Pay before play!

Ghana players during a practice session, prior to their Group G match against Portugal.-PICS:AP

The Ghanaians’ preparation for their crucial final group match against Portugal, which they promptly lost later, was severely disrupted when the players created a ruckus over not receiving their share of money guaranteed to the country’s football association by FIFA for participation in the tournament.

Ghana’s biggest achievement at this World Cup, arguably, was to make Cameroon look dignified. The latter had, if one needs a reminder, attracted worldwide attention for its players’ refusal to travel to Brazil due to a disagreement over win bonuses.

Yet, Ghana bested Cameroon, albeit off-the-field. The Ghanaians’ preparation for their crucial final group match against Portugal, which they promptly lost later, was severely disrupted when the players created a ruckus over not receiving their share of money guaranteed to the country’s football association by FIFA for participation in the tournament. While the usual practice is to pay the team after the World Cup, the Ghana footballers wanted the bounty before the competition due to apparent distrust of the authorities.

Hence, the world witnessed the unbelievable spectacle of $3.5 million cash flown from Ghana in the private jet of the country’s president to assuage the players’ concerns. Why cash, one may ask reasonably? Because, apparently, this is how things have been done in the past.

Quite surprisingly, the customs law of Brazil was relaxed for the money to reach the players. Once the players received the cash, though, there were more unedifying scenes to be witnessed.

Former Argentina captain Diego Maradona watches his countrymen play against Iran. Maradona has expressed his displeasure against the FIFA sanction on Uruguayan Luis Suarez.-

Defender John Boye was photographed kissing his share of $100,000 and the photo soon went viral over the internet. If this wasn’t enough, there was worse.

Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, two of Ghana’s biggest stars, were sent home after they were found to have behaved improperly with the squad’s staff. While the former was guilty of an “unprovoked physical attack on an executive committee member”, the latter had used “vulgar verbal insults targeted at coach Kwesi Appiah.”

Even the money, it seems, wasn’t enough to dissolve the discontent.

Cash-rich coaches

As seen in Ghana’s case, even money doesn’t guarantee success. This is true for managers as well. National federations spend the best they can to acquire the services of a top-class manager but after four years of waiting, their teams sometimes leave after the first round.

At the ongoing World Cup, the top three coaches on the basis of their salary were Fabio Capello (Russia), Roy Hodgson (England) and Cesare Prandelli (Italy) respectively. What’s the common link? Before you say they are rich — which they obviously are — the diary would like to remind you that the sides managed by them couldn’t progress past the group stage.

Capello, in fact, earns almost the double of Hodgson’s annual salary of 3.5 million pounds. Not to forget, the former is contracted to the Russian side until the end of the 2018 World Cup when they will be the hosts.

Out of the 12 other managers who earn at least a million pounds per year, eight made it to the knockout rounds. Surely, by now, you are wondering who is the lowest earner at this World Cup?

Well, it’s Mexico’s Miguel Herrera who pockets 125,000 pounds every year.

And guess what? His side was among the 16 teams in the second round. Russians, you may take notice now — Capello takes less than a week to earn what Herrera garners in a year.

After the Mexican manager, the next lowest-earning coach who took his team to the round of 16 is Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi. The former international defender is ranked 28th in the list while Costa Rica’s Jorge Luis Pinto is two spots above in 26th.

Support for Suarez

Over the past decade or so, Diego Maradona has increasingly attempted to portray himself as an avowed communist. For some, it is a natural transition for a player who distrusted authorities for a large part of his career and spoke openly against officials. Even the former Cuba President Fidel Castro has vouched for Maradona’s credentials as a communist, in addition to hosting the legendary footballer in Havana a few times.

Yet, there’s something amiss. Maradona, for one, has never shied away from enjoying the gifts of capitalism. Even so, Castro has chosen to support Argentina at the World Cup partly due to Maradona’s support for the leader on public forums.

While the Cuban’s passion for baseball is well-known, he espoused Argentina’s cause with some special words for Lionel Messi in the state media. In addition to claiming that he is a regular viewer of Maradona’s famous World Cup programme on the Latin American television channel Telesur, Castro said, “I observe the extraordinary level of that universal sport. Just as I salute you (Maradona), I also salute Messi, a formidable athlete who gives glory to the noble Argentine people.”

Certainly, after receiving backing from such an eminent leader, Maradona was emboldened further to question the capitalistic forces in the world. When Luis Suarez earned his infamous nine matches and four-month ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini, the 53-year-old criticised the “FIFA mafia” for the punishment meted out to the Liverpool forward.

“The FIFA sanction is shameful, they have no sensitivity towards the fans, they might as well handcuff him and throw him in Guantanamo,” said Maradona while sporting a T-shirt carrying the message “Luis, we are with you.”

“The sanction on Luis is a way of punishing Uruguayan clubs for asking CONMEBOL for a fairer share of money. It hurts that they have cut short the career of a lad who is a winner. It’s an excessive suspension — FIFA cannot talk about morals to anyone. Suarez didn’t kill anyone. This is an unjust punishment, the act of an incredible mafia.

“Here they add everything together but the boy really shouldn’t be blamed for his reaction. It’s a match and these things happen and then there’s no need to look into every incident, because if we did that in every game we’d be playing five-a-side.”

Popularity in USA

For years, football (or soccer, as it’s called in the United States of America) has struggled to gain a foothold among the country’s sports fans. Change is in the offing, though.

The USA’s surprise qualification from an immensely tough group was followed by an unprecedented number of people across the country. The television ratings for the dramatic USA-Portugal draw even superseded the figures for any game in this year’s NBA finals. Not to forget, the numbers bettered the average ratings for a regular season NFL match.

While it’s difficult to arrive at a certain figure, most contend that close to 26 million people watched the USA-Portugal encounter. ESPN alone accounted for 18.2 million viewers while others watched it on the Spanish language Univision network or streamed it on the channels’ websites. And then, there were thousands of people on the streets who watched the match on big screens.

This wave of euphoria has been attributed to the success of the USA team on the pitch while the attraction of a major event holds its charms too.

As Major League Soccer also grows at the speed of knots, the USA may soon find a place among the football powerhouses.

Violating the disciplinary code

FIFA has opened investigation into an abominable act committed by Brazilian superstar Neymar. It certainly ill-behoves the footballer to not follow the accepted protocol. It was a major transgression on the youngster’s part.

Neymar apparently wore non-FIFA approved underwear against Cameroon. The forward was spotted in Blue Man boxers that sported the colours of Brazil’s flag. The problem isn’t that he didn’t respect a national symbol. Rather, Blue Man isn’t a sponsor of the FIFA World Cup.

Neymar is said to have violated the disciplinary code as it clearly prohibits players from displaying religious or political messages as well as publicity slogans and non- FIFA sanctioned products.

This isn’t the first time, however, that Neymar has encountered trouble for his choice of underwear. While playing for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid earlier this season, the forward displayed his Lupo underwear five times. Although his agent denied that this was a marketing strategy and described the incident as “spontaneous”, Neymar has been a public face for the brand since 2011. Interestingly, he owns a clothing line as well.

Any forthcoming punishment from FIFA is certain to provoke derision as the quantum of fine handed out in the past by football authorities had raised eyebrows. At the 2012 Euro championship, Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner had to shell out 80,000 pounds and suffered a one match ban as well for displaying a betting company’s logo on his underwear after scoring. Contrast this with the 66,000 pounds fine for Luis Suarez that he incurred for biting Giorgio Chiellini. Strange!

Compiled by Priyansh