The importance of the idiot footballer
Doing a Rubik's Cube. Winning a spelling contest. Inventing an environmentally friendly air conditioning system for the London Underground. Writing a book all by yourself. What do the above activities all have in common? That's right. None of them are likely to be achieved by footballers, especially those in the English Premier League.
Why? Because they all involve relatively large quantities of the special ingredient that separates homo sapiens from a bonobo chimp hurling its own scat through the bars of its cage: intelligence. And footballers are hardly known for being the brightest candles on the birthday cake.
There are lots of anecdotes chronicling the intellectual prowess of footballers, or lack thereof. Take the former Fulham defender, Alain Goma, who once rang the club's player liaison officer in the middle of the night in a panic because his goldfish were swimming in the wrong direction.
You only have to look at footballers' quotations to see how they fare across a range of academic subjects. On theology, David Beckham: "I definitely want Brooklyn christened, but I don't know into what religion yet." On mathematics, Chris Kamara: "He's had three offside decisions. Two right, two wrong." On English punctuation, Mitchell Thomas: "All that remains is for a few dots and commas to be crossed." On human anatomy, David O'Leary: "This has been our Achilles heel that has been stabbing us in the back all season." And on geography, Welshman Ian Rush: "I couldn't settle in Italy, it was like living in a foreign country."Ah, intelligence, the less we've got, the more of it we think we have. But do footballers really need it, and do we even want them to have it? We wouldn't expect a petrol pump attendant to start quoting Aristotle as he fills us up with Special. And we don't call a plumber in and then interrogate him about particle physics, for the same reason we wouldn't expect Bill Gates to get his overalls on and unblock our lavatory.
Footballers are paid ridiculously well to kick a ball around, not wrestle with dialectics or deliver didactic discourses on the pitch at half-time.
Thankfully, they don't. In fact, there's a kind of natural suspicion among the footballing community of anyone who might display the slightest sign of having half a brain cell. Ex-Chelsea winger, Pat Nevin was nicknamed ‘The Professor' by his peers because he was once caught reading a book.
There are some genuinely intelligent footballers around. The ex-Brazilian captain Sócrates was a star of the 1982 World Cup, but went on to become a doctor of medicine and a newspaper columnist commenting on a range of subjects, from sport to politics. And after recent tests at Chelsea, it appears that Frank Lampard has an IQ score of over 150, which places him in the top 0.1 per cent of the population. His nickname at the club, ‘The Professor', would suggest that little of his intelligence has rubbed off on his team mates.
Perhaps it's too harsh to judge footballers by their cerebral capacity. They are, after all, people like you and me. Some of them are clever, and some of them are stupid. Their intelligence can be seen in a defence-splitting pass by Xavi Hernandez; their idiocy in Mario Balotelli failing to dress himself in a training bib. Just like you and me, they'll have good and bad days. And very few of us can do a Rubik's Cube.