately.

Scapinachis wrote of this death in the most insightful terms;

“Why did he kill himself? Because nested in his heart and his whole being was the desire to always wear the tricolor… and when his legs – charged with victory – began to fail him, and at the cruel prospect of being removed from the team, he decided to end it. “

Of course it is important to recognise it was a different era, and a player killing themselves due to losing their place in a side may seem totally incomprehensible and implausible now but that is what depression is…

It is something that can’t be understood in simple terms, especially by those never to suffer from the condition, although Stan Collymore attempts to clarify his experiences through some excellent words here.

The example of Porte seems a ludicrous impossibility until it happens again, by which point the human tragedy has already passed and we are too late once again.

 

May the profile and treatment of depression and mental illness in football be raised so that we never need to deal with events like these again.

 

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Helplines.aspx

http://www.depressionalliance.org

http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/emotional_health/mental_health/

http://www.sane.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | Leave a comment

Batigol

Argentina legend Gabriel Batistuta gave an excellent interview last night on Fox Sports Latin America and I felt it was worth sharing with the English-speaking world.

Batistuta’s record as a striker is remarkable, with 321 goals in 498 games at club level but more incredibly, 56 goals in 78 matches in International football.

He is one of the top ten goalscorers in Serie A history but is as revered in Florence for sticking with Fiorentina after their 1993 relegation, as he is for his talents in front of goal.

They even built a life-sized bronze statue of him with the engraving underneath:

To Gabriel Batistuta, indomitable warrior, tenacious in his quest, and loyal of heart.

How lovely. Anyway, here’s Batigol’s opinions on the burning issues of the day:

Batistuta on…. Messi

- “I see a Messi that is intelligent, away from controversies. What I don’t like is how [Argentines] always find him responsible for the national team’s shortcomings”

- “I watched Messi against Colombia and he can’t keep saving us… the situation must change”

- “For Barcelona, Messi smashes it and we want him to do the same for [Argentina], but there are different players… Messi doesn’t play for Argentina as he does for Barcelona, I think he seems nervous, because if he makes a mistake, everyone turns against him”

Batistuta on… The state of the national team

- “The play seems too slow, like they play in the domestic league”

- “The national teams win nothing at youth level anymore, and neither do the seniors.”

- “I always felt responsible if the team wasn’t playing well, I felt in debt to the spectator that had paid for his ticket, and maybe it’s because of this that I never really enjoyed what I did”

Batistuta on… Modern players

- “Players need to realise this is a job”

- “I would love to teach strikers (number 9′s) how to move better”

- “I never asked a manager why I wasn’t playing [if he wasn't picking me]“

Batistuta on… His career

- “I never felt comfortable playing football, I always doubted myself and that is why I gave everything. It’s this that I teach to my children.”

- “My pride is having played for 12 years to the top level… the best players I played with were Maradona and Totti.”

Batistuta on… Tevez

- “If I were Tevez, I wouldn’t ever do what he is doing. I don’t know his reasons but I wouldn’t do this. The club pays him and he has to respect his contract”

Batistuta on… Bielsa

- “Talking to Bielsa was always very difficult”

- “The only manager to ever leave an indelible mark on me/to teach me a truly important lesson was Bielsa… he taught me how to truly respect your teammates.”

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | Leave a comment

The Changing Face Of The Argentine Game vs The Same Old Shit

Any lover of Argentine football will not deny that the game there has its issues.

 

The vice-like grip of the Barra Bravas is intrinsically linked to administrative corruption throughout the game, and it could be argued that this is the root of all the other controversies; be it violence, or match-fixing.

 

Due to the nature of these highly-organised and violent groups, there seems to be little that can be done to smash their hold over club presidents, and the fallout of River Plate’s shock relegation has shown that these bands of mercenary hooligans have more power than ever.

 

Knowing that they would weaken their own political position by attempting to tackle the Barras, the decision-makers within the Argentine Football Association (AFA) have done little to counter the mischievous shadow that they cast over the national game and instead have moved to tackle a significant but far less contentious issue.

 

The policy of federalización has been a very conscious decision over the past few years to decentralise football in Argentina. In the eighth-biggest country on the planet, the situation last year when just three of the twenty top-flight teams came from outside the capital or surrounding Buenos Aires province is simply ludicrous.

 

Of course, there are economic and social grounds for this, but last year there was no team from Argentina’s second biggest city; Cordoba, in the Primera División. Historically too, this capital dominance is clear; in the all-time Primera league table only four sides feature – in the top 20 – from outside of Buenos Aires province.

 

One of the principal efforts to assuage this situation was seen this summer as Argentina hosted the continent’s showpiece tournament – The Copa America. The decision to hold the games all around the country was an attempt to inject much-needed funds into the coffers of clubs across the country and only the final was held within the borders of the capital. From dusty Salta near the Bolivian border to the small city of San Juan near the Chilean Andes, the competition went around the nation and to much praise.

