Doped Up on Delirium – The madness of World Cup 2018

World Cup 2018 was one of the most memorable major football tournaments in recent times, and there were a lot of myths debunked and friends made by Russia in the process.
Russia, Mbappe and Neymar: The madness of World Cup 2018. (Art by Fabrizio Birimbelli)
Russia, Mbappe and Neymar: The madness of World Cup 2018. (Art by Fabrizio Birimbelli)

“The city disappears, its routine forgotten. All that exists is the temple. In this sacred place, the only religion without atheists puts its divinities on display.”

— Eduardo Galeano, The Fan, Football in the Sun and Shadow

Thousands have swarmed the streets of various cities for three weeks now. People from all around the globe have gathered in northern Europe with face-paints and colourful banners in their nation’s colours. For them, it’s the religion being practised inside their temples that matter, not the controversies surrounding the stadium authorities or the alleged heavy-handed policing. For them, the holy event is a periodical celebratory pilgrimage where nothing seems to be impossible. For them, the stories and the narratives hold more importance than media propaganda revolving around the host nation’s treatment to the processing.

Undoubtedly, the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup has left thousands with egg on their faces — surprising, disappointing and exciting the entire public sphere with every game. Be it technological interventions snuffing out the theatrics on the field, the Telstar 18 being exalted with numerous world-class strikes, or the accounts of people being brought together from different continents, this World Cup has overshadowed the sense of villainy and wrongdoing attached with Russia and its public bodies.

Ever since Russia won the World Cup bid in 2010, a torrent of anti-Russian propaganda has found its place, thanks, mostly, to the British mentality.  “Hooliganism”, “intolerance” and “racism” were words thrown into the mix to dissuade fans, not only those who opted for leaving the European Union, but also others influenced by the larger media practices. The doping scandal sewn into the very fabric of the nation after the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Winter Olympics made certain fans, commit a crime as grave as thinking of boycotting the single biggest footballing event. After witnessing the quarter-finals and feeling physically drained, dehydrated throat in tow, after a flurry of historical games, the fact behind the disqualification of Russia in the 2018 Olympics doesn’t seem to be much of a bother now.

For every article throwing shade on Russia’s exemplary group stage performances and Aleksandr Golovin’s dubious metahuman endurance, there have been accounts of accord that hold up the very essence with which Jules Rimet had established this competition in 1930. The World Cup has been a bastion of hope, identity and collectivism for eighty-eight years, and if the past sixty matches are any proof, then Russia has indeed proved to be the fire to the torch of the ideals behind the competition.

Rising above the politics associated with the organisation of the event, Russia have maintained their composure amidst a barrage of criticism, even though their foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has strong opinions about the United Kingdom’s alleged smear campaign against Russia through media outlets. Although, the entire blame can’t be shifted to the bias of the Western organisations, as the extensive doping regime with corticosteroids overseen by ex-president of the Russian Football union, Vitaly Mutko, hasn’t exactly kept the ball in their own snowy court.

Russia has been in its own war since a report from the World-Anti-Doping-Agency-appointed Richard McLaren destabilised their foundation of impropriety. Doubling up on it, former doping orchestrator turned whistleblower, Grigory Rodchenkov’s account in Bryan Fogel’s Academy award-winning documentary, Icarus, has also turned their world upside-down. Despite allegations about the involvement of FIFA in the doping scandal, this event has been quite close to the very definition of democracy — of the people, by the people and for the people. Football’s charm wins over all, you know? Good football, even more so.

“Luckily on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.”

— Eduardo Galeano, Football, Football in the Sun and Shadow

Xherdan Shaqiri did it against a nation which incited his personal political experiences. Heung-min Son did it against the World Cup holders to make his nation proud. Neymar could have done it, but chose a different application for the grass he was on, for at least 14 minutes of his entire trip. Even when they weren’t covering sixty yards with the ball, they were caressing the ball with utmost power from a distance to embrace the adventure of representing millions from their home nations.

Aleksandar Kolarov, Angel Di Maria and Kevin De Bruyne committed such similar blunders, but they were mishaps that made the entire experience whole. What this World Cup has exhibited is an abundance of insolent rascals not adhering to the script and letting the emotions flow through the laces of their boot, and as witnessed, often through their fingertips. Delirium has taken hold of the world, something the vexing vuvuzelas and the plethora of passes by La Roja failed to do in 2010, even though the World Cup songs got everyone in the groove.

With the death of tiki-taka against Russia, all the more symbolically with the retirement of Andres Iniesta, the footballing world has seen an entire era unfold and collapse into itself over three World Cups. Meanwhile, Russia has been the rebirthland of the once-coffined 1996 English song, “Three Lions”, with tweets surrounding the “Football’s Coming Home” chants taking away the attention from the fact that Kieran Trippier has been the best inflatable unicorn-riding player in Russia.

