Off The Ball

Superstition from the reins

France's head coach Raymond Domenech gestures

Like any activity where good fortune comes into play, football is certainly not free from superstitions. The list of those in the game prone to strange beliefs is a long one, so brings you just a selection of the most bizarre rituals - starting this week with coaches from around the world.

The case of Argentinian strategist Carlos Bilardo is certainly an odd one, and as good a place as any to begin. Not only did the man who guided the Albiceleste to 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ glory routinely carry a statuette of the Virgin Mary to games, he also banned his players from eating chicken in the belief it brought bad luck. The coach also has a penchant for linking victories to seemingly unrelated factors, be they a particular item of clothing or taking a certain pre-match route. Indeed, for a period he made his players travel to games by taxi, all because they had won a game after hailing taxis when their bus broke down.

Back in his time as coach of Estudiantes La Plata, during the 2003 Argentinian Apertura, a Brazilian woman wished him good luck before the match. After watching the* Pincharratas* take all three points, Bilardo sought out his new-found talisman to ask if he could phone her prior to every game.

Equally disconcerted must have been the bride who held her wedding in the same hotel where the Albiceleste stayed during Italy 1990 - especially when 22 Argentinian footballers appeared during her big day to greet her one by one, thanks to Bilardo's unshakeable belief that brides bring good luck. And, lo and behold, the next day Diego Maradona and Co ousted the mighty Brazil.

His countryman, Reinaldo Merlo, who patrolled River Plate's midfield during the 1970s, is not far behind Bilardo in the superstitious stakes. The tactician, who recently left his post at Rosario Central, instinctively makes a hand gesture every time an opposing team goes on the attack, while he is also convinced that flowers bring bad luck. Predictably, rival fans delight in his reaction after they throw armfuls of flowers towards his dugout.

Legendary Leeds United manager Don Revie was exceptionally superstitious. He would wear the same suit until the Yorkshire outfit lost, always took the same route to the dugout at Elland Road, had a fear of ornamental elephants, believed a gypsy curse was hindering his team and was adamant that birds brought bad luck.

Perhaps I'm not in the national side because I'm a Leo and there are already too many in the France team.

Towards the more normal end of the scale is former Spain coach Luis Aragones. Such is El Sabio de Hortaleza's aversion to the colour yellow, he once forced then captain Raul to change a yellow jersey he had worn to training. Let's hope that was not the reason the Real Madrid man missed out on UEFA EURO 2008.

This phobia almost caused a diplomatic incident prior to Germany 2006, after he refused a bouquet of yellow flowers intended as a welcome gift on La Roja's arrival in Dortmund. It also required arm-twisting for him to accept Spain's mustard-coloured second strip at EURO 2008 - though his charges wore the offending jersey only once (against Russia in the semi-finals) during their triumphant campaign.

Former Bayern Munich boss Felix Magath, currently at the helm of German league leaders Wolfsburg, has worn a green tie for the last ten matches. Moreover, all of these games ended in wins for the Wolves - a Bundesliga record - and Magath has insisted that the tie will remain part of his matchday attire until their unbeaten run ends. Another with a tie obsession is former Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe, whose pre-match ritual includes donning a neckpiece which invariably bears a picture of a dragon.

For Brazilian football legend Mario Zagallo, meanwhile, nothing can shake his faith in the number 13, which is borne from his devotion to Saint Anthony - whose Saint's day is celebrated on 13 June. Thus the ex-Seleção player and coach lives on the 13th floor of an apartment block and got married on the 13 June. He has also claimed that his 13 visits to the saint's shrine helped his recovery from a stomach-cancer operation, while coincidentally he presided over 13 victories at FIFA World Cup™ finals while at the Brazil reins.

Indeed, he predicted a Brazil triumph at Germany 2006 given their campaign began on 13 June and coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's name contained 13 letters, though it was the number 12 that proved the team's undoing. Twelve minutes into the second half of their quarter-final against France, Les Bleus' No12 Thierry Henry (12 letters) lost his marker Roberto Carlos (13 letters) before firing home the only goal of the game.

France coach Raymond Domenech, for his part, is more focused on the stars than numbers, with his detractors claiming he consults players' horoscopes before announcing a squad list or team line-up. Midfielder Johan Micoud even blamed his star sign for his absence from Domenech's Germany 2006 squad.

"Perhaps I'm not in the national side because I'm a Leo and there are already too many in the France team," complained the former Cannes, Bordeaux, Parma and Werder Bremen schemer. And though the coach is said to believe too many Leos or Scorpios upset the balance of a dressing room, he does claim, somewhat paradoxically, that "superstitions bring bad luck".

Last but not least we have the Republic of Ireland's vastly experienced coach Giovanni Trapattoni. The well-travelled Italian, who has also coached in Germany, Austria and Portugal as well as his homeland, routinely sprinkles part of the playing surface with holy water provided by his sister, who is a nun.

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