x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Whinge and you're winning

A generous dose of grumbling about the fortunes of your national football team keeps the Earth rotating on its axis.

A Turkey fan lamenting his country's failure to persuade Mezut Ozil to play for the land of his parents instead of Germany, the land of his birth, holds up a sign reading: 'These fans could cheer for you Ozil!
A Turkey fan lamenting his country's failure to persuade Mezut Ozil to play for the land of his parents instead of Germany, the land of his birth, holds up a sign reading: 'These fans could cheer for you Ozil!" during Turkey's recent 3-0 defeat to Germany in Berlin.

As the UAE gamely tries to shirk fan apathy and build a virtuoso national football team, it is possible to yearn for some audible whingeing.

If ever there does gather the exquisite sound of fans whingeing over a tepid performance like that on Saturday against Chile, you'll know the whole programme has reached a fine perch. For while whingeing is unwelcome in most of life, in football it has towering purpose.

Alongside grousing, grumbling, caterwauling and spiralling despair, it enables the Earth to continue rotating on its axis. What does this sadly disjointed world ever do in unison, in country after country after country? It eats. It sleeps. It whinges about football. That's pretty much it. I got another reminder last weekend in the great city of Istanbul, where I heard splendid whingeing, capable grousing, accomplished grumbling, light caterwauling and savoury hints of despair over Turkey's national football side.

"Ah, it's bleak," I heard. "It's not the same," said the old goalkeeper selling jeans in the Grand Bazaar. "It's no good," huffed the manager in the breakfast room. Newspapers yowled - or, so I'm told. You hear such rhapsodic grunts after a 3-0 demolition in Germany only from people who have let expectation into their bloodstream as Turkey certainly has. The whole symphony got going in earnest in 2002, when Turkey not only curtailed a 48-year World Cup absence but ventured all the way to the semi-finals. As they won the third-place match 3-2 over co-host South Korea, towns and cities flooded outside.

As the heroes returned to Ataturk Airport, wire-service reporters counted "tens of thousands" of waiting fans. As a specially chartered Turkish Airlines jet descended, F-16 planes accompanied it as a statement of honour. National television and radio covered the landing live. Players rode atop a bus into the city. On went the parade to Taksim Square, surely among the places to be upon the Earth that early summer day.

Piled on top of that came the Euro 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland, when Turkey again reached the semi-finals - a palpitating 3-2 loss to Germany - and the grateful again found the airport. The Turkish Daily News waxed that team spent "three weeks writing a fairy tale". The former Turkish national-team member, Rivdan Dilmen, wrote in Milliyet: "I am not exaggerating when I say this is a revolution in world football."

So all glory is fleeting, of course, but these moments do yield a dual gift in country after country. There is the untold exhilaration, and then there is the mandatory whingeing two years hence once there is no revisiting the untold exhilaration. Sure enough, 2010 World Cup qualifying chased Turkey home without even reaching South Africa, and the predictable national disquiet chased Fatih Terim, the revered manager, home without even reaching November 2009.

By now for added melodrama, Euro 2012 qualifying has slumped in Turkey with Germany, allowing the Turkish immigrants in Berlin last Friday night to jeer the wondrous Mesut Ozil on his every touch over the fact he plays for his native Germany despite his Turkish lineage. Even now, that same type of disenchantment, some of the best free entertainment still left, has pushed France to restructure and rebound after that dismal World Cup. Such hubbub shoved Brazil and Argentina and Italy into urgent sackings of managers. It exists in countries huge and small, and the fact it doesn't exist in the United States with regard to soccer contributes to that country's lukewarm results.

It is the disharmonious music of life on Earth, complaining about football, and it's a pretty fair accomplishment that without such threat of din, the UAE in recent years has cobbled together an impressive array of youth team feats. Once people complain in earnest about the national team, that will signal even more robust health. After all, just thinking of fomented angst conjures one of the most riveting nights in world history, if you'll pardon the mild overstatement.

In front of 88,901 at drizzly Wembley Stadium on November 21, 2007, England needed only a draw against Croatia to reach Euro 2008. England trailed 2-0 and forged to 2-2 and wreaked noise that could make your goosebumps rather mountainous. Well, the substitute Mladen Petric scored late for Croatia; some members of the Croatian media forgot the edict about not cheering in the press box; and upon arrival in the news conference afterward, Steve McClaren, the England manager, fielded as a first question, this: "Have you resigned yet?"

The magic of whingeing brought on Fabio Capello, and World Cup qualification went beautifully, and then the World Cup ... OK, there are some eternal mysteries not even whingeing can repair. cculpepper@thenational.ae