IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, BREAK THEIR LEG


By Akin Ojumu

It is a massive football derby, and perhaps the biggest game of the season, against your fiercest rival. You are a mega football star and world-class player with a €105 million (£89.3 million) price tag and big sized ego in one of the biggest football clubs in the world. In your mind, you believe you are the best player your team has on the roster.

Shockingly, the manager leaves you on the bench and does not include you in the best 11 players chosen to start the game. Fuming, you go, “Me? You mean this guy doesn’t even think I’m good enough to play in the first team? Who does this baby face manager think he is not to include me in the starting line up?”

So, you sit there on the sidelines mad as hell. Before long, you watch your team get mauled and whipped on the ground as they go down 1 goal, 2 goals, 3 goals, 4 goals within 45 minutes. You cannot believe what is happening to your team. Again and again, you rubbed your eyes. You pinch yourself a couple of times, thinking this is all a terribly bad dream. Soon, you quickly realize it is for real. These are your mates getting some real ass whooping.

As you watch the unfolding debacle, your head is gone. Like a volcanic eruption, you are bellowing hot lava, and scalding fumes are coming out of your nose, ears, mouth, and….whatever. “How can this be happening to us? And why am I not on the pitch playing?” These are the questions that flood your mind as you sit on the bench and can barely watch.

Now, it is the second half, you are down 0 – 4.

In a desperate attempt to salvage an unsalvageable situation, the hapless manager decides now is the best time to bring you on as a substitute. After an apocalyptic dismantling, the man throws you on the pitch as an afterthought. In your mind you strongly believe this is an attempt to deny you the opportunity to escape the stain that this defeat is bound to give to everyone involved.

Still, you do as you are told, like the professional that you are. Nevertheless, you are furious as hell, and you rush into the field like a raging bull. Five minutes in, your head is still not right. You can’t seem to shake the thought of how little the manager really thinks of you. Distracted with a feeling of self-pity, you are on the pitch but not fully in the game. Predictably, you lose the ball inside the opponent half of the pitch. The captain of the other side picks the ball and, using the side of his feet, sends a terrific pass to the talisman of his side. With just that one pass, the four players in your backfield are caught out of position and all they can do is chase after a fleet footed dynamo.

Before you could say “MO SALAH”, your goalkeeper finds himself face to face with an onrushing opponent coming at him at the speed of light. Frozen on the spot, he helplessly watches as the ball is lifted beyond the reach of his outstretched arms straight into the back of the net. In a sublime finish, the other side has scored yet another goal because you are busy feeling sorry for yourself.

It is 0 – 5. Game over.

All of a sudden, multiple shining stars are dancing in front of your eyes and everything is all a blur. Your throat, patched and dry, is crying for help. Your legs, they feel like 800 tons, as you pick up the ball and make your way to the halfway line to kick off again.

It is now 8 minutes later, less than 15 minutes since you came on the field. You are still shellshocked at the turn of events and the bitter taste of humiliation fills your mouth. Next thing you know, you are at the edge of the opponent’s 18-yard box. You find yourself lunge forward at the ball in front of you with both feet and studs up without much thought. Immediately, you hear a cracking sound as your raised studs violently come in contact with the ankle of the opposing player.

Nothing else matters to you at this point though. The blind determination to take the ball away from the feet of the opponent at whatever cost is all you are thinking about. As the other guy writhes on the grass yelling and grabbing his leg, you do not even bother to look back. You pick the ball and race forward towards the opponent's goal.

Just as you are about to pass the ball to your mate who is open, the sound of the referee’s whistle stops you dead in your tracks. Annoyed and irritated, you turn furiously around to curse him out. But before you open your mouth to say a word, you see the referee flash the yellow card in your face. So, you wisely hold your tongue, just so you don’t say anything that will make the situation worse for yourself.

Oops! It’s too late now. The shit has already hit the fan and the situation has indeed gone from bad to worse. You watch as the referee runs, determinedly, to the pitch side monitor to confer with the VAR. At this point, a knotted feeling begins to form at the pit of your stomach. You sense something dreadful is about to happen. Moments later, your worst fear is confirmed. The referee comes racing back, and with two fingers, he traces the shape of a rectangle in the air, wipes out the yellow card, and out of his breast pocket comes the red card instead.

Stunned, and seeing red, you absentmindedly unwrap the white tape on your left wrist as you strut off slowly from the pitch with a bemused sheepish smile and rile grin stuck on your face. At this point many thoughts race through your mind, none of which makes much sense. The only thing that’s clear to you is the awful feeling at the back of your mind. The realization dawns on you that this is the worst day of your life. This humiliation is going to sting for a very long time.

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