Footballers, the highest form of Homo sapiens … or not

2009-01-16 00:00

IF an alien from outer space landed on Planet Earth today, picked up a newspaper and read about Manchester City’s attempt to buy Kaka from AC Milan, he/she/it could easily be forgiven for believing professional footballers had been confirmed as the highest form of the species known as Homo sapiens.

The Brazilian midfielder is obviously a fine player, but on the evidence of his proposed transfer fee (R1,2 billion, equivalent to the GDP of a small developing country) and his mooted salary (R5 million per week, twice as much as leading prime ministers are paid in a year), he must surely be so much more.

Perhaps we have seriously underestimated this booted breed, these feted, bronzed, tinted heroes who earn their living by playing the beautiful game. Maybe we have been duped by tabloid stereotypes in shiny suits and ties, skeletal girlfriends, mindless gambling, regular binge-drinking and post-retirement tales of woe. Perhaps, in reality, these men are the elite.

Maybe David Beckham, global icon, was offering a brilliant insight into contemporary childcare when he told journalists, in all sincerity: “My parents have always been there for me, ever since I was about seven”.

Perhaps Neville Southall, a legend in the Everton goal for so many years, was breaking new ground in philosophy when he declared: “If you don’t believe you can win, there is no point in getting out of bed at the end of the day”.

Some cynics might have sniggered when striker Alan Shearer addressed Newcastle United supporters and promised: “I will remain at the club for the rest of my life, and hopefully after that as well”.

Others may well have smiled when Leicester City centre forward Adi Akinbiyi related: “I was watching the Blackburn game on TV when it flashed on the screen that my good friend George Ndah had scored in the first minute at Birmingham City. My first reaction was to ring him up, but then I remembered he was out there playing” — but it would only be because they do not understand.

Is it possible that, in fact, these professional footballers think and speak on a higher plane than the rest of us?

It was Mark Draper, the talented Aston Villa midfielder, who revealed his greatest ambition, saying: “I’d really like to play for an Italian club, like Barcelona”, and it was the great England goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, who arrived in Italy to play in the 1990 Fifa World Cup and announced: “You’ve got to believe that you’re going to win, and I do believe we’ll win the World Cup until the final whistle blows and we’re knocked out”.

Season after season, the wisdom has flowed in torrents. In interview after interview, in so many post-match press conferences, this special band of men have stood up and consistently added new volumes to the library of human knowledge.

American Steve Lomas: “Germany are a very difficult team to play because they had 11 internationals out there”.

Ian Wright, after England’s defeat to Argentina at the 1998 Fifa World Cup: “Without being too harsh on David Beckham, he cost us the match”.

Jonathan Woodgate, providing a new insight into the concept of belonging and residence: “Leeds is a great club. It’s been my home for years, even though I live in Middlesbrough.”

Stuart Pearce, fighting through tough times at Manchester City: “I can see the carrot at the end of the tunnel”.

Ian Rush, reflecting on poor performances after his transfer for Liverpool to Juventus: “I couldn’t settle in Italy; to be honest, it was like living in a foreign country”.

The capacity of these footballers to think differently, and then to find the words to express their innermost thoughts, should not be under-rated. However, the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, and few of these cerebral titans can compare with the intergalactic superstar.

Following the birth of his eldest son, Beckham informed the world media: “We definitely want Brooklyn to be christened, but we don’t know into what religion yet”.

Professional footballers earning R5 million per week? It’s just such a pity for them that money can’t buy you love — or brains — or, as Manchester City will soon discover, success.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby, general manager of SABC sport and involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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