Thursday, May 17, 2012


Archetypes of Football's Next Monomyth:

Champion's League Final Considerations


 Football  as (an Imperfect) War Metaphor

Nowadays, the the number of kids that dream of being war heroes is not even in the same ballpark as those that dream of being sports heroes. If there was ever a figurative 'battle for the minds of the youth' between these two hero-camps, it's at least four generations finished. Sports can thank a series of inglorious wars for that.

In an Indiana University School of Health survey, they found that more than fifty percent of male role models were athletes. In many other, less surveyed, football-crazier countries, the figure could very well be significantly higher.

Historically speaking, sports were both preparation for, and a metaphor for, war. Yet while the legendary heroes of ancient epics needed to actually don armor and wield lethal weapons in the face of grave danger, the modern hero need only kit up, do something notable involving some shape of ball on some field or court of play, and face the media pressure.

As football in particular is concerned, the reason this metaphor often becomes unsatisfactory is the egregious diving we're all very familiar with. Athletes have become such such promotional opportunities, that they slip out of their soldier's mold and it becomes necessary to 'protect' them, both refs and hero-worshipers alike.

These "stars" are also means for even more powerful interests. While they roll around on the ground and bring the camera to a standstill, our flat screens display both their histrionics and their advertisements.

With football's yearly apex days away, many, neutral football purists wish for a match to transcend this rut of the beautiful game's, a match not defined by the most-sponsored player diving the most convincingly, but by the eternally heroic act, something which hovers above both sport and at least the idea of war.

Enter Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell has written thousands of pages about the hero quest cycle and its myriad manifestations in every nook, cranny and metropolis the world over, but if this aspect of his work were to be summarized in just one verb, it would be: transcend.

Or one sentence:
"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Campbell's biggest idea is that many of the world's traditional tales from every epoch of humanity can basically be boiled down to one, essentially human formula. Aping James Joyce's term, he anoints: 'the monomyth.'  In his most famous book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, he goes on to posit that all the world's religions, currently and in history, are also culturally specific representations or "masks" of the same transcendent truth.

This idea has had far-reaching cultural influence, shaping the impressionable minds of billions of movie goers. If you were to name the ten most-viewed epic films of the last quarter century, chances are the brain behind them was at one point entranced by monomyth. Author of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogel, impressively deconstructs "The Matrix" using Campbell's concept of the monomyth. George Lucas and Peter Jackson are as meticulously faithful as the Wachowski brothers.

Bayern vs Chelsea in Archetypical Elements

So making the pleasant assumption that Saturday's game will be epic, how would this Champions League Final boil down to its monomythical elements?

To one place, five people and two objects:
  1. Homestead - Where the hero is from before transcendence. In this case, ironically, the (fingers crossed) site of the transcendent moment as well.
  2. Protagonist
  3. Primary Obstacle/Adversary
  4. Donor - He/she/it who gives the hero a crucial gift, or has a 'gift' taken/stolen from them by the hero
  5. Gift - What the donor offers/relinquishes
  6. False Hero - The pretender
  7. Antagonist
  8. Boon - The transcendent something which the hero returns with
(In an effort to avoid bias--although I will choose a hero--unlike myths the archtypes may come from either side of this spectacle, Bayern Munich or Chelsea F.C.)


I'm iced like crazy.
Allianz Arena, a.k.a. Schlauchboot (The Floating Boat), is where it will go down this Saturday. It seats just under 70,000 spectators, and is covered in diamond metal panels that can reflect red, white, or blue. Its Swiss architects built this "temple of football" to be the icon of all icons.


Why do teams trade me, I may be the best winger on the planet?
OK, so admitted he's not exactly Cu Chullain incarnated or the heir to Beowolf or anything (and btw he plays for Bayern now, is married with children and a due to premature balding looks more like thirty-eight than twenty-eight), but he is blatantly the most fitting hero of this contest. Arjen Robben has enough narrative material surrounding him to focus the spectacle for any neutral spectator. He has formidable heroic pedigree earned in a former Champions League campaign, he defeated a former coach and team in the semis, and now he faces another former team, both of which sold him away.

Two years ago, during Bayern's deep Champions League run which was extinguished by Jose Mourinho's Inter in the final, Robben scored two of the more clutch goals in recent Champion's League History, both in the waning minutes of two-leg affairs, both which took his team from the brink of elimination through to the next round. This one was against Fiorentina in the round of sixteen, and this one finish off heavy favorite Man U. in the very next, quarter final round. Neither of these ever get old to watch.

"When I go on a run I don't know where it will end," says the prancy winger. A well-placed-yet-booming left-footed drive is usually the intended outcome, through a window that's hard to believe exists even after you watch the footage.

During the series against Real, Robben was tactful in defeating his old coach, the infamous Jose Mourinho.  Despite their history of on-field--sometimes during the game--hugging, Mourinho had this jibe at him during their fixture, through a spokesman:

"Jose has always said it: Arjen simply lacks character, and the absolute will to win...After the smallest knock he could not play, and Jose had to let him go."

