KNOWLEDGE MUSONA turned 29 last Friday, fate somehow dictating that his birthday should come on the very day he would lead his Warriors to open the biggest AFCON finals, in history, with a high-profile date against the Pharaohs. Most footballers usually do not forget the day they turned 29 because, scientifically, it marks the final year of their most productive decade, the twenties, where they generally reach their peak somewhere along the way.
There was no lavish party for Musona at the Warriors hotel to celebrate the occasion because of the shadow that kept being cast by the big assignment, against the Pharaohs, set for later that night which would draw the attention of the entire world.
A day later, with the pain of their narrow defeat at the hands of the Pharaohs still consuming their battered soul, questions being asked, answers being sought, the football world’s attention drifted elsewhere.
To Colombia, the troubled city of Medellin in particular, 25 years earlier, on June 22, where events which unfolded in the Los Angeles area of Pasadena, on that day, would shape a tragedy 10 days later, that would shake the very foundations on which global football stands.
Andres Escobar had turned 27 in March that year, a model professional footballer known for his clean style of play and calmness, on and off the pitch, they even nicknamed him “El Caballero del Futbol,’’ which, translated into English, meant, “The Gentleman of Football.’’
Given the violence that had scarred this city, which in the ‘90s was known as the murder capital of the world as the drug wars tore apart its soul, Andreas’ calm demeanour and model professionalism, were a refreshing island of calmness in a raging ocean of lawlessness in this town.
He was good enough to make the Colombian national team of that era, a very talented outfit that had the likes of Asprilla, Rincon and Valderrama, which set the ’94 World Cup qualifiers alight, even going to Buenos Aires and thrashing Argentina 5-0, in what was their finest hour.
By the time they arrived in the United States for the World Cup, there were many experts who believed the Colombians would win the title, and expectations back home were so high, fuelled by what their heroes had done in their spectacular qualifying show.
But, a 1-3 defeat to Romania in the first game provided a reality check that things could be different and, needing to beat the hosts in the second game or face shock elimination, Andres stretched to try and intercept a cross from the left by John Harkes in the 34th minute.
The ball deflected off his outstretched foot and deceived his goalkeeper, Oscar Cordoba, to put the Americans in front and, ultimately, a 2-1 win for the hosts meant the Colombians were out of the World Cup — which some had favoured them to win — after just two games.
The devastation, back home, among millions of their fans who had really believed in them and, in that five-goal thrashing of Argentina had found a reason to dream big, was unbearable and poor Andres was made the fall guy of that doomed American mission.
Somehow, for all the pain he endured, Andres — always the nice guy — refused to bury his head in the sand and, writing an editorial in the Bogota newspaper El Tiempo told his country he was sorry for his fatal mistake, asking for forgiveness and appealing to Colombians not to give up.
“Life doesn’t end here. We have to go on. Life cannot end here. No matter how difficult, we must stand up. We only have two options — either allow anger to paralyse us and the violence continues, or we overcome and try our best to help others,’’ he wrote.
“It’s our choice. Let us please maintain respect. My warmest regards to everyone. It’s been a most amazing and rare experience. We’ll see each other again soon because life does not end here.”
He even married his girlfriend, Pamela Cascardo, after that own-goal incident, as if to try and bury that past and open a new chapter in his life, while he accepted an offer to join Italian giants AC Milan, then the dominant team in world football.
Of course, his life didn’t end in America, but it was soon to end in tragic fashion in his hometown where, until the own-goal incident at the World Cup, he was loved by millions for his calmness, for his good manners and for being the opposite of the violent side of their city.
But, on July 2, ’94, Andres went out with some friends and at a night club in Medellin, he was confronted by three men and a woman who baited him for that own goal and, in response, he kept telling them he was sorry, it was a monumental mistake and how he wished it could not have happened.
And, when he went to the car park to drive back home, the three four followed him and two of the men took out hand guns and shot him six times, he was rushed to hospital and 45 minutes later, as if his battle for life had played out for an entire half of football, he was dead.
Over 120 000 people came for his funeral, in a touching farewell to this football gentleman, who was described by his then national coach Francisco Maturana of having been unlucky to be ‘’in the wrong place at the wrong time,’’ and many of his teammates quit the national team in protest.
FOR ALL ITS BEAUTY, FOOTBALL IS A DEVILISH GAME AND THERE IS NO DOUBT ABOUT THAT
Andres lost his life and, a day after Musona marked his 29th birthday, the football world remembered the day in Los Angeles — before 93 689 fans at the Rose Bowl Pasadena — when the own-goal incident, which provoked the chain of events that ultimately led to his cold-blooded murder, happened.
David Beckham didn’t lose his life but his effigies were burnt in various cities of England after he was made the fall guy of the Three Lions’ elimination from the ’98 World Cup after his expulsion, following a reaction to a tackle by Diego Simeone, was blamed for the loss at the hands of Argentina.
