The Seven Levels of Soccer Vengeance

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In any activity that combines high levels of competition with even higher levels of ego, conflict is bound to arise. Soccer is no exception to this rule.

As with all conflict, one party has to have the last (generally unkind) laugh, and we call that last laugh vengeance. From the funny to the supernatural to the downright horrific, Paste presents “The Seven Levels of Soccer Vengeance”.

Level 1: Jimmy Bullard Impersonates Phil Brown

In December 2008, Hull City turned in such an abysmal first-half Premier League performance against Manchester City that manager Phil Brown sat his players down in the center circle at half-time to deliver his team talk in front of the entire stadium. Brown’s players were suitably embarrassed.

Hull managed to survive that season, but so too did the memory of Brown’s dressing down. So when, the following season, Hull earned a 1-1 draw against City, new Hull City midfielder Jimmy Bullard celebrated his 82nd minute equalizer by having his teammates circle around him in seated positions as he did his best impersonation (sans the orange visage) of Phil Brown. “”We decided to do it last night. He [Phil Brown] took it well,” Bullard said after the game. “It was a bit of banter to do it if we scored a goal, and we agreed that whoever scored an equaliser or winning goal had to be the one who did the pointing.”

Analysis: A calmly comic response to a perceived insult, Bullard’s celebration wasn’t particularly malicious, but did serve to poke fun at an otherwise embarrassing incident, thereby proving that vengeance isn’t always negative, but can in fact be used for levity. Hey, even Phil Brown laughed when he saw it. “I couldn’t deliver my post-match speech as I was laughing so much,” he saud. “The whole thing was timed to perfection.”

Level 2: Ruud van Nistelrooy’s In-Your-Face Celebration

During a World Cup 2006 qualifier between the Netherlands and Andorra, the Oranje were awarded a penalty which Ruud van Nistelrooy, the team’s primary goalscorer, took and missed. An elated Andorran defender, Antoni Lima, decided it would be a logical and gentlemanly reaction to run up to van Nistelrooy and laugh in his face. At least, that seemed to be a good idea until moments later when van Nistelrooy nodded home a goal and jogged 20 yards to stand face to face with Lima, and then raised his arms in triumph. The referee’s decision to reward that bit of sarcasm with a yellow card could not then and can not now put a damper on what remains one of the most beautiful and moments of poetic vengeance in soccer history.

Analysis: In contrast to most of the other levels on this list, van Nistelrooy’s instant vengeance is maybe the most satisfying, enjoyable aspect of soccer fandom, with the only thing getting hurt was Lima’s pride.

Level 3: Emmanuel Adebayor Antagonizes Arsenal

Following the transfer of Emmanuel Adebayor from Arsenal to Manchester City in the summer of 2008, stories began to appear that offered a decidedly negative view of the Togo-born striker. In response, Adebayor fired a few shots of his own at his former club. The vitriol built up over the subsequent months and eventually boiled over when the two sides met for the first time in the 2008-2009 season. According to Adebayor, the Arsenal fans who had traveled to City’s stadium harassed him from the moment he stepped onto the pitch, and several of his former teammates refused to shake his hand prior to kickoff (all the Arsenal players later denied this accusation).

So, when Adebayor scored with his head to make it 3-1 City in the 80th minute, the big striker sprinted a full 90 yards to the opposite end of the pitch so he could slide into a celebratory position in front of the incensed Arsenal supporters. The celebration provoked widespread criticism around the league, though it still serves as a strong reminder why mocking an opponent who has a penchant for scoring goals might not always be the best idea.

Analysis: This form of vengeance only generates approving head nods from the individual that committed the act and his/her biggest supporters, rather than the general public.

Level 4: The Witch Doctor’s Voodoo Curse on the Australian National Team

The Australian national team was determined to qualify for the 1970 World Cup, so enlisted a local witch doctor to put a hex on their opponents, Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe), in the November 1969 Asia/Oceania Conference second round playoff. The witch doctor’s voodoo practices (including the burying of animal bones near each goal post) seemed to work, as Australia won the game and advanced to the next round.

However, when the witch doctor demanded his fee of roughly £1,000, the players refused to pay, and so (according to accounts from Australian players) the witch doctor reversed the curse, and Australia was eliminated in the following round when three players became ill during the match. Australia did qualify for the 1974 tournament but failed to score a goal, and then went three decades without making a World Cup.

Finally, in 2005, Australian comedian and filmmaker John Safran went to Zimbabwe to reverse the curse. He found another witch doctor (the original one had died) and the two then visited the same field as in 1969, channeled the spirit of the dead voodoo practitioner, slaughtered a chicken, and conducted a new ceremony. Ritual complete, Australia qualified the following year and managed to make it into the knockout rounds of the 2006 World Cup, thereby providing definitive and irrefutable evidence that 1) magic is real, 2) voodoo vengeance works both ways, and 3) witch doctors should always be promptly paid.

