World Cup 2014: 20 oddballs to juggle with
For all 736 players going to these World Cup finals, Brazil represents the end of a journey. Here, Tim Rich picks out those participants who have travelled to South America by a more scenic route than others
Sunday 08 June 2014
Whenever Roberto Mancini was asked about a striker the club had paid £19 million for, the Manchester City manager responded by bursting out laughing. Jo was a colossal misfit and was subsequently fired by Everton for returning home for Christmas without permission. A stupendous season leading Atletico Mineiro to the Copa Libertadores changed everything.
The only professional footballer to be sacked for laughing – although in fairness to Liverpool it was during a memorial service for the victims of Hillsborough. After a dismal time in Greece with PAOK Salonika, the keeper resurrected his career in Turkey with Konyaspor and replaced Cameroon's No 1 Carlos Idriss Kameni for the play-off with Tunisia.
Croatia are not one of the favourites, but since the Southampton defender runs his own fashion label, there is little excuse for them not being well turned out. Luka Modric and Franck Ribéry have been the most prominent customers for Lovren's Russell Brown label, whose symbol is an owl. Apparently, the bird stands for "power and perfection".
There were many ways the defender could have celebrated Mexico's victory over Colombia four years ago, but cavorting with a transsexual prostitute in a Monterrey hotel was probably not the most sensible. Salcido, then at Fulham, was fined $50,000 (£30,000). He left London for Mexico in 2011, claiming a robbery made his family feel unsafe.
England are supposed to be the only ones who take injured players to a World Cup, but Vicente del Bosque's decision to bank on a man who barely lasted five minutes of the European Cup final is a gamble Sven-Goran Eriksson would have been proud of. The fact that Chelsea's new striker was born in Brazil and represented the country twice will ensure a difficult reception should the two nations meet in the round of 16.
The brilliantly talented midfielder has first-hand knowledge of Brazil's crime problems. Two years ago, Valdivia and his wife were kidnapped while renting a movie in a shopping centre in Sao Paulo, where he plays for the local club side Palmeiras. He paid the gunman $5,000 (£3,000) and offered him his clothes and his car before being turned free.
Maintaining discipline is unlikely to be a problem for the young left-back who spent three years learning the game at Seiritsu Gakeun – a feeder club in Japan. His punishment for not bowing properly before training was to be struck in the face. When he was late for a session he – and every member of the Seiritsu squad - was forced to have his head shaved.
In many ways the PSV Eindhoven midfielder is a typical product of the Dutch youth system – fast, technically gifted and arrogant. He is also a noted rap artist. A former manager at the Philips Stadion, Fred Rutten, once told him to choose between music and football – a demand Bobby Robson never had to make to Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle after Diamond Lights.
The sight of Milan players leaving the pitch because of racism from the crowd was applauded but so should Kawashima's actions in stopping a Belgian League game between Lierse and Beerschot. The Lierse keeper was appalled at the "Fukushima" chants from the Beerschot supporters – a reference to the Japanese nuclear disaster. He successfully demanded that the referee stop the game.
Just after becoming Republic of Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, asked why his footballers did not listen to classical music since it "would teach them tension, tempo and rhythm". The Charlton midfielder will know what he means. "Gucci", who left Tehran for the Netherlands aged eight, plays the violin every day, with the ambition of becoming a classical musician when he retires.
There are many reasons why players are selected for major tournaments but the striker appears to be at the World Cup because he is a good bloke. Asked how he could justify choosing a footballer who had played seven minutes of league football for Arsenal in three years, the Korea manager, Hong Myung-bo, said: "He gets on well with the rest of the squad."
Asked one of those "tell us something we don't know about you" questions, the midfielder revealed he could ask a girl what she wanted to drink in six languages. Living in Luxembourg, Pjanic grew up with French, German and the local dialect Luxembourgish as well as Bosnian. The English and Italian for "fancy a white wine" came later.
Every World Cup demands a rags-to-riches story and the Seville striker's is compelling. Seven years ago, having given up football at the age of 20, he was dividing his time between working as a bus conductor and selling fish on the seafront. Then a little team called Junior de Barranquilla offered him a trial "and thank God they took me", said Bacca. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Arsenal striker, who spent last season on loan at Olympiakos, was so thrilled by his inclusion that he paid more than £200 for 500 Panini stickers hoping to find one of himself. Unfortunately, Campbell's bundle did not include sticker number 296 – J. Campbell, Costa Rica. However, for less than two quid he could have bought it from the Panini website.
When it comes to the footballer with the most notches on the bedposts there is only one winner. Cassano has claimed to have slept with 700 women and when he was at Real Madrid, from 2006-08, a waiter would bring him "three or four pastries after every sex session". That contributed to a weight problem that has beset the 31-year-old's career. The Parma forward attributed his selection in Cesare Prandelli's squad to giving up focaccine – little focaccia rolls – which allowed him to lose 10 kilos.
Proof that park football can lead to the biggest games of all. Adamoah was a bored 15-year-old hanging around Ravenscroft Park in Shepherd's Bush when he asked if he could join "The Streetwardens Football Project". After a spell at Barnet, where he was sponsored by John Motson, he is now preparing for an altogether bigger pitch.
The World Cup is a place for national stereotypes – every Brazilian sambas, every German takes a dozen penalties before breakfast. However, the 22-year-old centre-half is a qualified banker and but for being plucked from fourth-division obscurity by Basel, would probably be behind his desk now.
Never sign anyone on the basis of World Cup performances – as the money Liverpool wasted on El-Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao proves. Carlo has been through 10 clubs in eight years in eight different countries and that includes 10 months of unemployment. The striker's reason for not returning to FC Belchatow was that it is: "horribly cold in Poland".
Every footballer at the World Cup wonders what his home will be like when he returns. If the state of Yobo's flat in Liverpool is anything to go by, the defender might not be able to tell if he had been burgled. His landlord complained of "burn marks on the carpet, holes in the wall and a filthy kitchen and bathroom". Joseph retorted by saying he had allowed his brother, Gideon, to live there while he was playing for Norwich.
Geoffroy Serey Die
Should Ivory Coast lose a game during the World Cup, ball-boys would be well advised to stay clear of the midfielder. Two years ago, after Sion had lost 1-0 to Lausanne in the Swiss League, Serey Die walked over to a ball-boy and slapped the lad around the face, blaming him for not returning balls quickly enough during the game. Not surprisingly, he was banned for eight matches.
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