England versus Argentina isn’t just a football match, a lot of emotions come into the mix — the war for the Falklands, which the British won, the Diego Maradona Hand of God, which the English lost, and when Beckham committed that petulant foul at the ’98 World Cup, the media transformed him into a figure of hate.
When Manchester United played their first away game of the 1998-99 campaign in London at West Ham, the club ensured they provided Beckham with an armed guard to escort him off the pitch because there were genuine fears he would be attacked by a mob.
Furious fans sent bullets in letters sent by post to his home address, despite pleas by his manager then, Glen Hoddle, for them not to turn against the midfielder.
“I know football can be cruel sometimes and I think people can forget. We’ve got to take that on board, he hasn’t done it on purpose, it’s a mistake he has made . . . we have to learn from that mistake,’’ said Hoddle.
“We need to respect that young David has done a fantastic job for England in the past.’’
To his credit, Beckham didn’t let the hate destroy him and, the following year, was influential in helping Manchester United win The Treble, with his crosses in time added on in the Champions League final at the Nou Camp providing the assists for the dramatic 2-1 win over Bayern Munich.
He became England captain and, with time ticking away and draining the hopes of his country to make the 2002 World Cup, took responsibility when they were awarded a late free-kick against Greece and, from distance, planted it into the far corner for the goal that took them to Japan and South Korea.
And, as fate would have it, England met Argentina again and, after earning a penalty, Beckham again took responsibility and scored from the spot to banish the memories of ’98 and, crucially, find a way to revive his love affair with the very fans who had burnt his effigies four years earlier.
Today, even after retiring six years ago, he remains the most popular, and most famous, English football personality around the world.
Romelo Lukaku has also had his problems in Belgium and, ahead of last year’s World Cup, told the story of how he grew up poor, how some of the citizens of his country rejected him and why, now, some still doubted him.
“When things were going well, I was reading newspaper articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker,’’ he wrote in The Players Tribune.
“When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.
“I don’t know why some people in my own country want to see me fail. I really don’t. When I went to Chelsea and I wasn’t playing, I heard them laughing at me. When I got loaned out to West Brom, I heard them laughing at me.
“But it’s cool. Those people weren’t with me when we were pouring water in our cereal. If you weren’t with me when I had nothing, then you can’t really understand me.
“You know what’s funny? I missed 10 years of Champions League football when I was a kid. We never could afford it. I would come into school and all the kids would be talking about the final, and I’d have no idea what happened. I remember back in 2002, when Madrid played Leverkusen, everybody was like, ‘the volley! Oh my God, the volley!’”
“I had to pretend like I knew what they were talking about.’’
MUSONA, LUKAKU, ANDERLECHT, THE HATE, THE SHORT MEMORIES
Lukaku started his professional football journey at 16, at the very club that employs Musona today, Anderlecht, before his talent took him to Chelsea and Manchester United and transformed him into his country’s record goal-scorer.
On Wednesday, Musona missed an open goal against Uganda which should have won the game for his Warriors and give their fans, who have been having a cyberspace war with the supporters of the Cranes, the bragging rights.
It was a terrible miss, one Musona has probably never made it his career, the one that is likely to haunt him for years, the one that has made some fans criticise him sharply with some even questioning whether he should retain his place in the starting XI.
The outpouring of fury is understandable because, as skipper, he should lead by example and this was a chance that even a primary schoolboy would be vilified for missing because it was too easy, the path was too clear and, now and again, he has delivered.
Some even questioned if his visit to TB Joshua, isn’t affecting him because those people don’t believe in the things that the Nigerian prophet does.
But, to transform Musona into a figure of hate, to reduce him into a symbol of rejection, to paint his fine Warriors career as a failure, simply because he missed an open goal, would be an insult to the power of reasoning.
A betrayal of what this man has done for his country, a service that only the great Peter Ndlovu can probably better, and only those with short and evil memories will try to persecute Musona because he happened to miss a great chance for the Warriors.
Those who forget all the tough chances he has converted for the team, who forget it was his five goals that made us get here in the first place, it was his three goals that took us to Gabon and it was his goals that kept us winning matches when no one else was scoring for us.
That he could do that for about a decade is testimony of the good shift he has put in service for his country and while his miss against the Cranes was a horrible one, it can’t erase all the good things he has done for this team.
Rather than hate, Musona deserves love, a lot of it, and encouragement, lots of it, because he has been the one who has always cast a light for us when there was darkness.
The challenge for him is to rise again, because that’s what Beckham did, and prove those critics wrong.
To persecute Musona will be a return to the dark arts that took Andres Escobar’s life and, seeing that 25 years have passed, that will be a step back into the darkness.
Say whatever you want, attack him in whatever way you want, blast me in whatever way could be possible, it’s allowed, it’s part of democracy, but that’s won’t blind me from seeing the good that this guy has done for this team simply because, at a crucial moment, he missed a sitter.
We have our disagreements, of course we do, but before reach for hate, we have to always, always, remember that we’re Warriors.
- To God Be The Glory!
- Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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