A few weeks back, FIFA.com took a look at thinking footballers, round ball intellectuals who invert the old stereotype of players only ever using their heads to knock the ball in the net. However, it is also true to say that football can create situations that are closer to the ridiculous than the sublime.
'There’s always one', or so the saying goes. While the Brazilian FIFA World Cup-winner Kaka, renowned the world over for his vision and positioning, may know the pitch like the back of his hand, his sense of direction clearly has its limits. In August 2009, Brazil travelled to Estonia for a friendly match, and their midfield maestro found himself unable to get to sleep. As counting sheep did not seem that appealing, he decided a midnight stroll though Tallinn’s old town might do the trick. Unfortunately, he then proceeded to get completely lost. Thankfully for Kaka and his team-mates, European Footballers of the Year wandering about in green and yellow tracksuits is not something you see every day in Estonia, and when two policemen came across the Seleção star, they kindly accompanied him back to his hotel.
There could be an argument for introducing geography lessons at pre-season training, given what occurred just one week later. At the draw for the UEFA Europa League play-off round, the management of Lille, a club based in the north of France, declared themselves absolutely delighted with the “very short journey” to Genk that the draw had thrown up. Convinced that their match with the Belgian outfit was only a 74 km skip-and-a-jump away, they finally realised on the day of the match that they had in fact been mixing up Genk and Ghent. Luckily for them, Belgium is not an expansive country and Lille’s opponents were only a 214 km drive up the road. It is worth noting that this geographical muddle had little effect on the team’s performance. Lille securing a fine 4-2 victory before heading back across the border, GPS switched on this time.
As all footballers would surely agree, the return journey always seems twice as long after a defeat. No team knows this better than Racing Club de Lens. Soundly beaten 3-0 by Le Mans in September, the former French champions were in a hurry to get on their way back north – such a hurry, in fact, that they left their captain Eric Chelle standing in the stadium car park!
That sort of thing would never have happened to legendary Scotsman Jimmy Johnstone. Aware of the reverence in which 'Jinky' was held by Scottish football supporters, cemented by Celtic’s European Cup victory in 1967, his team-mates were quick to come to his aid on one infamous occasion. After a victory over Wales in 1974, Scotland manager Willie Ormond let the players out to celebrate and enjoy a drink, in order to boost morale ahead of their clash with the Auld Enemy, England, a few days later. Always one for enjoying himself, that night was no exception for Johnstone.
On the way back to the seafront hotel from the pub, he spotted some rowing boats lying on the sand and decided that the obvious course of action was to climb inside one of them. “Someone pushed the boat into the water. "He stood up, waving his arms and shouting ‘Scotland, Scotland’," recalled his fellow team member Donald Ford many years later. “But there weren’t any paddles and the next thing we knew, he had drifted quite far out, still oblivious to what was happening.” Exemplary team-mates, Ford and Denis Law ran to summon the coastguard, who brought Johnstone back to shore a short time later. Despite his fury, Ormond fielded Jimmy Johnstone against England, and would not regret the decision, as the maritime meanderer put in a superb performance to inspire a 2-0 defeat of Scotland’s great rivals.
Beaches and football do not tend to go well together, as the American Frankie Hejduk found out to his cost. A huge surfing fan, he had wavered at one point between a career on the waves and on the pitch. Now a stalwart of the USA national team, his international rise was almost curtailed permanently in 1997, just six months after his first cap, due to behaviour that was more beach boy than professional footballer. After having enjoyed a boisterous evening with friends, the young defender overslept and missed a team flight to China for a friendly match. The then coach, Steve Samson, did not take too kindly to this 'surfer' attitude and went on to offer Hedjuk the grand total of six minutes of playing time within the space of a year.
Six minutes represents just over half the amount of time that the former West Ham striker Leroy Rosenior enjoyed in charge of Torquay United in 2007, becoming the world’s shortest-serving manager in the process. Around the same time that he was being unveiled, the club was taken over by a local consortium that immediately replaced him with another manager, Paul Buckle. "Of course, as I was going they thanked me for the all the good work I’d put in during those ten minutes,” joked Rosenior.
It was also events in the corridors of power that led to the most incredible episode in the history of Paris Saint-Germain. In 1997, the Parisian club flew to Bucharest to take on Steaua in a UEFA Champions League preliminary round tie. Unfortunately, they forgot to run an eye over a pile of unopened mail and unchecked faxes before they left, within which they would have found a letter from UEFA reminding them that their defensive midfielder Laurent Fournier was suspended for the upcoming match. The result of this slightly careless oversight was the awarding of a 3-0 victory to the Romanians by UEFA, despite the 3-2 scoreline on the night. It is quite possible that PSG’s supporters would not have been quite so forgiving of this administrative error had their heroes not turned it all around in the second leg, pulling off a 5-0 win at home.
However, management teams do not have a monopoly when it comes to mistakes; players have an equally impressive track record in this area. The German defender Marcell Fensch, for example, was very pleased when he was sent on as a substitute for Cologne against Schalke 04 in a 1997 Bundesliga match. However, keenness soon turned to embarrassment when he realised he’d left his jersey back in the changing rooms. In the time it took him to run and retrieve it, his team had conceded the first goal of a 2-0 defeat.
The former Marseille striker, Cyril Chapuis, managed to better than that during the 2002/03 season – as he prepared to come on versus Metz, he noticed upon removing his tracksuit that he’d forgotten to put his shorts on.
In terms of overall incompetence, however, the fate that befell the Colombian national team a few years back takes some beating. In 2006, prior to a training session the night before a friendly match against Germany, they realised that they had left every single pair of players’ boots in Poland, where they had played a match a few days beforehand.
We wrap up this world tour of football faux pas with two anecdotes that were as comical for the watching public as they were unfortunate for the players involved.
The Argentinian Martin Palermo, capable of the sublime (scoring a header from 40 metres out) as well as the ridiculous (missing three penalties in the same match), will probably never forget celebrating a Copa del Rey goal for Villarreal back in 2001. Under the weight of his team’s supporters, a small concrete wall collapsed, breaking the goalscorer’s leg and ruling him out of the 2002 FIFA World Cup™.
As for Cameroon’s Andre Bikey, he gave new meaning to the phrase “keep the doctor away” when he was shown the red card during the semi-final of the 2008 CAF African Cup of Nations for bundling over the opposing team’s medic. Suspended for the final, Bikey had to endure Cameroon’s defeat to Egypt from the sidelines, but thankfully managed to avoid bundling over anyone else in the process.