We all have our foibles and routines: religiously taking the same route to work, for example, or only ever visiting your mother-in-law on a leap year. Footballers are just the same, albeit much, much worse.
Since sport is the ultimate results business, and careers can be lucrative but short, players inevitably have a heightened sense of luck, karma or “juju.” Nothing deemed to provide even the smallest margin of additional good fortune is off limits, no matter how ludicrous.
So without further ado, sit back, cross your legs twice, tap your left knee with your right hand but only after scratching your nose three times with your left, and enjoy the eight most ridiculous pre-game routines in professional football.
1. Fashionably Late
While many at The Emirates perhaps presumed it was a reflection of his lackadaisical defensive play, slow-coach Kolo Toure was in fact meticulously deliberate in ensuring he was always the last player to leave the locker room while at Arsenal. So committed was Toure to the ritual that he once missed the start of the second half during a Champions League tie against Roma, sprinting (ok, ambling) onto the field unannounced a good 30 seconds after kick-off.
He was duly booked for his troubles.
2. Cigarettes and Alcohol
Known as the Black Spider, Russian Goalkeeper Lev Yashin was something of a trail-blazer in the 1950s, introducing a more holistic and involved approached to the art of goalkeeping through his performances for Dynamo Moscow and the Soviet Union. But for a man deemed so far ahead of his time, he had a surprisingly backward-looking pre-match routine: “I have a smoke to calm the nerves, then toss back a drink to tone the muscles.”
Who are we to argue with the only goalkeeper to ever be named European Player of the Year?
3. Man Crush
During France’s glorious run to the final of World Cup ’98, an oddly touching homoerotic ritual developed between Captain Laurent Blanc and goalkeeper Fabian Barthez. Before the start of every game, Blanc would run over to his hairless teammate and kiss the top of his bald, shiny head.
Come the final, and with Blanc suspended, Les Bleus faced the prospect of a Ronaldo-led Brazil with nobody to smooch poor Barthez’s bonce. Step forward Frank Leboeuf, who manfully placed a smacker squarely on Fabian’s forehead.
France won 2-0.
You’re on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and the big money question is: “What does Cristiano Ronaldo do before every game?” In a twist to the norm, presumably because you’ve been such a witty and erudite contestant, you’re allowed to submit three guesses instead of the normal one.
5. It’s A Belgian Thing
This one’s quite detailed, so we’ll just let Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois tell you about it himself:
“Before a game, I always enter at the same time in the corridor leading to the ground. I also send an SMS to my girlfriend to say I’m going to change and ask her not to send me messages from this time. I always remove my shoe and my left sock first because I’m left-handed. Then I go to the bathroom, I take a picture of me on the potty and I send it to four friends in Belgium. We wish good luck to each other because they also have games on the weekends. Yes, I sent a photo of the toilets from the Nou Camp to the Bernabeu.”
“I also wet my gloves at the finger tip, and before warming up, I hit my shoes against the right post then against the left post before hitting the fist in the middle of the goal. After that, I’m in a trance and nobody can destabilize me. ”
6. Short Shorts
Legendary England Captain Bobby Moore, the only man to lead the Three Lions to World Cup triumph (a status he’s likely to hold for some considerable time), would religiously ensure he was the last man in the changing room to put his shorts on. If he put them on and then noticed one of his colleagues short-less, he would swiftly remove his shorts and wait for said colleague to dress himself.
7. A Cleansing Dip
In an attempt to improve their “juju” following a poor run of form, the players from Zimbabwe’s magnificently named Midlands Portland Cement were instructed by their “technical team” to embark on a “spirit cleansing” exercise via a relaxing dip in the crocodile and hippo infested rip tide that is the Zambezi River. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for one: a player died. And they lost their next game.
8. Taking The Piss
Not a pre-game routine per se, but entertaining nevertheless: Argentina goalkeeper (are we spotting a theme here?) Sergio Goycochea developed the habit of taking a whiz – on the pitch – before every penalty he faced. It worked well for Goycochea throughout Italia ’90, saving two spot-kicks in the semi-final shoot-out against Italy. He presumably dried up in the final: Argentina lost 1-0 to a solitary German penalty.
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