Ramzan Kadyrov, football ace, and Muammar Gaddafi, melancholic despot
Embattled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has made no secret of his support for the beautiful game. He has been particularly generous in Italy, where his Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (Lafico) is the proud owner of a 7.5% stake in Juventus, and 7.4% of the the bank UniCredit, who are in effect Roma’s taskmasters. Alas the elder Gaddafi may well at this very moment be seeking solace in the pages of The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton’s 17th century treatise on the diagnosis and treatment of depression, on learning that not only has his stake in Juventus been frozen as owner Andrea Agnelli tries to backpedal furiously over a lengthy history of complicity between his club and the Libyan leader (including a period during which Gaddafi’s son Al-Saadi al-Gaddafi served on its board), but also that his position as the most famous despot to serve as a patron to football has seemingly been usurped by Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Chechnya and alleged serial abuser of human rights.
Kadyrov is a football lover, and, apparently, a generous man whose mission is to make sure that the sport should be the beneficiary of his nation’s largesse, even if it means his own citizens continue to go unhoused, unfed and unschooled. Two months ago Kadyrov invited a team of former Brazilian internationals, drawn primarily from the World Cup winning squad of 1994, to play in a friendly match designed to show what a safe place Chechnya was provided its leader was allowed to have his way. Kadyrov scored two goals as Brazil’s senior citizens miraculously (and perhaps unwisely) beat the local team lead by their president and ace striker. The portly potentate made a similar gesture last night, this time providing a moment in the spotlight for such impoverished members of football’s underclass as Diego Maradona, Luís Figo, Steve McManaman and property’s Robbie Fowler.
“After bringing such broad smiles to the faces of poor little Dunga, Romario and Bebeto, we wanted to broaden our remit to include the underprivileged from all over the world, not just Brazil,” the Chechen leader almost certainly didn’t say. “It’s hard work but genuinely rewarding,” he may have added, possibly after pausing to order a human rights campaigner’s execution.
The multinational team of unheralded players started boldly but ultimately were unable to offer much in the way of resistance as the local team stormed to victory by five goals to two. Kadyrov’s mesmeric skill and charisma clearly proved too much for his guests, as this match report from the Moscow News makes clear:
But as the teams took to the pitch in the second half Kadyrov waved his hands over Diego Maradona as if taking his will to play football.
After that the guests did not look like scoring or doing anything meaningful on the pitch.
Kavkaz took advantage and Timur Dzhabrailov, Andrei Fedkov both scored before Zaur Sadayev notched a brace.
One can only sympathise with the poor Argentine, caught as he was like a deer in the headlights of footballing greatness. Defender Franco Baresi, a former AC Milan hopeful, and goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, who once harboured endearingly preposterous dreams of World Cup glory, were also powerless to stop the might of the Chechen president.
Allegations have been sounded that this was merely a publicity stunt for the former warlord, but Liverpudlians Fowler and McManaman were swift to deny that they were there for any reason other than to play football. As can be heard about a minute and a half into this news report, McManaman masterfully dismisses any link between his presence and political gain for Kadyrov: “Guys, come on, there’s many many countries isn’t there with many political problems…as I said, we’re not here politically.” There you have it: case closed.
Gaddafi, understood to be fuming, can at least take comfort from the fact that his son Al-Saadi can claim to have played 26 richly deserved minutes of football over a glittering Serie A career spent with three different clubs, as opposed to Kadyrov’s shameful bullying of a group of unworldly and inexperienced amateurs. Moreover, Gaddafi can count Beyoncé Knowles, Mariah Carey and Nelly Furtado amongst his pop star friends…all far slicker than your average Craig David, who was employed by Ramzan “Born to do it” Kadyrov to perform at last night’s festivities.
“Be not solitary,” counsels Burton towards the end of his exploration of melancholy. Fortunately the highest-profile pariah in African politics can count on the companionship of the highest-profile pariah in African football, the Senegalese striker El-Hadj Diouf, who has been vocal in his admiration for his ‘friend’. And let’s not forget Gaddafi’s bestest mate of all, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose own melancholic state will require a blog post all of its own….