When both Piers Morgan and FIFA name you as their current Player of the Tournament then you really are in trouble. Sure enough, the words of the vocal Arsenal fan combined with the seal of approval from football’s most transparent (in every sense) organisation inspired Luiz to go from eye-popping and fist-pumping leader to nervy and tearful mess in about 0.6 seconds, surely a feat even Jeremy Clarkson would be impressed by. His plethora of defensive ineptitudes signalled not only the death knell on Brazil’s World Cup hopes, but also on the career prospects of PSG’s scouting team. One witty Twitter profile remarked that Luiz ‘was on a mission to make every child in Brazil cry’, but after splashing 50 million big ones on the former Chelsea man’s spurious defensive talents you can be sure that Nasser Al–Khelaifi will be sitting on a yacht somewhere himself choking back the tears. Spraying wonderful cross-field passes one minute and then inexplicably switching off the next, the enormity of Luiz’ mistakes from the semi-final onwards made you think that he’d exhausted himself during his particularly passionate renditions of the national anthem. Apparently 27 years has neither been long enough for him to learn the basic arts of defending, nor for any coach bar Rafa Benitez to realise than his best position is in defensive midfield, and he heads off to the French capital with the tag of ‘liability’ still very much intact. Gary Neville once said that Luiz reminded him of a ten-year-old on the PlayStation, but on the evidence of this tournament I’d argue that most pre-adolescent FIFA players show a little more restraint.
When ITV decided to set their World Cup coverage on the iconic Copacabana Beach they really didn’t take into account the amount of distress seeing Adrian Chiles in horribly tight shorts would cause millions of viewers on a daily basis. No doubt thousands of school children went to bed following the early kick-offs having nightmares about ITV’s much maligned frontman, and that’s before he’s even opened his mouth. In a sharp contrast to BBC’s knowledgeable and slick anchor Gary Lineker, Chiles’ constant bumbling and unwavering ability to call it totally wrong has made extremely painful watching for the last month, with special mention to his bizarre affront to Martin O’Neill, which was at least pretty funny. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J125_gQwVDU]There are two types of buffoon; (vaguely) lovable ones like Boris Johnson, and then there’s the Adrian Chiles variety. Only slightly less baffling than Brendan Rodgers’ attempt to turn Stewart Downing into a left back, ITV’s decision to move Chiles from Daybreak to their flagship football coverage has gone about as well as Rene Meulensteen’s appointment at Fulham. The absence of Roy Keane didn’t help; what’s football coverage without the constant possibility of a fight breaking out between the pundits, and World Cup final viewing figures of 12.09 million for the BBC and 2.86 million actually do the advert-heavy purveyors of bang-average analysis a massive favour. Some would say that protecting events such as the World Cup on terrestrial television is to be celebrated, others long for the panache and insight of Sky Sports presenters such as Ed Chamberlain and lead analyst Gary Neville. One thing’s for sure, Adrian Chiles’ transfer to Metalist Kharkiv v Lokomotiv Plovdiv on Channel 5 can’t come soon enough.
Speaking as founding member, president and secretary of the Luiz Suarez apologist society, I can tell you that the stupid, buck-toothed Uruguayan really has gone and done it this time. Not content with recovering from a knee injury infuriatingly quickly and proceeding to knock England out of the World Cup with two unbelievably clinical finishes, his ridiculous bite on Georgio Chiellini consigned us to the worst fate of all, having to watch an aging Uruguay side put eleven men behind the ball in a vain attempt to stop Colombia in the last 16. Rather than hamper his career prospects however, Suarez’ bite only served to grease the wheels of his Anfield departure and hand him a dream move to Barcelona, leaving his loyal Liverpool fans to look forward to Ricky Lambert and Fabio Borini playing upfront for them in the Champions League next season once Daniel Sturridge has suffered an inevitable injury. On the plus side however, at least Suarez’ carnivorous tendencies provided Phil Jagielka with an excuse for why he didn’t want to get within five yards of the striker in Sao Paulo.
