Home » The many ways to hug each other on a soccer field – Juan Villoro

The many ways to hug each other on a soccer field – Juan Villoro

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The many ways to hug each other on a soccer field – Juan Villoro

November 19, 2022 08:57

After meeting intense affinities, the Russian romantic poets sealed their friendship by exchanging shirts. In a simple way, this gesture alluded to the transmigration of souls.

Football matches end the same way. We don’t pay much attention to this fact because it has no influence on the result, but this gesture symbolizes the dialectical union between the opponents. When the fight is over, the rivals change color and hug each other. Some take the opportunity to show off a sculpted abdomen in the gym or an imaginative tattoo, but the essential thing is the symbolic willingness to take on the skin of the other. This allows you to discover some secrets. When the “phenomenal” Ronaldo received David Beckham’s wet shirt, he was surprised that he smelled wonderful. The Adonis of the soccer fields exuded perfume.

For the defeated, obtaining a rival’s garment can be a strange consolation. No one likes to go out with the rags of their executioner on their back, but there are times when defeat offers the rare pride of contributing to the glory of others: if you play against Messi, there is no better result than receiving the number 10 shirt which he humiliated.

Common sense and frenzy
Games exist to score goals, but each player celebrates differently. Careca glided like a farm plane, Hugo Sánchez did a circus somersault, James Rodríguez dances a cumbia of his own invention, and Griezmann moves like a video game puppet. Those who have a pregnant wife hide the ball under their shirt and those who have already had a child suck their thumb. After these gestures come hugs. But not all are the same. If your team is losing 4-0 and you score a fantastic goal, celebrating it euphorically makes you look like an idiot. Conversely, if the match is stalled at zero-nil, and the title-winning goal is scored in added time, common sense dictates frenzy.

Is there a protocol for celebrating goals? Years ago, when I entered the changing rooms of the Azteca stadium, I saw a sign advising against excessive celebration when a goal was scored. Since enthusiasm is subjective, it is difficult to understand what is exaggerated for a person in a trance of happiness.

Curiously, the players who get hugged the most are the ones who score by chance

Football responds to two fundamental energies to embrace: centrifugal and centripetal. Those who score and run on the sidelines have an individualistic spirit; they want to be noticed and get noticed on their own. They also know that at the corner flag, a camera will film the moment they kneel in front of the crowd in an epic tribute to themselves, while teammates rush to embrace them from behind and bury them in a mountain. of admiration and affection. On the contrary, those who run towards the center of the field have a gregarious spirit and understand that his goal is the product of a collective effort. There have been times, now lost in the mists of time, when this was the usual celebration. Not surprisingly, things have changed: in the age of selfies, the scorer separates himself from his companions to be photographed alone.

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Exhilarating illusions
This gesture is not always selfish, as it is sometimes performed by running towards the fans in the stands. The valiant Martin Palermo lived to score goals any way he could. Averse to virtuosity, he was content to hit the ball with his nose or ear. Despite not having great technique in a country of football artists, he has broken all kinds of records for Boca Juniors. Among his cardinal virtues was the ability to associate his goals with his personal affections. When he scored, he thought of his family, his first girlfriend, his favorite dog, his neighborhood, his city and his country. These exhilarating illusions made him run towards the stands in search of strangers who represented temporary surrogates for his affections.

His centrifugal joy was so excessive as to produce the strangest wounds: Palermo fractured with happiness. On 29 November 2001, while playing for Villarreal, he faced rivals Levante, a team from Valencia, in a Spanish cup final. Only a few fans were present Yellow Submarine (yellow submarine, nickname of Villareal). It so happened that they were behind the goal where Palermo scored the goal that kept his team alive. The attacker rushed to the stands to embrace the fans when a billboard collapsed on him, shattering his tibia and fibula. In a bitter allegory of contemporary football, the Argentine champion’s celebration was guillotined by an advertising hoarding.

Centrifugal markers run on the sidelines; sometimes they are reminded of each other’s existence and hug a photographer or a security guard. Centripetal scorers, on the other hand, are like Pelé, who jumped from a standstill, whipping the air with his hand, and blended with the white shirts of his team or the yellow ones of his national team. The most complete case of fusion was that of Alfredo Di Stéfano who, apparently, celebrated in total intimacy with the ball, to which he whispered: “Thank you, old lady”.

Women’s football is the sport’s best reservoir of loyalty

Football is a team sport, but there are those who understand it in individual terms. When Cristiano Ronaldo scores a goal, he doesn’t look for the teammate who passed him or the one closest to him: he goes towards the corner flag, jumps with a gesture that lands him on his feet on the sideline, with his legs and arms outstretched, and wait for them to come and embrace him. Like a statue of himself, he claims the admiration that heroes deserve.

