Page last updated at 08:46 Asia/Manila, Friday, 17 February 2012 PH
As an incorrigible forecaster, I am predicting that the international football federation, FIFA, will declare in its gala today two diminutive footballers as the world's players of the year: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona and Homare Sawa of the Nadeshiko, Japan's ladies soccer team that won the Women's World Cup in Germany last July. As Rob Hughes wrote in an article entitled "Taking the measure of true champions," (International Herald Tribune, December 17 - 18, 2011) these two players have demonstrated that "height does not make might." Messi has been demonstrating it for years and last July, Sawa and her team mates exposed the myth "too readily repeated by men in her part of the world. It is the excuse that Asians are too small, too light, to win in the muscular international game."
Once again, we Filipinos are reminded that we should do everything possible to build on the current rise of popularity of soccer to formulate a long-term strategy to make the "beautiful game" as popular, if not more popular among the masses as basketball. Common sense should tell us that we will never excel in basketball where height makes might. We should focus on those sports like boxing, bowling and soccer where it has been demonstrated here and elsewhere that height is not a distinctive advantage. Sawa, who is barely 5 feet 5 inches, is described in almost lyrical terms by Hughes as follows: "A soccer player at age 12, a scorer in Japan's national women's team at 15, Sawa had spent the past decade as a star player in the women's professional league in the United States. But at the World Cup, Sawa, now considered a veteran closing on her 33rd birthday was, the playmaker supreme. She ran until she, and more often her opponents, could run no more. She passed the ball with vision. She inspired her team with vital goals at times when they were down. And for someone who stands a mere 1.64 meters, her leap to score in the air against opponents who tower above her, was, to use the word of some beaten Americans, awesome."
With the exception of Real Madrid's glamor boy, Cristiano Romulo who is over six feet tall, the other men soccer players who are competing with Messi for the title of the world's player of the year are Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta (both also Barca players) who are not much taller than Saya. To be sure, Ronaldo is the "dream soccer player." Sometime last year, sports scientists teamed up with filmmakers to create a documentary which showed just how well endowed he is with the height, weight, and, particularly, the type of muscle to be the ideal soccer player. It also helps that he is a strikingly handsome person, the ideal endorser for practically any consumer product or service. But to my very amateur eyes, he is the ultimate primadona on the soccer field. He only thinks of scoring a hat trick as often as possible, never mind the consequences for the entire team. That is why Barca has beaten Real Madrid in all their games in 2011 and I once again predict that despite Real Madrid's current three-point lead in the Spanish League, Barca will win all the three titles in Spain plus the Champion's League, after having been declared as the world's number one football club in Japan last month when it bulldozed 4 - 0 the best of Latin America, football club Santos of Brazil. I admit I am a fanatic for Barca. I have a basis for my fanaticism. Barca is indeed the best football club in the world ever.
These reflections on natural endowments, competitive advantage, and team spirit remind me of what Nick Joaquin wrote in his book "A Question of Heroes" about our national hero, Jose Rizal, whose 150th birthday we are still celebrating until June 19, 2012. Borrowing from the biography on Rizal written by Ante Radaic entitled "Rizal from Within," he commented on the inferiority complex that Rizal developed because of his small stature. According to Radaic, Rizal was aggrieved by his puny physique. The following passage should encourage many Filipinos who are potential "Napoleons": "Rizal grew up pathetically conscious of his short stature and fragile body, he made great efforts to stretch himself out in his games, and he was continually begging his father to help him grow. His little body did not permit him to compete with boys his age but stronger than he; so he withdrew into himself. Nevertheless, the tiny lad went on craving to become big and strong. He persisted in playing the game of 'Giants.' His Uncle Manuel, seeing the boy's avidity for advice in body building and pitying his eager envy of tougher boys, took him under his care. A strong man full of vitality, he sought to part the boy from his books and to satisfy his craving to develop his body. He made the boy skip, jump, run, and though this was at first hard for the frail boy, he had so strong a will and such anxiety to improve himself that, at last, the will won over the flesh. He became lighter and quicker of movement, and his physique more lively, more robust, more vigorous, although it didn't grow any bigger."
Without underestimating the supreme sacrifice of his life that the "First Filipino" gave to his nation, I venture to say that he would have been less of a "Hamlet" in his indecision about the need for revolution or the desirability of Philippine independence from the Spanish colonial power if he had been thoroughly exposed to the world of soccer. He would have foreseen that just thirty years after his death, a diminutive Filipino "creole" by the name of Paulino Alcantara would make football history by being one of the best players FC Barcelona ever had, scoring some 266 goals out of 267 games, having been the youngest to play in the senior team of Barca at the age of 14 and half years. His indecisiveness was probably a result of the inferiority complex he developed because of his short stature. If he had been thoroughly familiar with the game of football, he would have realized that height does not make might. He could have been more aggressive in his dealings with the likes of Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar as well as with the civil and church authorities in the Philippines.
Rizal, however, was a veritable prophet. One day, while he was modeling a figure of Napoleon (also well known for his small size), his sisters (and he had many) teased him about his diminutiveness. He retorted prophetically: "You can laugh at me, make a mockery of me, but wait till I grow bigger. When I die people will keep pictures and statues of me." Later in his life, during his years in Spain (Madrid and Barcelona) in the 1880s, Rizal would painfully realize that it is not the small stature of Filipinos that would be their undoing, but their inability to work in a team, their penchant for individualism, their "crab mentality." How I wish our political leaders today would appreciate the supreme lesson from the greatest football club in the world today: that victory comes not from the talents of individual players like Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, but from their unparalleled ability to pass the ball to one another, always thinking of the common good of the whole team, even at the expense of one's personal glory. What lessons we can learn from the world of soccer, from the accomplishments of the Japanese women soccer players, from the great Barca team, from the most beautiful game in the world! For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.