/ 22 June 2018

Do World Cup rituals help along victory?

To bring the team good luck
To bring the team good luck

Some players believe World Cup success is earned with exercise, diet and endless practice drills; others are convinced it’s a matter of wearing lucky underwear.

Players and coaches can be a superstitious bunch and often have a ritual or item of clothing they believe is a charm that has contributed to a winning run.

They range from former Colombian keeper René Higuita’s insistence on wearing blue underpants to current German striker Mario Gómez’s habit of only using the far-left urinal to relieve himself before a match.

Gómez’s Germany teammate Julian Draxler gives himself a spritz of scent before a big match.

“Every player has a ritual before a match and I usually hold my bag in my locker and I throw on two or three sprays of perfume. It gives me a feeling of happiness,” the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder said.

Sports psychologist Dan Abrahams, author of the book Soccer Tough, said so many match-day factors are beyond a player’s control that adopting a ritual or lucky charm provides something to focus on and take charge of. “Logically, these kinds of rituals aren’t linked to performance,” he said.

“However, if a player creates the perception that they are, then the action can become a hinge factor for how a player feels.”

England’s Dele Alli uses the same shin guards he has worn since childhood when he plays in Russia, hoping they bring the good fortune that has long eluded the Three Lions at international tournaments.

“I’ve had the same shin pads since I was 11. They are battered [but] I am very superstitious,” the Tottenham midfielder told Fifa.com.

Some players, such as England’s Phil Jones, do not like stepping on white lines, and Brazil defender Marcelo always runs on to the pitch right foot first. The habit is so ingrained that during training in Rostov-on-Don he left the pitch and re-entered after realising he had accidentally led with his left foot.

“Everybody likes to enter with the right foot, right? I’m no different,” he laughed when quizzed by reporters.

Morocco coach Hervé Renard has worn a white shirt on the sidelines since he took Zambia to a surprise victory at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012. He is doing so again in Russia, although it has not proved so lucky this time as Morocco will be heading home after the group stages.

France are convinced superstition played a part in their 1998 World Cup win, when Fabien Barthez’s teammates rubbed the goalkeeper’s bald head for good luck.

Defender Laurent Blanc planted a big kiss on Barthez’s pool-ball pate before every match, right up to the final against Brazil.

Perhaps the strangest example of the power of suggestion helping a team to World Cup glory is Argentina’s triumph in 1978.

In an era of short shorts and long hair, Argentina’s star striker, Mario Kempes, was a dedicated follower of fashion, sporting a stylish horseshoe moustache and flowing locks.

But Kempes failed to find the net in the group stages, prompting coach César Luis Menotti to offer a suggestion to the forward nicknamed “El Matador”. Menotti, who had omitted a teenage prodigy named Diego Maradona in favour of Kempes, pointed out that, when he visited the striker in Spain before the tournament, he was clean-shaven and scoring freely for Valencia.

Why didn’t he get rid of the moustache and see whether it brought a change of fortune?

The impact was immediate. Kempes scored two goals in his next match against Poland, then two more against Peru to seal a spot in the final. Another two goals in the decider against the Netherlands saw Kempes claim the Golden Boot and gave Argentina their maiden World Cup title. “The moustache had to go … that was the start of a new chapter for me,” Kempes later said.

“After that, every time [Menotti] saw me, he’d say: ‘You’re due a shave today, Mario, aren’t you?’” — AFP