By JESUTEGA ONOKPASA
Right from when I first encountered them, decades ago, I always had a bit of a problem with some of the highly fashion savvy advert campaigns of Pirelli, the Italian tyre manufacturer.
While I rather liked the ancient saying “power is nothing without control”, that the company had adopted as its motto and which always accompanied its adverts, I couldn’t see why it was necessary for such a world-class corporation to feature rather very skimpily clad or indeed, quite naked young women alongside such a philosophically elevated precept in its adverts.
Some time in the middle of 1998, when the FIFA soccer World Cup was being played in France, a Pirelli Tyres advert which cast the Brazilian footballer, Ronaldo, in the mold of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, began to air in the United Kingdom contemporaneous with the buildup to the final of the tournament. While the advert became quite controversial, on his part, Ronaldo, its hero, star and model, pitiably failed to lift the trophy, with Brazil rather embarrassingly losing to France.
Some twenty years later on Saturday, May 26, 2018, just before the UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool FC of England and Real Madrid of Spain kicked off in Kiev, Ukraine, I happened to be watching some pre-match show on Supersport, the South African broadcaster, when a rather overly exuberant tweet from some clearly overexcited Liverpool fan from South Africa was displayed on screen. It read something like: “Anfeild our church, Liverpool our religion, Salah our God”.
I cannot begin to imagine how utterly miserable this starry-eyed South African must have ended up that day when it transpired that not only did Liverpool lose miserably, his “God”, Mohammed Salah, effectively didn’t even feature in the match, having been rendered not-fit-for-purpose courtesy of an injury to the shoulder few minutes into the game!
Less than a month later on June 16, 2018, it so happened at the ongoing FIFA World Cup, just before the match between Argentina and Iceland was about to be played, that an apparently orgasmically enthralled Argentine fan in the Spartak Stadium, Moscow, Russia, displayed a banner on which, the footballer, Lionel Messi was depicted as Jesus Christ in the Good Shepherd pose, complete with a halo, shepherd’s rod and sacred heart on the Argentine forward! It turned out that Messi’s Argentina, former world champions, ended up performing way below billing, expectation and pedigree, drawing with upstarts, Iceland which had qualified for the finals for the very first time and had done so as the smallest country to have ever achieved the feat thus far! As if that was not humiliation enough for the Argentines and their World Footballer of the Year winning ‘messianic’ forward, it transpired that Messi and his teammates would simply be taken to the cleaners on Thursday, June 21 when far lightweighted Croatia led them by the hand like it was their first day at school.
While not inclined to assert a nexus between these fan rascalities and the subsequent misfortunes of the Ronaldos, Salahs and Messis of their obsessions, I must admit that pity these footballers as I did, I nevertheless ended up watching all the matches I cited above with a certain relish at what I perceived as the poetic justice I found myself apprehending from the stupefying spectacle of these ‘demigods’ of the Beautiful Game, whose fans had hitherto only located them in the firmament of the semi-divine, crashing down like miserably pathetic nonentities that had tarried up there in the skies thanks to nimble wings of newly hatched chicks they had somehow managed to affix to very mortal bodies with what could only have been very cheap wax indeed!
Yet while standing up to the temptation to situate the superstition of religion within the precinct of empirical cause and effect, I would, without hesitation, share that had I been in the position of any of these fellows and it had come to my notice that fans of mine had taken to the habit of defining me on terms as absurd and riotous as these, I would had hastened to proceed upon the repudiation and reprimand of the rabble, indeed making it clearer than day that I cared neither for blasphemers nor clowns to follow me. Beyond our control as our fans might be, calling them out when a scolding is called for is always quite proximate to us.