This series of articles on footballers who stand out from their colleagues due to their political activities was inspired by the retirement from the game of Javi Poves. He explained his reasons for retiring in an interview stating that, ‘Football is capitalism, it is death. And once you realise that you lose the illusion.’
This retirement was shocking for a number of reasons, firstly from a footballing point of view. Poves had voluntarily chosen to give up a life of playing professional football and being fantastically well rewarded for it. He was not at the very top of his profession but was good enough to play for a team in Spain’s first division. He is also in his mid-twenties with possibly 10 more years of playing time available to him. What is most shocking is that it is extraordinarily difficult to achieve what Poves had achieved, he had become a professional footballer. One of the millions of young boys that grow up with that dream with a phenomenally low potential of succeeding.
When I was young I of course dreamt of being a footballer. I wasn’t a bad player but obviously not good enough. I played often with a another kid who was 10 times the player that I or any other of our friends were. He went on to play for Everton’s youth team and made 1 appearance for their reserve team, his career never reached any higher than that. After spells with Torquay and other lower league teams he stopped playing professional football altogether. He was so much better than any of the other kids who used to play together but still couldn’t make it as a pro.
This is why Javi Poves wishing to say goodbye to that life due to his political beliefs, when he is so much better at football than most of the population of the world, is so striking. And so admirable, if a little hard to understand. If I was a wealthy footballer I am not sure I would be so aware of, and sympathetic to, the problems of capitalism’s inevitable losers.
With that thought in mind I decided to choose a First XI of footballers who have displayed a different side of themselves, who have been willing to speak out politically. Whether it was because they were a product of a community with particularly strong political beliefs, or they could identify with people and issues, or in certain instances they wanted to use radical politics to shock the status quo. Whatever the reason they all have interesting stories.
An introduction and Javi Poves.
Goalkeeper and counter-culture icon Volker Ippig
Left-back and poseur Paul Breitner
Central defender and Catalan nationalist Oleguer Presas
Central defender and immigration activist Lilian Thuram
Right-back and anti-globalisation supporter Javier Zanetti
Midfielder and revolutionary Paolo Sollier
Midfielder and Croatian nationalist icon Zvonomir Boban
Midfielder and political organiser Sócrates
Striker and provoker of Nazis Matthias Sindelar
Striker and peacemaker Didier Drogba
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