The hypocrisy of attacking someone's character through a spokesman, btw, is extreme, yet in the final Robben did something to betray his enigmatic qualities. He opted out of a penalty in the shoot-out. He explains:
"Casillas and I know each other as we've played together for two years. And it's more difficult to take a second spot kick. That's why I didn't take another one."

Matter-of-fact as his explanation may sound, going against one of the world's three best keepers after having given him a look at your approach decreases the normal statistical advantage of the penalty taker considerably, and it takes a protagonist with rare common sense to apprehend this. Just ask the game's other potential protagonist, Christiano Ronaldo, who, facing another of the game's three best keepers for a second time, made the converse decision.

Finally, Robben, who has never fared higher than 14th in the FIFA World Player of the Year voting despite leading both his club and country within a game of their utmost glory in the same year, faces his other former team: Chelsea, the final, bus-shaped obstacle across Robben's road to redemption.


Somebody please handcuff me for extreme hypocrisy?
The self-nicknamed "Special One," was apparently circumvented in the semifinal along with his frequently thuggish overdogs.


Di Matteo thinks, smugly: 'I can give greater gifts.'

Matteo took over for the fiery Andres "DVD" Villas-Boas and it is unclear whether he or the re-empowered veterans have guided their improbable run to the finals of this competition, but he did re-bestow one clear gift upon Chelsea...

THE GIFT: THE 4-2-3-1

 A formation that has only recently joined the 4-4-2 and the 4-3-3 as the commonest of formations, it was employed by three of the four semifinalists, with Barca the only exception. Formerly introduced by aforementioned ex-Blues coach Mourinho, Di-Mateo having re-bestowed it has formidably improved Chelsea's defensive organization, while befitting them offensively with its bend toward the type of counter-attacking offense that had been their hallmark.
On defense, against dangerous opponents, Di Matteo's 4-2-3-1 morphs into something resembling a parked blue bus. For the sake of the spectacle and the pride of English football, let's hope Di Matteo does not utilize this cunning strategy a third time running or else he should have been named the game's antagonist.


 Frank Ribery is slightly more durable and quite possibly more skillful than Robben. He has carried Bayern at times this year--especially during an overwhelmingly successful early-season stretch amidst a slew of key injuries.

Yet if he was the true protagonist, why would he bitterly sucker-punch his own teammate in the right eye over a dead ball? Is that what protagonists do, or frustrated, jealous pretenders?

Robben's productivity (they've both netted twelve goals but Ribery has started 50% more games), his Champion's League pedigree (Did I mention Robben has netted 34 times in the Champions League) and his consistency across club and country outfits mark him as slightly more suitable for alpha-dog status, despite Ribery's formidable abilities.

If there was a question between the two though, it was answered at least temporarily by who punched who. The interesting and again enigmatic thing about the incident was that Robben was actually suggesting a third player, Tony Kroos, take the kick...

False hero is a role Frank Lampard should be used to playing, as he has--in my opinion--been playing this role for the England national team for the better part of a decade. The fact that tactically-savvy Roy Hodgson has just awarded England's 2012 Euro captaincy to the would-be hero of the better part of the same last decade, Steven Gerrard, probably spells the end of Lampard's strangle-hold on this indistinction for country.

A heady, aware player with plenty of knack who has both a great scoring record as well as a well-lofted chip, Lampard has a tendency to turn into mashed potatoes on the field when big games arrive at their scrappy, physical climaxes. Against German opposition, this type of ending to this type of game is to be expected.


While I roll around on the turf clutching parts of my body that no defender came close to touching, check out my new Adidas Predator boots with 'Lethal Zones,' available to humans in the coming months says my agent who is also human.
I'm not sure J. K. Rowling has succeeded in coming up with a more villainous name than "Didier Drogba." He is a prodigious diver, even more so than Robben--remember our imperfect metaphor, the heroes and villains both dive in this game.

A late first half Drogba goal to begin the scoring and unnerve the crowd could be Chelsea's vets last chance to be able to grab, pump and then kiss the elusive, silvery boon.


At home within the homestead.

-posted by A. R. McKenna


  1. Definitely should be taught as part of next year's 7th grade curriculum, no? But, seriously, is there an actual guy named Didier Drogba? Dubious...

    1. I agree, cool trick having a current day story illuminate some challenging classic ideas.

    2. Dude. Didier Drogba...dubious.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I wonder about sports as war metaphor. It seems more that war makers use sports as a metaphor. Consider the close advertising relationship between the NBA and the NFL and the US military. Sports as the American dream, the current day opiate of the people. Aren't rich people attractive.

  4. Yeah I suppose if the metaphor breaks down because footballers are diving it could seem the post is feeding into the rah! rah! war machine.
    The key for me is the 'epic' quality of sports, which is my draw and why I would bother to write about them in the first place. I suppose divers could be seen in the folkloric sense as 'tricksters,' fooling the ref--but no one else since the replay, but I must admit I've always preferred legends to trickster tales.
    I'll make sure to add a trickster to my next archetype post though.
    And I agree wholeheartedly with you about Frank Ribery being attractive!