Iran: Humour in Uniform
As an elite footballer, would you pay to swap your jersey with a fellow player say, Lionel Messi Thats the question Irans footballers have been pondering before boarding the plane to Brazil. Befuddled yet
Ali Kaffashian, the president of the Iranian Football Federation, who has been on a cost-cutting spree, created a firestorm when he spoke of players being economical with their kits. We are not giving the players a shirt for every game, Kaffashian said. The players have to be economical with the shirts.
Thats going to be a bit of a let-down. While their assymmetrical white home jersey may not set pulses racing, their eye-catching red away jersey just might. Whats more, both have a mean-looking Asiatic cheetah graphic on the front to boot.
Soon after Kaffashians statement, the Iranian team had left for a three-week training camp in South Africa with a single kit for each player. Its summer in South Africa but the players were already sweating before they left. When reserve goalie Ali-Resa Haghighi spoke of his jersey shrinking, Kaffashian, with the speed of a cheetah, put the blame on washing it at the wrong temperature. Though they are elite athletes, Irans players, not used to showing the agility of deer, the cheetahs natural play, were caught tongue-tied.
Kaffashians dictats on economy have left Team Melli, as the Iranian football team is called, fuming and feeling blue. Supporters have taken to social media, blogs and discussion forums to vent their anger at what they perceive to be ridiculous strictures on what the players fully grown adults they are too can or cannot do.
The traditional swap of shirts, though optional, has not witnessed a blanket ban on economic grounds yet. Queirozs men might set a precedent if they are forced to follow these orders. Unlike their jerseys, expect more comments to fly. Iran is set to receive $8m to participate, with $1.5m paid to them as advance both mandated by FIFA for countries that qualify. As a fan commented on TeamMelli.com, even if they wish to wipe out their debts, how much can a jersey cost
There is also a rumour that Kaffashian has offered Diego Maradona $1,00,000 to wear an Iran jersey and sit in the stadium during their match against Argentina quite a coup! If this happens, the chief of the federation might face a coup himself.
Even as Iranian federations goodwill shrinks, much like the jerseys they asked for, the real losers, who will be left empty-handed, will be Irans own players as the promise of a Messi or Aguero or any opponents jersey will remain just that a promise. While Iran are tipped to return without any points, their opponents may also have to go back without the mean graphic of a cheetah for company.
Argentina:Flea, Noodle, Tiny ... intimidating stars, underwhelming names
WHAT happens when Chiquita passes to El Pintita, who in turn plays it into the path of Pipita before El Fideos cross finds La Pulga who finds the back of the net It means Argentina just scored through Lionel Messi. Whenever that happens, expect even the poker-faced Pachorra or the sloth to get animated on the sidelines.
By now, were accustomed to South American teams dishing out catchy monikers for their players. But the Argentines have always taken it to the next level of creativity. Its no different this time around either. Where else would you find players nicknamed after a witch, a noodle or a donkey
While Messi, the pint-sized poacher who runs defences ragged, is endearingly and aptly referred to as the atomic flea, the Argentine superstar is not the only one in the squad to be handed a sobriquet on the basis of his size. Sergio Romero might be a 6ft 3in tall giant in front of the Argentine net, he is still called Chiquita or tiny, as his basketball-playing brothers, Marcos, Diego and Oscar, are anywhere between two-to-eight-inches taller than him. Striker Ezequiel Lavezzi is El Pocho or the chubby one for his obvious girth, Fernando Gago is Pintita or the small one who tries to look good and the burly Maxi Rodriguez is Le Fiera or the beast. Then there is Angel Di Maria known as Fideo or the noodle for his wiry frame and the combative midfielder Javier Mascherano is El Jefetico, or the little chief. Hitman Sergio Aguero on the other hand has retained the pet name of El Kun given to him by his family for having a strong resemblence with the Japanese anime character Kum-Kum.
The ingenuity of the epithets in Argentina, of course, originates from the nations evident lack of diversity in first names. You can only have so many Diegos, Sergios and Fernandos in the mix without pandemonium breaking out in the camp.
