José Mourinho, The Special One – even if he did have to say so himself – was having a bad month. The World Cup had been transpiring without him in Brazil, the group stages had ended, and not once did José have his picture in the papers. This was intolerable. Sitting in his office and ruminating on what to do, he hit upon the idea of letting his adorable puppy pick the winners of the upcoming matches, the way that idiot octopus had done during the last World Cup. What kind of dog was it, a pug? A Chihuahua maybe? José could never remember, because it did not matter. What mattered was that José got his picture in papers.
No but seriously win or lose, José expected his picture to be in the papers the next day.
José got so excited about his ingenious plan that he called The Guardian, Déportes, The Independent, The Sun, and The New York Post to offer them all English language exclusives of José Mourinho holding his scruffy, adorable psychic dog as the mongrel pawed the winners of the next match. Each sportswriter he called passed in turn; it was finally an insolent hack at Der Spiegel who reminded José that Juan Mata had run over The Special One’s dog with his Mazerati in the Chelsea parking lot the previous December.
José suddenly remembered that was around the time he sold Mata to those losers at United; José had intended to get his picture in the papers by beating United with his best player on their team. It did not work, but only because that idiot Moyes had lost so many matches that beating him hardly got anybody’s picture in the papers by the end of the season.
José would have been sad about the dog, but suddenly José hit upon a new stratagem. This one would be guaranteed to get his picture in the papers, World Cup be damned. José would sign all best players from the teams eliminated during the group stages, and then proceed to win all the trophies next year with his team of scrappy underdogs, losers who relearned how under the command of José. Rehabilitating a squad of World Cup losers would only give more credibility to José and keep his picture in the papers all year long. He smiled a crafty smile and called his boss, the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
‘Have you been watching the World Cup José?’ his boss asked. ‘It’s been quite the tournament thus far.’
‘No hay el Mundíal. Solo hay José,’ José snapped, but in Portuguese because he was from Portugal. Portuguese is a difficult tongue to master so few people understand it.
‘Well, it’s quite exciting.’
José ignored this comment. Exciting was for losers. Winners played defense and choked the life out of other teams. If the supporters did not like it, they could choke on jogo bonito while they cheered for those losers at Arsenal or Barcelona. José did not cared. But José did explain his plan, to buy losers at discount prices. After all, nobody interested in winning could want to keep anyone on their squad who had lost the biggest tournament in all of fútbol. Chelsea could win the World Cup all for themselves next year.
José knew there would be no World Cup next year, just as he knew there would be little discount for the players José wanted, but Abramovich had been gradually driven mad in his quest for victory at any cost, so when José said ‘win the World Cup ourselves’ the Russian forgot what else had been said. Surely, if he brought home a World Cup the people of Russia would rise up, overthrow Putin, and install Abramovich as their rightful King once and for all.
‘Do what it takes,’ Abramovich commanded. ‘This will show Putin who is the big dog in sportsball. I have the money; don’t worry about FIFA’s financial fair play sham. Also, I am in a spending mood because I don’t have to deal with Jason Kidd anymore.’
‘I thought that was Prokhovov’s team.’
‘You don’t understand oligarchies, my friend,’ Abramovich laughed.
José had never met Jason Kidd, it was true, but José had children, and José loved them for being moderately good at winning in life. ‘Winning all that matters,’ José said.
‘Assemble your team of losers, and then make them win,’ Abramovich commanded as if it had been his idea all along.
The first goal José had was to find men who’d lost unfairly, and would gladly seek vengeance against the world, if need be, for having been wronged. This naturally led him to select Luka Modrić, Croatia’s best player. Croatia had not done well in their group, but only if you had not paid attention to their first game.
Croatia held their own against a fired up Brazil, scoring off an own goal by Marcelo, the Brazilain fullback. The Croatian goalie Pletikosa played valiantly to open the match, but the game got away from them after the Brazilian striker Fred took a dive in the box. Croatia could not recover, and lost 3-1. Since Modrić now played for Real Madrid, and there were no other players signed as yet, José took Modrić on as a trusted personnel advisor.No but seriously it was a flagrant dive, the kind of bullshit call you might see in the funny papers; it had no business in the World Cup.
Speaking of bullshit calls, Edin Džeko of Bosnia and Herzegovina had been flagged for an imaginary offside against Nigeria after having slotted the ball into the net. Not only were Bosnia and Herzogovina denied the lead, the call broke the flow of play in a game that ended 1-0 in favor of Nigeria. Had the goal counted and Bosnia and Herzegovina both gone on to win, they would have had an improbable ten points out of nine possible, which would have seen them finish ahead of Argentina to win the group.
José respected their effort, and could not understand why more countries didn’t join forces like that. Maybe Abramovich could buy a smaller country like Honduras; they neglected to do anything worth remembering in the tournament, but their entire team could soak up yellow cards like nobody’s business.
No but seriously the offsides call was an injustice if ever there was one.
