There was once a time when footballers were gods among men. They were worshipped, revered and idolised. Wide-eyed children would beg their parents for shirts with their heroes’ names on the back and parents would grit their teeth and pray that their child wasn’t a fan of Hull City’s odiously named Venegoor of Hesselink. It wasn’t just the shirt, there were pencil cases, rucksacks, folders and, in some cases, shower curtains, all proving your dedication to your club.
OK, maybe not everything has changed. Kids still buy Manchester United pencil cases and Tottenham Hotspur rucksacks but the adulation seems to have disappeared. Maybe it’s the cynicism that ingrains itself in your spirit as you get older, or maybe it’s because of advanced technology and the ludicrous amount of coverage that football gets. Footballers are seen as footballers these days. Not gods, or idols, just well paid blokes with very co-ordinated feet. Once upon a time the likes of Maradona, Pele and ‘fat’ Ronaldo achieved the status of cult heroes. Perhaps the only footballer today that comes close to the levels of hero worship these iconic players received is Cristiano Ronaldo. The swagger, the arrogance and the electric talent make Ronaldo untouchable; not even Lionel Messi can claim to have the same brand-image that Ronaldo does. Maybe this is why World Cup fever hasn’t really hit the heights expected.
But the real malady international football faces is the tragedy of the modern footballer. People have stopped revering them; their wages are ridiculed and the diving menace that plagues the sport has spilled over into the public’s consciousness. Quite frankly, there is no personal connection between players and the public. Footballers are an entity wrapped up in branding, sponsorship and preposterously coloured boots.
Football has alienated the public to the extent that the World Cup hasn’t been greeted with the same giddy excitement of previous years. To put it simply, no one cares about the World Cup anymore. It’ll be treated with general apathy until the final, and then the whole world and his wife will have an opinion. That opinion will mostly revolve around slagging off the players that are fortunate enough to be on the pitch.
Holding the World Cup in Brazil is FIFA’s way of trying to appeal to the fans’ sense of nostalgia. We recall frenzied scenes of yellow and green, laced with out of this world skill and explosions of colour and noise. If any country can reinvigorate the world’s obsession and love of the game, it’s Brazil. It remains to be seen whether they can rise to the occasion.
As English fans the only hope we have of participating in the final is if an English referee is chosen to officiate. But, that doesn’t look likely, it didn’t go particularly well last time considering Xabi Alonso got kung-fu kicked in the chest and Nigel De Jong sauntered off with a yellow card. World Cups aren’t England’s thing, if we can’t even referee it properly, we certainly can’t expect to win the damn thing.
Of course, if we miraculously reach the quarter finals the whole of England will be wholeheartedly behind their team. Honest. But we’ll go back to our usual apathetic state when we eventually crash out. We wouldn’t be British if we weren’t pessimistic, after all.
Until the World Cup can provide icons we all want to see succeed and bring back the sense of nostalgia that comes with swaggering, exciting players, it will never have the same ecstatic following. Politics of this World Cup aside, apathy has become the default emotion for many football fans, and I don’t see that changing until football changes.