Analysis: Freelancers everywhere will agree that, from the witch doctor’s perspective, this vengeance made perfect sense. The Socceroos should be grateful that the curse was, eventually, reversible.

Level 5: Didier Zokora Kicks Racism in the Balls

In the 2011-2012 Turkish Super Lig campaign, Didier Zokora’s Trabzonspor were playing Emre Belozoglu’s Fenerbahce when a physical altercation broke out between the two opponents. In the post-match press conference, Zokora alleged that Emre had racially abused him on multiple occasions throughout the game. Emre, who had previously been banned for using offensive language and has had several similar incidents during his time in England, denied the allegations. Case closed? Case not closed.

Next time the two sides met, Zokora taught the Turkish international a lesson in vengeance, catching Emre with a direct kick straight to an area of the body that roughly 100 percent of men worldwide would not enjoy being kicked by a professional soccer player. Zokora was issued (inexplicably) only a yellow card, despite it being perhaps the most deliberate attack in soccer history. Well, except for #7 on this list.

Analysis: The vengeance may seem severe [wince], but general consensus is that Emre probably had it coming. And sometimes racism needs to be kicked out of football literally, as opposed to metaphorically.

Level 6: Bela Guttmann’s 100-Year Curse

Bela Guttmann was prickly in terms of his management style, coaching 25 teams in 13 countries over a 40-year career. However, it was at Portuguese club Benfica that he had arguably his biggest successes, winning back-to-back European Cups, beating Barcelona in 1961 and Real Madrid in 1962. Following the second victory, Guttmann approached the new Benfica president and requested a pay raise, which was promptly rejected.

Incensed, Guttmann quit the club, declaring, “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion.” Obvious grammar and syntax errors aside, the statement was seen as a laughable remark by an angry man; 52 years and zero European trophies later, it’s somewhat less humorous to Benfica fans.

After Guttmann stormed out in 1962, Benfica lost to AC Milan in the 1963 European Cup final, Inter Milan in the 1965 final, Manchester United in the 1968 final. This thing was real. Benfica also lost PSV Eindhoven in the 1988 European Cup and to Milan again in the 1990 final. The team has also lost to Anderlecht, Chelsea, and, this past May, Sevilla in the Europa League or UEFA Cup final , as the tournament was formerly known. Even a visit to his grave by Eusebio prior to the 1990 European Cup Final couldn’t calm the curse, which is expected to expire sometime in 2062.

Analysis: It may only have been words, but Guttmann’s vengeance has already spanned decades and has proven far more effective than the witch doctor’s curse on Australia.

Level 7: Roy Keane’s Premeditated Assault on Alf-Inge Haaland

Roy Keane is generally known for being a calm, introspective, reasonable gentleman. Just kidding; he’s generally known for his long memory, his penchant for violent conduct, and his refusal to ever allow anyone to get the better of him. As evidenced by his legendary revenge tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland, a tackle nearly four years in the making.

In September 1997, Keane’s Manchester United were struggling to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Leeds United. A frustrated Keane had a kick at Leeds player Alf-Inge Haaland, but his cleats got caught in the turf and he went down, injured. Haaland stood over Keane, mocking him for his perceived dirty tactics and for faking an injury to avoid being carded. The only problem was that Keane had actually ruptured his ACL, and would spend the better part of a year recuperating … and plotting his revenge.

Keane’s opportunity came nearly four years later, in April 2001, when, in the final minutes of the Manchester Derby (Haaland had since transferred to Manchester City), Keane plowed full-force, cleats-up, into Haaland’s standing knee. Keane was immediately sent off for the wildly illegal challenge.

There’s a misconception that Keane’s tackle ended Haaland’s career, but the Norwegian actually completed the game, played for Norway a few days later, and for City again a few days after that. Haaland did retire with a knee injury in the summer of 2003, but that injury predated Keane’s tackle. Though I’m sure Keane’s tackled didn’t help.

So what makes Keane’s vengeance Level One isn’t what happened to Haaland, it’s the four years of premeditation that went into it, made clear by the sentiment Keane later expressed in his autobiography: “I’d waited long enough. I f*cking hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c*nt. And don’t ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.” Cold. Calculating. Indefensible. Terrifying.

Analysis: This is the type of vengeance that tends to be pursued by stereotypical movie villains, certain Roman emperors, and a significant majority of the individuals who appear on MTV’s Catfish. It sticks with the vengeance-seeker and plays on his/her mind until a plan develops that is equal parts calculating, brutal, and horrifying.