 

In this 18-24 months of conscious federalisation, one team has come to the fore more than any, in the shape of Godoy Cruz, a team from the Western, wine-growing city of Mendoza. The club is 90 years old, but only found itself amongst the elite of the Argentine game for the first time in 2006. Since then it has grown organically yet impressively into a side that has finished third, fifth and third in its last three campaigns.

 

Similarly, all four sides promoted to the top flight this June were from the provinces, giving a very different makeup to the league and already allowing the AFA to claim a victory for their policy. The only concern for lovers of the game must be the motives of the rule makers, something highlighted by the plan to expand the top flight to 40-48 teams.

 

Many saw it as a ploy to manoeuvre River Plate back in the top flight, alternatively it was a safeguard for all of the big five in Argentina, who lurch precariously closer to relegation with each season. Mainly though, it was done for the same reasons as the federalisation policies, being that by currying favour with your constituents by providing them with more cash, it would prove impossible to not be re-elected. As Julio Grondona was inaugurated last month to begin his ninth term as AFA president – having assumed the position in the 1970s – it was more proof that populist polices like this decentralisation will always prevail over tackling the important issues in Argentine football.

 

Posted in Argentina | Leave a comment

The Road To Brazil 2014: Farias’ Venezuela

Following a frenetic end-to-end fixture between Chile and Peru in which Claudio Borghi’s side ran out 4-2 victors, I was fairly convinced that I’d be writing this morning about how watching the Chileans play is still bloody entertaining – even without Bielsa in charge and Alexis Sanchez out injured.

Argentina obviously just couldn’t let that happen, having destroyed their Western neighbours on Friday, their trip to Venezuela wouldn’t have seemed like much of a concern, but they were outfought and outplayed in Puerto La Cruz as they went down 1-0.

Cesar Farias, the Venezuela coach, led them through an excellent Copa America campaign in the summer where they held both Brazil and Paraguay to draws. But this week, he decided to take a big gamble by resting his European-based players for Friday’s qualifier in Ecuador (where they ran out 2-0 losers) so that they were fresh for the Argentina game.

His decision was vindicated though, by a marvellous performance from the Vinotinto that embodied all of the qualities they’d shown in the Copa this summer. In Miku and Rondón, they have a strike partnership that is ideal for a counter-attacking side. They both have a work-rate and energy that will unnerve defenders and Rondón in particular has a physicality that causes problems.

The Argentina defence was suspect from the outset of this game, and at half-time – although it was 0-0 – there was a lot of criticism of the back 3/5. ‘Demichelis’ was a trending topic on Twitter in Argentina after thirty-five minutes, and not for positive reasons. Argentine journalist Juan Pablo Varsky commented at half-time that Demichelis was a “synonym of doubt” and that just about sums up his display. Nicolas Otamendi is still young but his inexperience was shown up on many occasions and Burdisso simply looked clueless.

There was also criticism of Sabella (pictured below), who thus far had done a good job as Argentina manager, for picking players that had done well for him in his spell as Estudiantes manager. Now I’m not too sure where I stand on this, obviously there is some sense in it, particularly early on in his tenure, but you have to be able to see when players aren’t performing.

Rodrigo Braña played against Chile due to a host of suspensions and injuries in defensive midfield, and did well. He was jettisoned for the Venezuela game though, due to the return of Mascherano, and that is the exception. Jose Sosa and Marcos Rojo are both regulars in the national team now but neither is showing themselves to be good enough for a first team place at that level. Sosa’s a particular Sabella favourite but the clamour for Javier Pastore to take his place will not go away any time soon. The case of Marcos Rojo is a bit different as he is a young left-back with very little competition for his spot, but he has not been overly convincing in any of his nine international appearances.

Venezuela were fresher than Argentina, and more energetic. Farias’ decision which could have backfired and left them in trouble early on in qualifying, turned out to be a masterstroke from a coach who must be gaining some admirers given his work with a former minnow of the South American game, and remembering that football is not even the biggest sport in the country. They were undoubtedly the better side last night – Sabella admitted as much after the game – and the goal came from the head of defender Fernando Amorebieta.

Following such an impressive show in the summer’s continental showpiece, Farias has now been able to convince some players with Venezolano ancestry to play for the Vinotinto ahead of the other countries that they are eligible for. Amorebieta is a funny one because he plays for Athletic Bilbao – who can only sign Basque players – meaning that he is certainly the first Venezuelan to play for Athletic. He had even played against Venezuela for the Basque national team in their annual friendly, but as they’re not recognised by FIFA this didn’t impact his decision to play for the country of his birth – but where he left as a young child.

