Hero - one of the most divisive & debated words in football. With a look at the subject taking in The Stranglers & Michele Platini, here's Chris King
In 1977, the English punk band The Stranglers released their hit song “No More Heroes”.
The song’s introduction gives reference to four supposed “heroes” - two Russian revolutionaries, an art forger and a fictional character. They recount the demise of one, Leon Trotsky “he got an ice pick, that made his ears burn” – that pick in fact being an ice axe which was used in a botched assassination attempt; though it did ultimately lead to his death a day later.
The point of the introduction was to suggest that with their passing the world now lacked any recognisable heroes.
“What ever happened to the heroes?”
In 1984, Michele Platini was a key protagonist in one of the finest moments in football. In the Stade Vélodrome, Marseille - Platini lead France to victory in the semi-final of the European Championship. His last minute goal against Portugal was the final act in what is arguably one of the greatest games ever played.
Platini - who was to finish as the tournament’s top scorer - received a pass from Jean Tigana on the edge of a crowded six yard box. In moving the ball one step to his right, he by-passed the lunging dives of two defenders and goal keeper, before rifling the ball in to the top of the net. His team mates went wild; the fans in the stands were clearly beside themselves with joy. Platini was his country’s hero.
Two days ago, Platini was asked if he would stand as FIFA president in 2015. The now President of UEFA, responded with: “Ask me in three years’ time”. 2014 will be the 30th Anniversary of that classic European Championship semi-final. What is his hero status like now?
No longer a player, now very much a bureaucrat – Platini is viewed by most as key, along with Jack Warner - that continuous figure of fun/hate depending on your source - in the potential re-election of Sepp Blatter. There can’t be a fan of football with a genuine interest in the continued development of the game, who would like to see Blatter remain as FIFA president. Yet Platini is crucial to this happening.
For a generation of football fans born after 1984, Platini will be viewed as nothing more than a suit – someone who appears to take every possible opportunity to have a sideswipe at the English game; bringing in new regulations which, on face value, appear to have been designed to restrict the “importance” of the Premier League on the European stage - Paranoid? Moi?
He exists in a world of machinations, scheming – where people are only interested in furthering their own causes. They claim that they are driven by the greater good of the game, yet they share a platform with members accused of bribery, extortion – who trade horses (and artificial pitches) for key votes; votes that could alter the fabric of the game if the wrong person gets/stays in power.
Is this really what you expect of your heroes?
In The Stranglers world of music and mayhem, the heroes of yesteryear have, in the main, remained just that. They struggled with addictions, succumbed to those addictions and burnt out long before their stock was every likely to fall.
Could you imagine Keith Moon as president of a record company, or Jimi Hendrix advertising a medication to aid against the issues of impotency – or worse still, Kurt Cobain sat babbling in a clueless manner on a TV studio sofa, proclaiming to know little of the bands he is asked to provide an expert analysis on.
No, better for them that they went early – keeping their hero status very much alive; trapping their music in a timeless fashion - allowing future generations to only ever really experience their output from when they were great.
There are plenty of examples of footballing heroes immortalised by their early deaths – the Grande Torino and Busby Babes sides, or individuals such as Torino’s Gigi Meroni or Celtic’s John Thomson. When this happens, you are left with a massive hole; wondering what might have been – how great they could have been?
Yet in the main, our footballing heroes do live to fight another day. Unfortunately it is far too often on the media stage or worse still – in a corporate boardroom. Bundesliga coverage regularly shows a well presented, but utterly-bland looking Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the stands at a Bayern Munich game. No longer the scourge of international defenders, he is a key figure in Bayern’s main offices – not quite reaching the same pantone of greyness as Franz Beckenbauer – who really did it all as player and manager; before tarnishing his superhero outfit with a FIFA delegate badge.
Even the two players that generate the greatest amount of debate as to which was the best - Maradona or Pelé - have shrouded themselves in human form for far too long now. Maradona showed his limitations when trying to inspire Argentina to World Cup glory, and lest said about the Brazilian’s apparent interest in endorsing products – though to give him some credit, worthwhile causes as well. There was to be no Garrincha like demise for them – even if Diego has come close on more than one occasion.
“No more heroes anymore”
Now think of your team, your National side and your favourite players. How many of them are close to reaching hero status? What will become of the Ronaldos or Messis when they finally hang up their boots? Will they be asked, like Alfredo Di Stéfano, to share the stage with the next pretender to the throne – to offer the hem of their robe to be kissed, by a player making more in a season than they may have, in a far greater career?
Now I’m not advocating that we all rise up, with ice axes in hand and take out the panellist on MOTD or Soccer Saturday, but each passing year seems to throw up another “hero” who seems hell bent on making the same mistakes, the same idiotic comments as us mere mortals. It has to stop.
So here is my plan. What we need is a secluded island somewhere in the pacific – where each year we vote a new player in; much like a hall of fame – where they actually have to live out the remainder of their days, unseen by the rest of the world. No more presentations when a new player is signed, no more walking around a pitch to remember the glory days – no inane comments in the media, or advertising products; no more heroes in grey suits. Instead they will exist only in celluloid form – with a montage reeled out on birthdays or when they die – hopefully at a ripe old age, announced only by a 10 gun salute with their name written in the stars. I’m not doing this for us; I’m doing it for them – to preserve their memories, as they would want us to remember them - when even we thought they were great.
When Platini was taken ill at the last World Cup, I did genuinely feel a degree of sympathy for him – but now he is back to full health (heroes do not give up dairy and fatty food), all I can see is a bureaucrat who wants once last chance of glory.
Only this time there will be no worthy highlights package to go with his “success”.
For those of you with a few minutes to spare, here's that Platini goal & highlights from 'that' game in 1984 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AW8DAjJaD-0
Chris writes about life, family and sometimes sport on his blog www.northernwrites.co.uk and can be found on twitter: @NorthernWrites