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Khaya Sibeko

Football.Bookworm.Cinematic Music. "The greatest contribution from Africans will be to give the world a more human face" Bantu S. Biko,

Football’s Burden of History

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Football’s Burden of History

As people we are products of histories that we have no hand in their creation and the kind that we actively participate in its making through our actions or lack of them. History in this instance is both a series of past events that aren’t necessarily notable and those are epoch-making. Whether conduct is ground breaking or not a burden of history is ever present, ready to be challenged or accepted as the gospel truth of sorts. One could even say that a burden of history is the wind in the sails of personal, and by extension, societal progress or an utter curse.

The football arena is decorated, if not littered, with examples of clubs and individuals, who through their dedication to their work, have bequeathed (or will eventually bequeath) seemingly insurmountable legacies to those who succeed them. In the 1980s when Liverpool was swinging its sword of dominance and claiming scalps domestically and continentally almost effortlessly, secretly, through its deeds, it was constructing a burden of expectation from future players that would step on to the exalted grounds of Anfield. In hindsight it would seem that it’s a task that’s been too much to bear for the current crop of players as demonstrated by the club’s inability to secure league honours in more than 2 decades. The recently retired Jamie Carragher, who played for the Reds on 737 occasions, expressed regret in never winning the league in his 17 years at Merseyside’s finest club.

There’s going to come a time when the sun sets on the hegemony of the current Barcelona team. Some say their demolition by the newly crowned European kings, Bayern Munich, may be have signalled that power shift. When this great Barça era, like that of the AC Milan of the late 80s and early to mid 90s; Ajax of 70s and Chicago Bulls of 90s, comes to an end one can’t help but feel sorry for the heirs of Camp Nou. Are they also going to be expected to win 15 in five years, 6 of those in a season? That’ll be like expecting Michael Jackson to create another 8 Grammy awards winning and 65 million copies selling album just like his “Thriller” did but to the uncompromising faithful of the Blaugrana that may yet be a fair expectation.

When the not-yet-knighted Alex Ferguson took over the reins at Manchester United in 1986 the club was a far cry from the commanding heights it’s not accustomed to. The Red Devils had been relegated in the previous decade and they would have to wait 27 years before they’d be crowned league champions again. To make matter worse their north-west rivals, Liverpool, were indomitable at the time but the reconfiguration of the English First Division into the Premier League would do United wonders as they’d ascend to the helm, savour the much sought after taste league supremacy and they’d like it so much so that they’d hard wrestle off their perch as the 90s wore on. Now 2 club world cups; 2 UEFA Champions Leagues cups; 5 FA cups; 13 league titles and a knighthood later, Ferguson has decided to call it a day. He has surpassed the records of Sir Matt Busby, the man in whose shadow he found himself at some point. The Labour Party-supporting Scotsman has created an expectation of utter dominance and superiority at Old Trafford. The incoming coach,David Moyes, will obviously be given the opportunity to do things his way but even he’s all too aware of a burden of history that surrounds him. In the event of a trophyless season or two don’t be shocked to hear fans chanting for Fergie’s return. When the would-be patriarch of Old Trafford wasn’t delivering trophies his head was called for in the 80s.

Sometimes a burden of underachievement can envelop a team to the extent that they tacitly accept that they’ll never get the proverbial monkey of flattering only to deceive off its back. Prior to the 2008 European Championship that was the reality of the Spanish national team. Generation after generation of embarrassment of La Roja talent just couldn’t hold their nerve and make it count when it matter most. Fast track to 2013 and the burden of underachievement has been replaced by unparalled glory which has seen Spain being first team to defend its continental title while still world champions. They’ve taken the bar of a country where a semi final appearance would’ve being seen as a great feat and nailed it to the highest heights. It’ll be a big ask of future La Roja players to replicate this Halley’s Commet of feats but those players who’ll respond positively to the call of their national duty will already know in whose shadow they stand, if indeed they’ll remain there.

As seemingly resolute as burdens of history may be it must be borne in mind that they aren’t definitive. The audacity of naked ambition and hope has always made it possible for the bar of greatness to be notched higher. There was once a time when scoring 40 goals in a season was a rarity but Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been netting 50 goals-plus for the past 3 seasons. There was once a time when the idea of the Cape Verde Islands making it to the AFCON was the stuff of fantasies but not anymore. Perhaps one will witness the likes of Lesotho or Palestine participating in the world cup in the future. Dare not trivialize the enduring power of human endeavour once the wheels of determination are in motion. The burden of history is such that you either make history or become history.

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