Unexpected events have been set as a norm, ever since David De Gea sought to emulate Robert Green from 2010 and let a poorly hit shot from Cristiano Ronaldo slip through his legs. Since then, Willy Caballero has attempted his best to single-handedly destroy Lionel Messi’s international career making Fernando Muslera and Hugo Lloris join in on the fun. Amidst all these goalkeeping errors and late winners, what confounds both the initiated and uninitiated is the lineup of the semi-finalists, and not the reason behind a million voices crying out in terror at the origin and irony of the word “schadenfreude”. It’s as if, teams like Belgium and Croatia are indeed virtuosos at their trade and home to a myriad of world’s generational talents.

Embracing that very forbidden adventure of freedom, often restricted by modern club culture, this World Cup has acted as the chaperone of hopes, dreams and aspirations of thirty-two nations — from Egypt’s qualification tale to Iceland’s upsurge in the world of football to Switzerland’s history-imbibed win over Serbia to Croatia’s dream run with their Golden Generation. This World Cup has indeed been one that the people deserve, reinforcing the pride in one’s flag eleven players at a time, which makes battle hardened defenders like Jose Gimenez and Dejan Lovren cry for polar opposite reasons.  

What makes it all the more refreshing is that, the Round of 16 marked the alleged ends at the highest stage of international football of the GOATs, which spurred an expectancy of the focus being shifted from a decade-long duel between two stalwarts of the modern football in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to assessment of the teams as a whole, as it should be in a cross-cultural collective sport.

Disappointments have been the undertone of the competition with early exits of footballing titans, but with the introduction of video assistant referees (VARs), the amount of “shithousery” as they call it, has been given a quantifiable amount of check. With the paradigmatic shifts happening, hopefully for the better, the progeny will remember 2018 as a milestone in modern football, doing away with the overused narratives. The World Cup Final serves as a tool to weed out the same old narratives with its involvement in an all-action face-off, consisting of hand-balls, own-goals, penalties, goalkeeping errors and reminders why 1998 was indeed a great year for France — Kylian Mbappe was born. The progeny is likely to be overwhelmed by the all-singing, all-happening event that this World Cup has been, all more so, because of the soaked yet smiling Croatian president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s optimism after all the pain on the night of July 15. That’s what it is all about.

“For a month the world stopped spinning and many of its inhabitants stopped breathing.”

— Eduardo Galeano, The 2010 World Cup, Football in the Sun and Shadow

Eight years later, the effect that the game has, is the same. What about eighty years later? That’s a discourse for some other time, but what should be noted is that the world’s sexiest summer-time party has been happening in Russia, with Jamie Vardy in it this time around, and if the media outlets wants the people to react like misanthropes with agendas against Russians, then that’s too bad. Because a World Cup is not the time to dwell on the pessimistic side of the world. Because, no matter how much British ex-Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson likens the event to Adolf Hitler’s Olympic Games in 1936, the sons of Brazilian fan, Clovis Acosta Fernandes have experienced the magic of the welcoming nation. Because at a time of national crisis, the World Cup has managed to unite an entire nation on the basis of a pipe-dream and a two-decade-old song. Because, aside from the doping controversy intertwined with the participation of the host nation, the World Cup has much larger connotations attached with it. Because the World Cup is more than the trophy, the dabs and the Fortnite celebrations. So, why let it be ruined for us?

At the end of the day, the World Cup is about the inhabitants of the entire blue planet — it’s about Hassan Sedky, a disabled Egyptian fan who was lifted up by a group of Colombian and Mexican fans to let him witness his nation play in a World Cup for the first time in twenty-eight years. It’s about celebration and unity, and despite all the hurdles, Russia has proved to be a fount of solidarity for the past four weeks, and there’s not a thing that anyone should change about it. Regardless of the allegiance, the only thing that should be done by every devotee of the beautiful game, is to pray for a recurrence of the summer of 2018 in the following World Cups — including the long-range screamers, last-minute goals, goalkeeping heroics, jubilant celebrations by managers, sometimes even a possessed Argentinian ex-manager in the stands, and a legion of grasshoppers in remembrance of the one that fell at the mouth of Hugo Lloris that cursed him to fumble in front of Mario Mandzukic.

As for now, it’s imperative to maintain the spirit of loving the game under the sun as the world has started spinning again after the final whistle in the drenched Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and revert back into the shadows to be nostalgic about the World Cup during its unusual four-and-a-half-year absence.

Debkalpa Banerjee

Loves the deft nutmegs, time travel paradoxes, existentialist films, scrambled eggs, and some unhealthy fanaticism of the boys in the Anfield red.