When Christoph Kramer remarked that “he thought he’d come straight off” after suffering a jarring head injury in the World Cup final when in actual fact he’d played the next 12 minutes of the game, your first reaction was ‘wow, that’s unbelievable’. Your second reaction was; ‘wow, that’s unbelievably scary’. For a player to continue playing for over ten minutes and have absolutely no recollection of it would be comical if it wasn’t so very, very serious, and Kramer’s injury was the last in a line of particularly nasty and noteworthy collisions we saw at this year’s tournament. From Dirk Kuyt having his head stapled back together in the third place play-off (probably not one for the faint-hearted) to Javier Mascherano going down heavier than George Groves after he was floored by Karl Froch’s brutal left hook, physios have been left with the unenviable task of deciding whether or not their players are able to return to action. Football players, with the possible exception of Jack Wilshere, are warriors who do not want to come off the pitch in World Cup semi-finals, but, using the doctrine that seems to have become Conservative party policy over the last four years, what people want isn’t always what’s best for them, and action does need to be taken on this. Perhaps it’s time for FIFA to stop playing around with vanishing spray paint and deciding how many zeroes to put on cheques they’re writing to themselves, and make some new rules on an issue that actually matters. Just a thought, Sepp.
FIFA’s Technical Committee
One would suspect that there have been precious few occasions that Lionel Messi has been give an award and the prevailing reaction has been, why him? At best, it would suggest that FIFA’s Technical Committee stopped watching the tournament after the group stage, at worst it betrays a wish on FIFA’s behalf to put commercial interests before footballing ones, and who would suspect such a thing from such a righteous and open administration? Despite being Argentina’s talisman and scoring some crucial goals to progress his side to the knock-out phase, Messi’s contribution after this point was scattergun at best, his in-out performances being epitomised by sending his shot inches wide of Manuel Neuer’s goal in what was a World Cup winning opportunity. While not quite having the sweet irony of Ryan Giggs receiving an award for marital loyalty or Cristiano Ronaldo getting a trophy for modesty of celebration, the fact remains that Messi probably wasn’t even Argentina’s best player, with that honour going to plucky warrior Javier Mascherano. According to the Technical Committee, Messi was so good that he was named player of the tournament but couldn’t get into the team of the tournament, although admittedly there are probably far worse discrepancies in the FIFA accounts book. In what was almost an insult to the abilities of the four time Ballon D’or winner himself, much more so to Madrid-bound James Rodriguez, Messi’s face as he stepped up to receive the Golden Ball, in what should be one of the highlights of a player’s career, really did say it all.
Frederico Chaves Guedes, more commonly known as Fred. One sounds like the kind of man ready to lead a Brazilian front line steeped in the history of illustrious forbears such as Pele and Ronaldo, the other sounds like a bald and aging mate from the pub you call to make up the numbers for the midweek game of five-a-side. Sadly for Brazil, they didn’t just get the guy from the pub, they got him after he’d had a few pints and was better equipped for propping up the bar than firing shots under one. In what can only be considered an accident of history, Fred somehow topped the goalscoring charts of last year’s Confederations Cup, prompting a fair amount of optimism about his ability to lead the Brazilian front line at the World Cup and an OxStu Sport editor, who shall remain unnamed in order to retain confidence in his ability to perform the role, to tip him for the Golden Boot. In reality, the public were treated to six vintage Fred performances in which he showed an alarming lack of ability to hold the ball up and, to quote the departing Alan Hansen, misfired in front of goal ‘time and time again’. Indeed, the penis heat maps designed on Twitter to mock him might actually have done him a favour, because in reality there’s no way he managed to cover that much of the pitch. Shortly before writing this Fred announced his retirement from international football, funny that; because I thought he did that before the tournament started. If 1950 goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa is the man who “made all of Brazil cry”, Fred is the man who made them look to the heavens in despair. Alexandre Pato, Leandro Damiao, take note; this man was picked ahead of you to go to the World Cup.