Chapter 8: Personalities on the Pitch
A Field Guide to Players
As with the people along the sidelines, the personalities of the players will be infinitely varied and generally harmless. Players, for the most part, are there to play the game, and usually ask only that the officials protect them from foul play by the other side and avoid disrupting the game needlessly. As with people everywhere, some will be excitable and passionate; others may be calm and cerebral; a select few will be able to harness the energy of their own team and, on occasion, even help the officials keep order on the field. Aside from the occasional pratfall or accidental mishap, most will be too intent on what they are doing to cause much trouble.
There are, however, some types of players who bear study, since they tend to cause more than their share of problems:
While most soccer players take pride in their skill and ability to fend off the best their opponents have to offer, few are above taking a convenient tumble from time to time. What distinguishes the occasional bit-player from the real actor, however, is not just the frequency of their encores, but also the obvious relish that a genuine thespian takes from the act of performing. Stepping from the role of brave and courageous athlete to helpless and pitiable victim is not something that comes naturally to most, and a true artist will often be seen flying spectacularly through the air— almost always in or near the other team’s penalty area—coming to rest with an unmistakable howl of pain and rolling on the ground in agony...usually clutching a shin, knee, face, or whatever other body part is convenient. As with any art form, critics abound, and the referee who fails to appreciate the actor’s craft may receive poor reviews from the other commentators in attendance, most notably members of the opposing team, who invariably pan the performances of enemy players.
During the regular season, the most talented actor-athletes appear weekly on the various all-soccer channels, though aspiring amateurs can be found locally. Every four years, the world’s best gather together to showcase their acting abilities in Soccer’s equivalent of the Emmy Awards, also known as the World Cup.
This type of player usually begins to make an appearance on the soccer field at adolescence. Most younger players are either too self-conscious, or too interested in playing the game to take much interest in acting.
The Temperamental Star
We learn early in life that talent often carries a price. For a fortunate few, this includes multi-million dollar contracts and the chance to appear on television. The rest of us have to be content with using our more modest abilities as best we can.
A talented athlete, like other talented people, will often feel frustrated by teammates who prove to be less than helpful. Some may even come to believe themselves entitled to special or favorable treatment by the officials—either by overlooking their own occasional petulance or misbehavior, or by paying particular attention to the misbehavior of their opponents, who are well aware of the dangers that a talented opponent presents on the soccer field.
A star player is not entitled to a referee who makes excuses or allowances for misbehavior. Talent does not carry with it an immunity from the rules, or a privilege to engage in misconduct that is not allowed among the peasantry.
A star player is entitled, however, to a referee who protects skillful play—one who recognizes the artistry skilled players bring to the field and takes care to prevent play from taking the place of skill in determining the outcome of a match. A referee who does this is likely to have an exciting and challenging match to officiate; one who does not may find himself in the position of punishing the victim, rather than the perpetrator of foul play, for a star player who is left unprotected by the referee will, like any other player, become angry when fouled time after time. Since a team’s best player is likely to be a target for both teams, whether getting the ball from a teammate, or getting whacked by an opponent, these players are likely to need special attention throughout the game in order to keep the match under control.
As a referee, you will need to recognize the talented players on the field: they are the ones who make the game a joy to watch and to play; and they are the ones who are most at risk of being the victims of rough play by their opponents. Because we want the game to be an equal contest of skill, we must take special care to ensure that gifted players get a fair chance to show their talents on the field, rather than having their gifts reduced to a test of their ability to withstand pain.
While most players are happy for the chance to play the game, a few seem to view sporting events as a means to amuse themselves by causing grief for their fellow human beings. Blessed with quick elbows and knees, this player’s unique asset on the field is his uncanny ability to sense when officials are looking the other way. Often though not invariably a defender, he occasionally hides among the rest of the players until he determines that the time has come to provide his contribution to the match. Warning signs may include a curious lack of concern about an opponent’s welfare after a particularly nasty tackle, as well as needlessly rough challenges for the ball, particularly when it is going out of bounds.
The Obnoxious Victim
Most people do not like being fouled: fouls hurt and, even if they do not, an obviously unfair challenge offends the sense of sportsmanship that—in theory, if not always in practice—most of us bring to the soccer field.
Some people, on the other hand, appear to take great delight in being fouled, so much so that they are quick to call attention to every bump that befalls them anywhere on the field. Players of this persuasion will go to great lengths to convince everyone within whining distance that they are the oppressed victims of forces that threaten our moral fabric and, perhaps, modern civilization itself. Obviously, in their minds, the only thing that will realign the forces of nature and bring balance back to the Universe is merciless retribution by the referee.
Curiously, though, whatever the referee actually does never seems to be quite enough: a skeptical look at a player who seemed to trip over the line marking the penalty area will be met with outrage; a whistled foul will be greeted by contempt over the lack of a yellow card; and a yellow card is almost invariably met with cold fury, and a demand to know why the referee allows barbarians to remain on the field.
By an odd coincidence, players of this sort often regard red cards issued to opposing players as a source of amusement. This amusement, however, is never shared by their opponents.
The Disappointed Friend
This player is always delighted to see you, even if you are meeting him for the first time. He is proud to have you as the match official for the game, and eager and happy to help you in any way he can, to make sure that all goes well at the field and that both teams can play the game in an inspired and sportsmanlike manner.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you will invariably wind up breaking your friend’s heart: you will miss an obvious foul that, he assures you, everyone else on the field saw; or you—and, oddly enough, your assistants as well—will fail to see the blatant shirt-tugging that caused his team’s forward to muff a kick inside the penalty area. Even worse, you may fall for an obvious dive by the other team’s star player and award a penalty kick perhaps because, being gullible, you naively thought that the blood spewing from the other player’s shin meant that the defender actually nailed the striker, rather than the ball.
Even so, no matter how many times you shatter your friend’s faith in humanity, or how bitterly he chides you for ruining the game for everyone, he will always be delighted to see you the next time your paths cross.
While most soccer players will get excited from time to time, and few are above the occasional display of temper, this player appears to relish making people miserable—including, it seems, himself. Perhaps a closet conspiracy theorist in another life, this player appears convinced that someone is to blame for everything that goes wrong on the soccer field, since the explanation for a poor performance cannot, to his mind, be the skills, hustle, or artistry of the opposing team. As a result, he roams the field in a state of perpetual rage, hoping that invective and abuse will exorcize the demons that threaten his team with defeat.
Ordinarily, this player is an equal-opportunity abuser, and is just as likely to be screaming at members of his own team as he is to direct his fury toward the officials. A yellow card will usually divert a Psychotic’s attention away from the match officials; a deaf ear is almost as effective, but both approaches will keep his hapless teammates at ground zero, and sometimes only a red card for some unrelated ranting will rescue them.
Astute referees will be careful to distinguish this player from the typical goalkeeper: though many players are chosen as keepers precisely because of this facet of their personality, some keepers who are otherwise quite normal will display similar behavior on the field, simply because it is customary and expected for those playing the position.
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