Argentina have not made it past the quarterfinal stage since the 1990 edition. This, despite having possessed superstars with rather macho monikers, from El Angel Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Arma Letale (Lethal Weapon) Crespo to Javier Il Trattore (The Tractor) Zanetti. Juan Sebastian Veron, meanwhile, was La Brujita or the little witch and Ariel Ortega El Burrito or little donkey. There were those of the rodent variety too. Juan Riquelme was called Topo Gigio after the famous lead character of a Spanish puppet show, a rat.
Not surprisingly, Diego Maradona, the man who generations of Argentines have obsessed over, boasts of having hoarded the most number of nicknames, a dozen of them at least. The legendary striker was most commonly referred to as El Pibe de Oro or the golden kid. But during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Uruguayan radio commentator Victor Hugo Morales coined him as the Barrilete Cosmico or cosmic kite as Maradona ran past five defenders to score a magic goal against England.
Nigeria - Emenike: Streets ahead
When does a footballer turn into a national icon Is it when he finally earns a price tag of millions on the trade market Or is it when he fights a lone war and helps his county qualify for a World Cup Or could it be when a street is named after him Nigerias most colourful character, Emmanuel Emenike, can stake a clam, having achieved the first two.
When Turkish giants Fenerbahce bought him for $13m, the 27-year old became Nigerias most expensive export of all time. Also, with three goals in the Super Eagles last two do-or-die matches, Emenike also did his fair share in registering a spot in Brazil. Now all that was left was getting his name on a street sign. And Emenike wasnt in the mood to wait for the decision-makers in Abuja to take the call.
So, Nigerias latest millionaire did it on his own. He first bought property worth 500 million naira in Lagos Manhattan, the Chevy View Estate and promptly rechristened the main road as Emmanuel Emenike Street. Great, sighed one national newspaper in Nigeria. Our only footballer worthy of a street name is the only Nigerian footballer who has been arrested for match-fixing.
In 2011, just two months after he joined Fenerbahce, Emenike was put behind bars for his alleged role in fixing matches.
Although he was charged by the court, the judge had no credible evidence against him, considering he didnt play a single match for the club! Then, a month on, he was sold to Spartak Moscow, becoming the only man to have ever joined and left the Turkish side without playing a match.
But with Emenike, no-shows seem to have plenty of rewards. Fenebahce bought back the man they were once desperate to get rid of in 2013. And a month on, Nigeria had its only footballer-labelled street.
Bosnia- Herzegovina: Throwing the kitchen sink at the rivals
Before May, Safet Susic, Bosnia and Herzegovinas 59-year-old coach was widely hailed in his homeland for being the first ethnic coach to lead the side to a major international competition. Such is Susics popularity in his native land that there were protests when he took over, bizarrely because the fans were angry that it had taken him this long to take the reins of the national side. Susic has justified his uber-popular status by leading his side to the World Cup finals, that too in style.
But ever since, Susic, voted as one of French powerhouse Paris Saint Germains all-time greatest players, has unveiled the squad that has travelled to Brazil, the adulation has been tempered by sharp, stinging bursts of criticism.
Susic, the attacking midfielder who has very enviable figures of 172 goals in 341 appearances for PSG, has had to smart off unending salvos of nepotism. The presence of his nephew, Tino-Sven Susic who has interestingly represented Belgium at youth level, in the final squad seems to have stirred a hornets nest. The young Tino-Sven Susic has just one international cap and when the senior Susic was asked why he had decided to pick the relatively unknown youngster, he snapped he has a beautiful name.
Apart from that though, the Bosnia and Herzegovina team have been molded into a unit that comes out all guns blazing under Susic. They scored 30 goals in 10 qualification games, often catching teams off-guard piling on wave after wave of attacks. Susic, who made his name as an adventurous and sharp midfielder, forever looking to drive forward, has managed to imbibe his own personal style of play on to his team.
The 59-year-old who has 21 goals in 54 games for the erstwhile Yugoslavia has not had the easiest of rides. His country, torn asunder by a horrific civil war, has been beset by problems.
Bosnia and Herzegovina have had three separate football federations, all of whom claimed legitimacy and proclaimed to run the national team. With ethnicity and related tensions a major sticking point, Susic has marshaled his troops well, managing to strike the right balance between Croats, Bosnians and Bosniaks.
Hormazd, Bharat Sundaresan, Aditya Iyer, Kapil Patwardhan contributed to the story.