I am not exactly sure what effect homosexuality has on a man’s ability to play football. Perhaps it makes him lean a little too far to the left. Back in 2008, former Juventus boss Luciano Moggi tried to make sense of it. “A homosexual cannot do the job of a footballer. The football world is not designed for them, it’s a special atmosphere, one in which you stand naked under the showers.” I’m none the wiser. I didn’t realise the showering was so pivotal, even after five seasons of Footballers’ Wives. Schalke boss Rudi Assauer tried another tack a few months ago, “Perhaps they are OK in other sports but not in football. If a player came to me and said he was gay I would say to him: ‘You have shown courage.’ But then I would tell him to find something else to do.” No activist Assauer, who qualified that he would do so, “because those who out themselves always end up busted by it, ridiculed by their fellow players and by people in the stands. We should spare them these witch-hunts.” He has a point, of course, but that should be their choice. All that said, it is apparently worse than these men suspected according to the agent of Germany’s injured captain, Michael Ballack.
The latest controversy over homosexuality in the world of football started with an interview given by Ballack’s agent Michael Becker a few months before the World Cup. It was reported in an essay by Alexander Osang published in Der Spiegel yesterday. Becker’s problem, and by inference Ballack’s problem, is as much about what it means to be a man as it means to be a footballer. The style of the new German national team is less aggressive, lighter on its feet, as it were. Becker is not thrilled by this. And as Osang points out, this was before the injury for which Ballack was benched, and a time when Ballack was flying high. He had even just been photographed in his underwear for Vanity Fair with four other captains. It is not bitterness speaking.
“He talked a lot about people who were envious of his client, because they were supposedly mediocre, ugly, untalented, bureaucratic, provincial, unmanly or gay,” Osang writes. And Becker said that half the German team were gay, or “half-gay”, whatever that means. “It seemed that every sports journalist was already familiar with the alleged homosexual conspiracy swirling around German coach Joachim Löw’s team,” Osang reports of the lacklustre reaction to these revelations. Conspiracy? What were they planning to do, rewrite the sacred rules of shower time?
Osang deflates Becker’s standing and turns him into a buffoon. “I realized that all of this was somehow synonymous with something Becker could no longer understand. It was something that was light, non-ideological, dance-like, beautiful, joyful, and easily confusing for someone whose life had revolved around pecking orders and hierarchies until then.” Ouch.
So what do the British press make of this? It is always fun to take a look at how the Daily Mail reports on stories that unsettle the assumed prejudices of its readers. (I need to put on sunglasses before heading to its homepage. It’s the Primark of web design.) But there is nothing as of this morning. Time to head to the Sun, the home of much ado about nothing that is equally uneasy on the eye. Thighly Minogue? No. Su Bo’s new hairdo? No. Buried in there is a link to the football index, which is a rogue’s gallery of men who look like they’re sat on the toilet. “Who does number two work for?” The only exception is the lovely Jack Rodwell. So, into the search engine goes the name Michael Ballack. Nothing. Ok then, on to the Daily Mirror. There’s a funny picture of Raoul Moat, the man with a name worthy of an Arthur Conan Doyle villain. He’s wearing make-up and a mini skirt (at least I think that’s what it is) flexing his biceps. There is so much unsaid in the Mirror’s overuse of this image. Yet when I get to the sport index still there is nothing. I’m clearly going to have to come back later to read the great British reaction and, better still, the public graffiti on the comment walls.
It is no great revelation to state that football creates a bond between heterosexual men that is somewhat tribal. Introduce anything else into the arena of how football is portrayed in the media, it would seem, and it starts to raise questions about what it means to be a man. That is what homosexuality has to do with football. And that is why it is so important when a footballer player comes out. The sooner it is visible enough to become a non-issue then the closer we all are to some sort of equality.