Curiously, the players who get hugged the most are the ones who score by chance. The right-back who, standing one meter sixty tall, manages to score a header, even pushes the goalkeeper to cross the whole pitch to celebrate. This celebration is based on the once-in-a-lifetime condition of that joy: the hero by chance will never do such a thing again.

Then there is the most complicated hug of all, that of the coach to one of the men under his orders. A footballer who wants to leave the playing field has not yet been born. When the manager replaces him, it can mean several things. If the player in question has scored three goals and there are eight minutes left in the match, his exclusion is a tribute, so that the stadium can cheer him on. Like the audience, the coach also plays with nerves and shouts. By embracing the exhausted protagonist, he receives the high stuff of heroes, the sweat of glory and effort. This embrace shares an essential merit with eroticism: the filth of others becomes delicious, or at least bearable.

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More difficult to appreciate is the scene of the football player who leaves the field because he is not playing well or because he lacks the qualities of whoever will replace him. Of all the hugs football has invented, I prefer the one of the player who doesn’t want to leave and yet accepts with dignity the arms of the man in the Armani suit who has just wounded him. The strategist gets wet with a sweat which in this case means obedience and discipline, but also fortitude and defiance. Publicly embracing the one who insults him, the warrior repeats a gesture to which apostles, emperors, mafia bosses and revolutionaries have resorted to say with resignation and solemnity: “I’m still with you”. The attacked person is loyal, but it will not be possible to abuse his nobility.

The most emotional hugs tend to occur between Slavic or Latino players, whose torso is not enough to show the affection they feel. It is common for their hands to go to the back of the celebrant’s neck and cheek, and for the joy to be sealed with a kiss. When the embrace dissolves, whoever scores receives two or three spankings. It is a decisive body code: the hug certifies what has already happened, the spanking is a stimulus for this to happen again. In no other activity is spanking so productive.

Male prerogative
Let’s move on to women’s football, a universe that is becoming increasingly relevant. Its great contribution is honesty, and women’s football is the sport’s best reservoir of loyalty. Men’s soccer has become a branch of the theatre, surprisingly and disappointingly.

The feints and sleight of hand require gestural virtuosity and the smarcante passage requires a clear sense of stage presence. “Football is the only place where I like to be teased,” said César Luis Menotti, referring to the champion’s decisive virtue, which allows him to do the opposite of what is expected. So far, theatricality is a highly positive gift. But the ability to pretend is also one of the evils of football. In all leagues there is an abundance of goons who whine and call for a foul at the slightest provocation. Even a sublime player like Neymar prefers to pretend he has suffered a blow rather than actually playing. To persuade the referee, footballers chasing a penalty roll around on the pitch and move their legs and arms in a stupor (curiously, they recover as soon as they wipe their face with a sponge).

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Men’s football relies so heavily on simulations that the sincerity of celebrations cannot always be trusted. Figo was letting his Barcelona teammates love him while he was already contemplating signing for Real Madrid.

Instead, women’s football, meanwhile, has remarkably flourished without being invaded by cheating. There are no female players known for scoring with their hands. Cheating is a male prerogative.

As a result, hugs in women’s camps have a different atmosphere, like a kermesse or an end-of-year party. While there are wild outbursts of emotion, the celebration is usually a shared pleasure, not the worship of a Caesar.

Confused emotions
Just when we thought we’d seen it all in hugs, including the professional hypocrisy of the owner embracing his replacement, the var arrived (video assistant referee) to confuse emotions.

The goal forces us to scream until we lose our voice. In the stands we embraced people we had never seen before, but who became intimate because we shared a collective desire with them. I’ve loved few people as much as the stranger who cried into my cheek when Necaxa were crowned champions at the Azteca stadium after 57 years of waiting.

Today, thanks to technology, passion can be put on hold. The stadium explodes for the goal, but the referee has a doubt.

At that point comes a gesture worthy of kabuki theater: the referee draws a rectangle in the air which means “screen” and requests that a supreme court review the action. The sensation is that of coitus interruptus. The outburst of joy must be postponed. After one minute of freezing, the referee confirms or cancels his decision. If he decrees that the goal was legal, the players have no choice but to hug each other per protocol, staging a joy they only half feel. The postponed goal tastes like a heated stew.

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I conclude with the hug that no one wants to receive and which is perhaps, precisely for this reason, the strongest of all. At every corner kick, a defender squeezes the attacker with a vehemence he will never concede to his mistress. This hug is irregular and can therefore only last a few seconds. Hopelessness and helplessness are concentrated in it. After all, it is a tribute. The defender knows that the opponent can outrun him; not being able to exercise clean marking, he transgresses the rules to contain him, transforming the hug into a resource of rivalry.

The human species owes its destiny to the use of the hands, but football, which is extremely rare, forbids their use, with the small exception of the goalkeeper, who dresses and thinks differently from others.

This game of forbidden hands exists to get to that moment in which the most important thing is the hands: the hug, the goal after the goal.

(Translation by Federico Ferrone)

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