Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ can wave a goodbye. Zinedine Zidane’s head can stop hanging in shame. Matarazzi can stop beating his breast. And myth-makers can cut to size a certain disproportionately oversized part of Ariel Ortega’s (more about it later) otherwise short frame. Their time under the World Cup halo is over. In Brazil, all of them have been brought down to their knees by (who else?) the knee.
If the Greek literature had its Achilles’ heel; if the Mahabharata had Duryodhana’s thigh and if, for a very long time cricket had the services of Sachin Tendulkar’s back and tennis elbow, can the football World Cup — the greatest tale that continues to be told — be deprived of the legend of anatomy?
Every World Cup has had a footnote dedicated to the role of human anatomy. And sometimes, like in 1986 and 2006, the footnote has been the script. For a while, after the 2010 World Cup where tiki-taka dominated every discourse, it seemed the human body had been elbowed out of the anatomy of the game’s legend. But, now the story is back on its knees. And, if you can ignore the mixed metaphor, with a lot of teeth of the Suarez kind.
There have been equally unforgettable anatomical intrusions into the World Cup in the past. Zidane’s headbutt to Matarazzi’s chest cost the French superstar his halo and his side the cup in 2006. Maradona’s hand of god won him his halo and his side the cup in 1986.
For a very brief period, many wondered whether Argentine forward Ortega — Maradona’s heir apparent in 1998 — really deserved the nick name of El Buritto (the little donkey) because a particular part of his anatomy was rumoured to resemble in size that of a donkey’s.
But such tales of heads, hands and, well, other human organs, have had a touch of notoriety or even shades of treachery and villainy, the exact reasons why Suarez’s teeth will not top the list of anatomical tales from the World Cup.
But the tale of the knee would be different.
“ALEGRIA TRISTEZA” (Joy and Pain) screamed a Brazilian newspaper’s headline after their team’s victory over Colombia. The headline may have as well mentioned the role of the knees in eliciting both the emotions.
For long after the World Cup is over, years after the name of the eventual winner is forgotten, the legend of the knee would survive. And it will bring fans both pain and pleasure.
Memories of David Luiz and Thiago Silva going down on their knees, raising their hands towards the sky and offering their prayers to the powers above after scoring against Colombia are unlikely to fade away either. The duo turned Estádio Castelão into an impromptu theatre of faith, bringing about a touch of operatic drama to the game that fascinated both the believer and the agnostic. Never before had kneeling down resembled an act of pious passion. Never before had kneeling down simultaneously resembled an act of triumphal joy and pious surrender.
Neymar’s dream of playing for his side may have broken with his vertebra. Brazil minus Neymar may or may not remain the Brazil we have seen so far. They may or may not go on to win the World Cup. But Neymar and the knee will dominate the World Cup forever. For years, people are unlikely to forget what a knee did to a rising star.
Neymar’s exit, especially if he fails to play again in a World Cup, would turn into the game’s equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, a timeless tragic tale of a handsome hero’s unfinished love story.