With Modrić and Džeko in the fold and hungry for victories, José turned to the hungriest man in all of fútbol: Luis Súarez. Very little can be said of the man that has not already been said, but José believed everything said about the man was hogwash. Had he eaten Chiellini? No. He simply tried to get in the Italian’s head with a bit of gamesmanship. José respected gamesmanship because that’s what winners do. Left, right, down the middle and with their sizable choppers if need be. Not only had Uruguay defeated Italy 1-0, it was Súarez who scored both goals when Uruguay defeated England 2-1.
‘I want him, José said to the Croatian Modrić. ‘Súarez tienie hambre como el lobo.’
‘He’s kind of a bad guy,’ Modrić said.
‘Every team of good guys needs some bad guys to confuse the real bad guys about what team they’re really on,’ José said philosophically. ‘That’s when you hit them on the counter! Do you remember the movie Watchmen?’
Modrić shook his head.
‘Don’t bother. It is a garbage movie,’ José continued. ‘But the comic book is about a brave scientist who understands that winning sometimes means doing things that other people don’t like, such as releasing a squid from outer space who eats all of the people in New York. Was the scientist wrong to do this? José does not know. But José is reasonably certain that Súarez has never eaten anyone, and he is from Uruguay, not outer space.’
Modrić pointed out that Uruguay had advanced from their group along with Costa Rica. ‘Aren’t we only choosing players from teams that didn’t advance?’ he asked.
No but seriously there was a collective overreaction to the Súarez incident.
José also decided his team of losers would take on Giorgio Chiellini, who may or may not be delicious but plays a brutish style suitable for teams that value choking the life out of other teams moreso than merely scoring goals. ‘Goals are a lie, it is only when the other teams do not score that one truly wins,’ José told Modrić.
Italy had lost to Uruguay, but had also beaten England 2-1, which made England the losingest losers in Brasil. José had no use for any of them, to say nothing of the fact none of them could be reached for several months; England had spent millions of dollars on nutritionists and groundskeepers, and were so confident of victory they blew the rest of their budget on lavish hotels and first class flights leaving after the championship game. Those hotels and flights had been non-refundable, so the English team had little choice but to stow away on a large boat pointed in the general direction of England, and hope for the best.
The English papers would more readily gnash teeth and rend their garments and put pictures of José in the papers when he won the Premier League without a single British player. Yes, Chiellini would do. José also needed his own talisman, the Portuguese centreback Pepe, a mad dog defender who’d been the most loyal soldier José had back at Real Madrid. Pepe had damaged his stock in the first game of his group, headbutting the striker Thomas Muller in a game Portugal lost 4-0 to Germany. José knew it was an honest mistake; Pepe often got confused when the red mist descended in the heat of battle, and had most likely mistaken Muller’s head for Lionel Messi’s knee.
Nobody could expect Pepe to control himself where Messi was concerned – in fact José had for a time employed a team of hypnotists and mesmerists to ensure quite the opposite – so it was an honest mistake. Pepe had become such a dirty player, in fact, the José had to sign him just to prevent Pepe from injuring his own players if the teams met in the Champion’s League the next season.
With Pepe and Chiellini on defense, José needed to add a goalkeeper. Modrić suggested José add Buffon of Italy, but José considered the man a clown. This owed to some obscure miscommunication; José had long assumed the man’s name was Gian Luigi, and that everyone called him Buffon as a joke. ‘No goalkeeper of mine will ever let others call him such things.’
No, the goalkeeper José wanted was the man José called El Pulpo – the Octopus. The Mexican goalkeeper Ochoa had denied Cameroon and Croatia, and even kept Neymar off the score sheet. Unfortunately Mexico had finished second to Brazil and advanced to the knockout rounds, but José would sign El Pulpo regardless. ‘The man’s a free agent,’ José reasoned, ‘and Mexico never advances past the round of sixteen anyway.’
No but seriously Neymar wasn’t getting past Ochoa that day.
Now José only needed some midfielders in addition to Modrić. He briefly considered Yaya Touré, Côte d’Ivoire’s best player, but reconsidered quickly. Not only had Côte d’Ivoire fallen apart in the group stage, finishing behind Greece and Columbia, Touré had recently complained through his agent that Manchester City did not show him enough respect after winning the league that year. José could not tolerate such impudence; the players on his team would win championships and know damn well who to thank. Besides, such dissension at a rival club could only strengthen José.
The obvious choices for midfielders would have been the Catalans Spaniards Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Cesc Fábregas, who all played for those cheating bastards at Barcelona. It was, in fact, entirely too obvious for José to fall for it. ‘This entire World Cup fiasco is all part of some scheme dreamt up by that cheating bastard Guardiola,’ José told Modrić.
‘Pep Guardiola hasn’t coached Barcelona in years,’ Modrić explained, but José had stopped listening.
‘What have you got up your sleeves this time, Pep, you sneaky bastard,’ José murmured, peeking out from the blinds in his office to see if Guardiola was hiding in the bushes across the street. He was not, which only meant the Catalan had been too quick for José. Again. ‘Well played, Guardiola. Well played.’