Amorebieta (above, second right) was called up to the full Spain squad in 2008 but failed to get off the bench, so along with the Feltscher brothers from Switzerland he now lines up in the Claret red shirt, and given Brazil’s qualification as hosts for 2014, they have their best chance ever to qualify for their first ever mundial.

Argentina need not worry too much about qualification given the extra space vacated by Brazil, and Sabella should be using this campaign to integrate some younger players into the fold. The likes of Demichelis and Burdisso are very unlikely to be in the side in three years time, and following their recent performances they could count themselves lucky to be involved in the next squad. This game was another reminder though, that the standard of the other South American nations is rising, and Venezuela are a shining example of that.

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | 3 Comments

Boca Revival

It’s fair to say that despite being perennial favourites for the title with the bookies, media and fans, Boca just haven’t lived up to expectations in the last few years. Six seasons have passed since they last won a title and such an impotent period has taken a lot to get over.

In JC Falcioni though, they seem to have found the right man to progress the club. I’m of the opinion that Martin Palermo’s retirement was an enormous blessing in disguise for the new boss. Despite his goalscoring exploits and *proper* legendary status, you have to be honest and say that he was dreadfully immobile and didn’t offer the sort of dynamism that they needed. His goal-less run in his last season was principally due to some bad luck but also the fact that he genuinely began to offer little apart from his presence.

The other issue of course, as discussed here (with the rest of their resurgence) is that you couldn’t drop either Riquelme or Palermo when both fit although their games aren’t really suited. The diamond midfield that he plays has taken some adapting to, Walter Erviti followed Falcioni from Banfield and struggled at the start as he was an enganche being forced to play on the left of a diamond. Now he’s changed his game slightly – with more energy and drive than before – he gets up and down the pitch to enable the side to carry JRR – and he has arguably been their best player thus far.

Riquelme himself is a master craftsman, and his unique brand of trequartistism is something that evidently makes him an undroppable commodity – however, by playing Palermo (also obligatory) – you limit his abilities by employing a static forward, as opposed to someone who can probe space in the knowledge that the through-ball will be coming, and will be accurate.

So now, there is a strike duo of Lucas Viatri and Dario Cvitanich. Whilst neither are prolific, they make the side a far more effective attacking unit by marauding the channels and dragging teams out of position. This strategy has been very effectively supported by a brilliant defensive unit.

As mentioned in The Mirror article above, Rolando Schiavi was a signing that raised a few eyebrows. The stats speak for themselves though – having conceded 2 goals in their first 9 games this season as opposed to 13 a year ago. It’s obviously fairly clear that if you concede less, that you put yourself in a better place to win games, and that’s why they see themselves undefeated at the half-way point and romping clear of Racing at the top.

Racing now have their big derby game to focus on, and 3 points will be essential given that they dropped points last weekend, but everyone at el cilindro will just have to hope that they are still in touch when they go the Bombonera on Fecha 15 – as a win could pop them in the driving seat for the title.

There’s no doubt Racing have some of the stars of the division in Gio Moreno and Teo Gutierrez, but they have drawn five of their 9 games, evidence of their lack of killer instinct. Without the circus of the Superclasico (not just a game where Boca may have dropped points, but also one where minds drift in the upcoming weeks and affect results) – they truly have the best chance in years of pulling away this year, and are threatening to win the league by a considerable margin.

 

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | Leave a comment

A Clasico Return

When better to return from long overdue Boludo duties than this weekend of clasico action. Of course, there is Saturday lunchtime’s Liverpool derby which acts as a prelude to the Avellaneda Clasico - indesputably the biggest game in Argentina following the descenso of River – and on Sunday, Arsenal take on Tottenham in the North London Superclasico.

There are actually a remarkable amount of parallels between the Avellaneda and Liverpool clashes, so bear with me while I amble through these tenuous links. In both instances, the Red half are the more successful – at home and abroad. Independiente boast 14 Primera titles to Racing’s 7, and 7 Copa Libertadores wins to the Acade’s 1. It earned them the nickname ‘rey de copas’ or ‘king of cups’. Liverpool’s record is well-known in both domestic and continental competitions, whilst Racing’s fans will sympathise with the perpetual heartbreak of supporting a team that promises so much but ends up trophyless.

Everton’s disdain for Liverpool is of course amplified by the events of the 1980s, when despite lording it over their rivals in the league standings, the actions of LFC meant that English sides were suspended from European competition.

The blue halves of these industrial cities also share a reputation for die-hard support in the face of this perennial underachievement, in the following video you can see the Racing welcome for Independiente.

God, I love a derby.

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | Leave a comment

The Cream That Keeps Rising To The Top

Most football fans have probably never heard of Atletico Rafaela. Indeed, having only been promoted to the second tier of the Argentine football in 1989, this may not be wholly surprising.

So how is it they’ve found themselves top of the league?

I’ve written just how for FourFourTwo – read it here 

Posted in Stuff I forgot to Categorize | Leave a comment