“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a striker.”
There’s a guy who plays for one of the clubs in the Berlin Kreisliga. In a low ranking cup game on a plastic pitch on a grey and wet Sunday in Neukölln, he had handfuls of opposition fans on his back the whole hour and a half he was running around.
“Oi, Luca Toni” they would laugh. Though he knew that he was closer to becoming the Italian striker than any of us there watching ever would. I’m not a fan of the headband, and it veers close to Stalinism when it comes to the colour of some players’ boots, but he does get to fulfil that dream for a bit. He is the striker. The centre forward. You could see him thinking, just as another long ball is punted way over his head.
“Yeah, Luca fucking Toni.”
Children no more want to grow up to be defenders than they do to become bloggers or burger flippers, but this is a path that needs to be trodden on the road to an enlightenment of sorts – when one sees the light and realises that the world also has goals to be defended and burgers to be flipped. This process can take a while though. Sometimes a very long while.
In Great expectations, Pip starts off, resenting his “hands that were coarse and boots that were thick”. Dickens’ metaphor is obvious. The young hero wanted thin white boots with which he could stroke a pig’s bladder around the marshes with a Baggio-esque grace and poise, but it is worthwhile here remembering that the Divine Ponytail himself could often count on the likes of Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi backing him up.
As a kid, Christian Stuff wanted to be a striker, too. I'm sure I read that a couple of weeks ago somewhere, but then didn't they all, anyway? Stuff has, however, come closer than even the guy who plays Luca Toni for the day in the Kreisliga. For the last five minutes of games that 1. FC Union are losing – a not too rare occurrence in these, plump, post-Christmas days with no real relegation worries nor tangible, immediate, hopes of promotion – the lanky young man who was born to be a defender, goes Up Top.
It has worked plenty before, and he is a dependable head to stick on the end of ball into the box, but on Friday night he would have been happier not to be there. Patrick Kohlmann’s cross pickled him out, launching behind the 1860 Munich defender at the near post; he stretched out his neck and struck the ball sweetly, and strongly. Unfortunately it was straight at the balding old guy hanging around the box in the dodgy tracksuit bottoms – 1860 ‘keeper Gabor Kiraly.
The wind howled even more and the rain swirled around like the head of the guy whose job it is to count the step-overs at a Brazilian under 13’s tournament. 1860 went straight up the other end, and did what Union hadn't done all evening – they scored. Uwe Neuhaus took it all in his stride in the press conference, but simply agreed with the question about his side not taking their chances. He shrugged his shoulders grimly.
Against Bochum, Paderborn and now 1860, Union had been the stronger side, showing at times devastating pace on the break and determination in the middle. And against all of them they have now lost.
Let the traditional game of who to blame begin in earnest. Break out the bunting, it’s time for a witch-hunt. Well, not quite, and certainly on the back of an incredible first half of the season it would be churlish to blame individuals just yet, but (in simple maths) if you don't put the round thing in that there rectangular thing at the end of the pitch with the net hanging off it, you don't get any numbers up on your scoreboard.
Chinedu Ede almost bettered John-Jairo Mosquera’s effort of a couple of weeks ago against Dresden as he shot over the bar on Friday from only a couple of metres out, and people swore knowingly, despondently looking around the ground. Simon Terrodde is terrific as an old fashioned forward, playing with his back to goal, but he lacks a certain refinement and is far from clinical. Silvio is blowing hot and cold, struggling to turn his hard work into goals.
So, while it may be the dream to be a striker – and it is worth remarking that if Union stopped conceding sloppy goals then they wouldn't have to take so many of their chances, but we’ll save that for tomorrow – stuff is better off at the back, hoping for some of the glory that the older folk dole out at the football. The glory for the ones who don't do the spectacular, who don't just score the goals. For those who have the coarse hands and thick boots, and stop it going in at the other end.