José decided he would sign Spain’s idiot savants, just to be safe. Maybe Xavi had even stopped crying about being cruelly left out of Spain’s starting XI for the 5-1 beating suffered at the feet of the Netherlands to open group play. He and Iniesta had lost a step or three during the past year. The end had slipped into sight for both, just over the horizon, whereupon they’d make great pitchmen for the Hair Club For Men.
‘I thought you hated those guys,’ Modrić reminded José.
‘José has no intention of letting them play. They will cry the same bitter tears they cried after their empty victory against Australia. The hollowness of silverware they did nothing to help José win.’
Then José remembered already having signed Fábregas for Chelsea, mostly to make the Arsenal fans cry after he’d abandoned that sinking ship, only to abandon Barcelona after those cheating bastards had sprung a series of leaks themselves. José just hoped Fábregas hadn’t hitched a ride with the English team, just because there’d be no end to the number of times Rooney’s picture would be in the papers after that kind of ‘tragedy.’
To rub salt in Barcelona’s wounds José decided to take their little-used midfielder Alex Song, who had gotten into some hot water himself during the group stages, suspended after throwing a flying elbow during Cameroon’s 4-0 loss to Croatia. As with Súarez, where others saw a dirty play José saw a hard-edged beauty, not unlike a diamond or perhaps the professional wrestling José liked to fall asleep while watching.
No but seriously it was quite a move off the tunbuckle, worthy of anything in the WWE.
This left the team rather heavy with players from Group A, but what could José do, take players from Ecuador and Honduras, out of Group E, or Russia and Korea out of Group H? Those teams had played too poorly. Of the teams little had been expected of, only Iran in Group F showed any kind of moxie in their losses. The most excruciating had come courtesy of Lionel Messi during injury time of their second game, which ended 1-0 in favor of Argentina.
The whole thing amused José, not because Iran had lost but because Messi could not win; the entire world had looked at Messi’s beautiful strike with a studied indifference. Yes, it had been lovely to see Messi show up in the clutch, the world said, but it won’t matter unless Messi wins the World Cup himself. Only José had ever known such expectations, and while he welcomed them because he won so many cups himself, to see a diving cheat like Messi struggle with them only made José smile.
No but seriously people are so fickle.
With his roster nearly complete José felt the need to add a winger. José only saw the need for one more loser, the greatest loser of the group stage: Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo could hardly be considered a loser by anyone with a rudimentary grasp of what words mean, however Portugal had surprisingly finished behind Germany and the United States in group play.
Ronaldo scored the winning goal that defeated Ghana 2-1, but in doing so he had also put the United States into the knockout rounds despite their 1-0 loss to Germany 1-0 in the final match of the group stage. This tickled José because nothing was more American than to succeed not because they had defeated Germany themselves – of course they hadn’t – but rather because somebody else had beaten Ghana for them.
No but seriously America loved nothing more than Ronaldo after the group stage, except for Ronald Reagan and guns.
José knew it would be more impressive to win everything without the greatness of Ronaldo, but having him on the squad would assure José of having his pictures in the American papers as well, and that’s what mattered. He put his feet up on his desk, knowing that nobody could ever beat Chelsea, now that José added all the best losers from the group stage to his squad. Yes, nothing could stop them now.
Well, nothing that José knew about.
News of what José had been up to already reached his greatest rival – aside from the late Alex Ferguson, who could only meddle in United’s affairs from afar, and Pep Guardiola, toiling away in some obscure and irrelevant domestic league. That man was Arséne Wenger. Wenger, leader of the plucky underdogs Arsenal. Wenger, who had impressed upon FIFA the need for financial fair play. Wenger, who brought beautiful fútbol to the bruising Premier League. Wenger. Wenger, who’d had enough of this shit. ‘I’ve had enough of this shit,’ Wenger declared to the Arsenal board of directors. An audible gasp escaped the board members. Surely Wenger didn’t mean –
‘Yes, I mean it,’ Wenger said, and threw open Arsenal’s vaults. Arsenal, true to its name, had been secretly running guns through all the troubled places of the world, to say nothing of buying all of Russia’s oil and fertilizer and whatever else those puny soi-disant ‘oligarchs’ had put up for sale on the world’s black markets. In fact, pretty much every transnational act of global evil for nearly the last century had been bankrolled by the English football club Arsenal, which had gone so far as to purchase the entire nation of Qatar just to hide its tracks.
‘Abramovich has his dirty money and the Qataris have their dirty cup, but who exactly does he believe is the one signing his paychecks?’ Wenger cackled. ‘Let José have his losers; Arsenal will have its pick of the best players from the Round of Sixteen and the quarterfinals. It’s time to show that insignificant mutt the power of a fully operational Arsenal squad!’ And with that, Arsenal had decided it would alter the course of football history forever.
Coming Up: The Round of Sixteen, the World Cup Quarterfinals, and Arséne Wenger’s revenge.