Last year FIFA.com took you on a journey back in time to meet the greatest philosophers in world history (see link on the right). The dramatist William Shakespeare, Albert Camus and philosopher Umberto Eco have all commented on the world's favourite game, both critically and favourably. But just as those thinkers engaged with football, certain players are also fond of ruminating, at least where their life philosophies are concerned.
For example the captain of the German national team, Philipp Lahm, is a firm believer in “less is more” as a motto. His club colleague Mario Gomez on the other hand has more in common with Austrian Erwin Hoffer and three-time FIFA World Cup™ participant Roberto 'El Toro' (the bull) Acuna of Paraguay, who all share the same "never give up" attitude.
Career teething problems
Meanwhile, there are others who believe that hard work is the key. "You don’t get anything in life without working for it," said French superstar Franck Ribery. New Manchester United recruit Shinji Kagawa has a similar ideology: “Only those who work hard can keep developing.”
We need look no further than Lionel Messi for living proof that such principles bear fruit. It is widely known that he was considered too small and slight at the beginning of his career, but his perseverance clearly paid off. The Argentinian is the current holder of the FIFA Ballon d'Or and can already be legitimately hailed as successor to such legends of the game as Pele, Diego Maradona and Franz Beckenbauer. Incidentally, Messi follows the same maxim as a global sports manufacturer: “Impossible is nothing.”
A huge 49 years separate Messi and the next protagonist, Giovanni Trapattoni. The Italian has gained a wealth of experience from his time as a player and coach in a lengthy career that has taken him to Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Juventus, the Italian national side, and his current post in charge of Ireland’s senior team.
The 73-year-old, known as Il Tedesco (the German), lives by the mantra: "Be thankful for the past, live in the present and be open to the future." Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez, eight years Trapattoni’s junior, is fond of quoting Che Guevara: "We need to grow strong without ever losing our tenderness."
Preparation is vital to Jitka Klimkova, who is presently coaching Canberra United women’s team. "My motto in my life is 'have a dream, make a plan and go for it'," the Czech said in an interview with FIFA.com.
By contrast, a trio of Dutch stars take a more relaxed approach to life. "Enjoy each day," "After the rain comes the sun," and "I take each day as it comes," are the respective beliefs of Arjen Robben, Mark van Bommel and Gregory van der Wiel.
Hasan Salihamidzic has a similar outlook: "Life's too short to be in a bad mood." Having made it to the top of their dream job, such gratitude is entirely understandable.
Any report on footballers' philosophies on life, or attitudes to life as the case may be, would not be complete without mentioning the eccentric George Best. The Northern Irish star was among Europe's best players in his heyday in the 1970s and created as many headlines off the pitch as he did on it. "I've spent a lot of money on booze, women and fast cars. The rest I just squandered," he famously said.
Michel Morganella (Switzerland) and Christian Pander (Germany) are two players whose motto quite literally got under their skin. Morganella has "Non mollare mai" tattooed on his chest, while Pander has exactly the same phrase on his upper right arm, albeit in English: "Never give up".
The list of footballers and coaches with diverse views on life is extensive. From Kim Kulig ("Courage and passion"), Abby Wambach ("Be hard, be strong, be patient"), Michael Ballack ("Don't take everything so seriously"), Nelson Cuevas ("That’s just the way I am and I'm unique“), Cesc Fabregas ("If you work hard and believe in yourself, anything is possible") and Miguel Sabah ("Enjoy the moment") through to Dettmar Cramer ("As long as better is possible, good is not enough"), it is clear that throughout the history of the game the participants have always contemplated other matters too.
But it is not only the players who are so reflective. As FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter once said, "FIFA has a message. And it is positive: football is life, football is joy, football is hope. Football as a life philosophy that goes beyond the sport itself, that is my main message."
"Football as a life philosophy." Could there be a more fitting way to conclude this historical journey on footballers' philosophies on life?