Curses, wallies & the return of the Russian linesman

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The Russian linesman is back...

Sixteen years after his death, the Azerbaijani linesman Tofik Bakhramov is the inspirational centrepiece for an exhibition by artist Mark Wallinger at London’s Hayward Gallery.

The exhibition is called The Russian Linesman because, for years, few people in England knew or cared that a) a place called Azerbaijan existed and b) that Bakhramov, the linesman who gave England’s third goal in the 1966 final, came from there.

The blurb for Wallinger’s exhibition is absurdly pretentious and self-important but the show isn’t.

Bakhramov is such a hero in Azerbaijan that the national stadium is named after him. Five years ago, before England’s game in Baku, a statue was unveiled in his honour but many Azerbaijanis feel their linesman still hasn’t had due recognition.

England's heroes: Bakhramov (R) and fellow 1966 final officials 

One fan, Aydyn Zarbaliev, even went so far as to suggest: “Many people in London won’t agree with me but I think Bakhramov deserves a monument from the English no smaller than Nelson’s column.”

Geoff Hurst once presented the linesman’s son with a shirt that read: “Thank you very much” in Azeri. Computer analysis has suggested, but not conclusively proved, that the ball didn’t cross the line leading many to wonder about the linesman’s motivation.

There is an apocryphal story that, when Bakhramov was lying on his deathbed, he was asked why he’d given the goal. Legend has it that the former official mumbled one word: “Stalingrad.”

Masterminds and wallies...

“Sack the coach” was how Danish football journalist Morten Crone Sejersbal greeted the appointment of Magnus Persson as Aalborg coach.

The fact that Persson, a Swede, was replacing Danish caretaker Allan Kuhn was a blow to Denmark’s pride. But Persson masterminded the result of the week in the UEFA Cup, a 3-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna in his first European game as coach.

Funnily enough Sejersbal now admits: “I’ve changed my mind. It’s good that Aab don’t listen to the media.”

Elsewhere, the UEFA Cup brought some solace for two coaches under fire: Marco van Basten (Ajax won 1-0 in Fiorentina) and Mircea Lucescu (Shakhtar beat Spurs 2-0 despite some ludicrous finishing).

I still wouldn’t be surprised if Lucescu moved on at the end of the season, especially now that Valeriy Gazzaev is in the market for a new post.

Meanwhile, the rehabilitation of the wally with the brolly gathers momentum as Steve McClaren’s Twente comfortably beat Marseille 1-0 in the Velodrome.

Schteve celebrates conquering the French

The curse of the Brazilian World Cup winning coach...

Mario Zagallo, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Phil Scolari have two things in common: they have all coached Brazil to World Cup glory – and have never lasted more than a season at a European club.

Zagallo didn’t even try, Carlos Alberto Parreira endured one forgettable season (1994/95) at Valencia and Scolari spent five months at Chelsea.

But perhaps the curse isn’t restricted to World Cup winning coaches. Vanderlei Luxemburgo had a torrid time at Real in 2004/05, best remembered by the cognoscenti for a pioneering (for which read: suicidal) 4-2-2-2 formation known as the Magic Rectangle.

Zico lasted two years at Fenerbahce and at least left of his own volition, suggesting he’d be up for the Newcastle job.

But Dennis Wise, a man steeped in football history and the power of the Brazilian curse, wisely gave Zico the swerve and the legend is now tasked with reviving CSKA Moscow.

Maybe the curse isn’t restricted to Brazilian coaches. As we point out in the new issue of Champions – look if I don’t plug it, who else will? – Argentine coaches have, since the 1960s heyday of Helenio Herrera, had a marginal influence on European football.

Does this mean there’s something wrong with Brazilian and Argentine coaches? Or with the European game?

Big Phil confronts the dreaded curse head on

And finally, the day James Joyce joined the Hungarian midfield...

The most influential novelist of the 20th century was no master of the “greasy leather orb,” as he referred to the ball but, according to this intriguing post on The Global Game he was happy to rub shoulders with the Hungarian football team at a lecture in Paris in 1937.

Vladimir Nabokov, the goalkeeper and novelist, was giving the lecture and the sight of Joyce “arms folded and glasses glinting in the middle of the Hungarian soccer team” unnerved him.

Fortunately, Joyce just sat there and paid attention. As did the Hungarian players.

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