The World Cup has, in the group stages, shown up a few clear signals.
The Spanish hesitation between Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos in midfield, allowing Morocco to nip the ball and race it forty yards for a score, demonstrate that both are in the twilight of the careers. Iniesta, long regarded as Mr Football, is off to China for his final payday, while Sergio Ramos merely showed why he had to chicken-wing Mo Salah out of the Champions League final. He no longer has the pace that he had in his early career, racing down the right sideline as right back before he became a centreback by conversion. Ramos realises that he is losing out in terms out physical fitness, and has to rely on guile, experience and deception. In fact, he has realised that for years. In the previous Champions League final against Juventus, he feigned a foul to get Juan Cuadrado sent off and Juve down to ten men.
The sort of play acting that is synonymous with football is spoiling it. It appears to be a Spanish affair, learnt from the Italian leagues in the 80s and 90s – you could barely watch a game without stoppages disrupting the flowing football. Players that play in the Spanish leagues, such as Neymar and Pepe, have all been guilty of trying to con the referee into awarding the other team cards in order to gain a numerical advantage through a sending off.
It is almost as if they realise that physically they cannot match up, so they have to win by other means.
A more graceful thing to do would be to find an avenue where they can still dominate. For players coming up to the end of their careers, now is the time to be thinking about coaching badges, while working with their team and coach to develop coaching experience. In the musical world, the music composer Muzio Clementi became not just a composer, publisher, and conductor, but also moved on to making pianos. Someone like Ramos could learn to coach, be a manager, or become an owner in a minor-league team. Or run a kung-fu academy and develop some business experience.
Mentoring is also an important process. Did you know that as the pianist Carl Czerny was mentored by other composers, and when he became established, he also mentored others, introducing them to other established ones such as the pianist Beethoven? It was somewhat like networking. A footballer in their latter days could help mentor younger players and introduce them to established players who might share their knowledge of the game.
You may argue that trophies and awards are what define winners. Perhaps. But a person’s legacy is far more lasting in the kind of person he was. For now, Ramos will be remembered as the play actor and the bruiser.