Eccentricity the name of the game
People would not be people without their whims, and footballers are no different. As we found out in a previous edition, players and coaches can be a superstitious lot. This week, Off The Ball casts a glance at the odd, loveable, and at times mundane off-field activities of the game's stars.
Fashionistas among the goals
Some players care little for their personal appearance, but others are concerned about fashion and style. Freddie Ljungberg notoriously stripped for Calvin Klein, and David Beckham arguably went one better by posing for Armani, but Germany’s "Glamour Girl" Fatmire Bajramaj has taken looking good to new extremes.
The 2010 FIFA World Player of the Year contender is prone to wearing pink boots for key matches, and once wore high heels when playing the Torwand, a shooting accuracy game which is a decades-old institution on German sports TV. Lira would never, ever take to the field without make-up. "Every day, I spend ages thinking about what I’m going to wear and how my outfit fits together. Clothes, make-up, hair, it all has to be right. And I like looking good on the field too,“ the 21-year-old told sueddeutsche.de. A cosmetics manufacturer’s dream, Ms Bajramaj even puts on make-up for training jogs.
Sleeves rolled up (or cut off)
Greasepaint is not Spain keeper Iker Casillas’s bag, but he is meticulous in his choice of jersey. The European and world champion is a stickler for short-sleeved shirts, resorting to the conventional long-sleeved variety only when it is truly freezing outside – and even then, he rolls his sleeves up to the elbows.
The inspiration for this particular predilection may have come from former France shot-stopper Fabien Barthez. The 1998 world champion made a point of only ever playing in short sleeves, regardless of sun, snow or storm. And like Casillas, he simply cut off sleeves he found too long for his liking.
Some players clearly get all worked up about the design of their shirts, but others are fastidious when it comes to their number. Veteran Germany midfielder Michael Ballack has never worn anything but the number 13, a requirement which has not always met with complete sympathy and understanding. Is it superstition, a childhood-based preference, or simply an unusual lucky number? We may never find out for sure.
Shave and score
A player’s appearance on the field is arguably influenced less by his shirt than by his hair, be it on the top of his head, and in the form of facial growth. Mario Kempes went into the 1978 FIFA World Cup as the great hope for hosts Argentina, but the goals dried up for the normally prolific striker in the early part of the tournament. For whatever reason, the finger of suspicion pointed at Mario’s early-tournament moustache.
"We spent the whole day at the hotel, focusing on nothing but the tournament, and I was too lazy to shave every two or three days," he explained. But then coach Cesar Menotti asked the player to shave, as that might restore his goalscoring touch. Kempes duly applied the razor, scored six goals (including two in the Final), and steered Argentina to their first FIFA World Cup triumph. Maestro Menotti, so legend has it, was careful to remind his top striker to shave on the morning of every match.
While we’re on the subject of haircuts, Borussia Dortmund’s Kevin Grosskreutz recently underwent a haircut with a difference, as it took place in full view of an 80,000 full house at Signal Iduna Park. Grosskreutz had let his hair grow since October last year, when the 22-year-old resolved to let his hair go until the German title was won. The minute the triumph came to pass, team-mates Felipe Santana and Dede reached for the clippers, and young Kevin’s straggly locks were gone.
A recipe for success
Some players’ unusual tastes can also quite literally be tasty, as St. Pauli defender Moritz Volz amply proves. The 28-year-old is good on the ball and good in the kitchen too. Volz, who spent a lengthy period in England before joining the offbeat Hamburg outfit, is a baker of the highest order and regularly creates a cake before matches, themed to the opponents of the day.
"When we played the big clubs like Arsenal or Manchester United, I made a biscuit-based cake with bananas and a dusting of green tea. If we were playing more rugged teams like Blackburn Rovers, I made something a lot heavier like carrot cake with nuts," the cult blogger revealed in an interview with Berliner Zeitung. He has maintained his tradition in the Bundesliga. "Freiburg play nice football, but grain is more appropriate to physical opponents like Cologne. Freiburg is next to Alsace, so the answer is a sweet quiche with cherries. And when we play Hamburg, it’s a city-wide festival, so I douse the cake in sugar." All mouth-watering stuff from the multi-talented full-back.
China star Li Jinyu is one of the most popular players ever in his home country, and not without good reason. He scored 117 goals during his playing career, which only came to an end in January this year, but it was less the goals and more the celebrations which have carved him a place in Chinese footballing lore. Li frequently updated and adapted his post-scoring routines, which became a subject of excited speculation in the media and among fans. Both parties attempted to predict how the next celebration might come out, although the player is rumoured to have insisted it was all spontaneous.
Back in Europe, Germany striker Miroslav Klose’s trademark celebration was a salto, an airborne forwards somersault. Asked by FIFA.com in 2007 to explain why the frequency of his celebrations had declined, the player had an answer to hand: "I think I’ll start marking my very best goals with it again soon." Sure enough, the Bayern man’s brace against Argentina at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa saw him reproduce his famous somersault.
Italy hit-man Luca Toni made a completely different gesture all his own. The former Bayern striker celebrated his goals by apparently twisting off his ear. This allegedly meant "Avete capito” – did you get that?
The quirks of the pre-match routine
Back in the 1980s, Denmark’s Preben Elkjaer Larsen was one of his country’s top goal-getters, largely thanks to his blistering pace off the mark. That is surprising given the 1984 Danish Player of the Year was already a chain smoker when he joined the pro ranks. Those were innocent days in a way, and in keeping with the times, Larsen insisted on a quick smoke at half-time, even in important matches.
In terms of routines and habits, Mexico’s Oscar Mascorro takes pre-match rituals to a new level. "I always leave my bed unmade, I get out of bed on the right side, and I stand up with my right foot first. I have dinner in the same place every time, or make a hamburger with a vanilla milkshake and apple juice. In the dressing room, I apply bandages to both wrists, take a cross in each hand, and then start writing on the bandages. I note what I have to do during the match, then I write the initials M and P [Mamá y Papá, mother and father in Spanish] on the one wrist, my last name and my girlfriend’s name on the other. Once on the field, I pray and pull out a piece of the turf.“ That's what you call painstaking preparation for a match.
Other odd pre-match rituals include former Brazil defender Julio Cesar’s habit of consuming an entire bar of chocolate, and Argentina man Jose Luis Brown’s preference for cold coffee in the dressing room before kick-off.
Wayne’s noisy world
Manchester United superstar Wayne Rooney has an even more specific foible. To ensure he gets off to a decent night’s sleep, the England international needs the comforting background noise of a hairdryer or vacuum cleaner. Interviewed by The Sun, Rooney came clean about his nocturnal habit. "If I'm staying in a hotel or I'm sleeping on my own I have the hairdryer on. When I'm with Coleen [his wife], I have the fan on. I don't know what it is, but the noise just helps me sleep. If we're on long-haul flights, I've been known to sleep on the floor so I hear the engines.“ What the Rooney neighbours have to say about the night-time din is unrecorded.
Have Your Say
FIFA.com has highlighted just a few of the quirky habits confessed to by players down the years, but do you know of any more? Click 'Add your comment' and let everyone know your opinion, remembering to keep your posts clean, respectful, on-topic and in English.