Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

The goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty

The exhibition was by the Cypriot painter Lefteris Olympios featuring the life of Neophytos the Recluse

By Alper Ali Riza

Many years ago I saw a German film called ‘The goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty’ which was unremarkable except for its title. The title struck me as more profound than just a penalty kick at a banal game of football in a small town in Germany. It seemed an apt metaphor for the angst we all feel when the odds are stacked heavily against us and we have to pay a heavy price for the mistakes of others.

The title seemed meaningful and I tucked it away in my unconscious until it resurfaced last Saturday as I watched Liverpool’s hapless goalkeeper, Loris Karius, make two supreme blunders that gave the Champions trophy to Real Madrid on a plate. Even though he neither caused nor let in any penalty his responsibility for Liverpool’s defeat somehow reminded me of the title of the German film I saw all those years ago.

Until that dreadful moment when Karius attempted to roll the ball to one of his own players that was intercepted by a Madrid player and redirected into the back of the Liverpool net, the boys were more than a match for the Spanish champions. Even after Mohamed Saleh was cynically taken out by a foul for which the Real Madrid player should have been sent off.

What the referee failed to notice about the goal was that Karius had been challenged while the ball was still in his hands which is not permissible under the rules of the game and I hope Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, takes it up with the powers that be although what’s done cannot be undone.

As for the foul on Saleh it was disgraceful. We all accept that football is a physical game and most fouls are par for the course because players are taken to consent to acts that may cause them injury as the possibility of some injury is an essential part of the sport. But this is always subject to the proviso that any injury is not deliberately calculated to cause serious injury.

I just hope that Saleh is fit to represent Egypt in the World Cup. The whole of Egypt will be praying for his full recovery. What I found touching, however, was the genuine concern shown by Cristiano Ronaldo about the nature of the injury of his fellow player and Saleh’s emotional turmoil at having to quit the game after only 22 minutes.

Karius could do nothing about Gareth Bale’s stunning overhead kick that put Madrid 2-1 ahead. Cristiano Ronaldo did something similar not so long ago but has been a bit of a passenger in most games since then. He seems lost and forlorn. And this is my point, Ronaldo has not been playing well but it does not show as much as when the goal keeper gets it wrong. Poor Karius lost concentration yet again when he failed to catch or punch the ball away letting in Real Madrid’s third goal. The ball just slipped through his hands putting Real beyond reach.

Like in the case of the proverbial policeman the goalkeeper’s lot is not a happy one. He is either defending his goal or stands there alone in solitude like a recluse while the rest of the team move up and down the park and the goal scorers milk all the glory. Apparently the Turkish President used to be a professional goalkeeper and by all accounts a very good one; if he missed out on any glory as goal keeper he has certainly made up for it since then as a politician.

But let’s park President Erdogan there for the minute as the World Cup begins in a couple of weeks in Russia and we should perhaps spare a thought for the world’s goalkeepers who more often than not have to bear the consequences of the mistakes of others and do not get as much glory for saving goals as strikers do for scoring them.

The penalty kick is awarded for a foul or handball inside the penalty area by a defending player who is not normally the keeper. It is taken 12 yards from the goal line with only the keeper on guard. The psychology between penalty taker and goalkeeper was what the German film I saw explored because of the mental fencing that goes on between them about who can best outwit the other by anticipating what he will do; but the odds are against the keeper as his thinking time is too short to enable him to observe the direction of the ball and dive to catch it.

These days many games are decided by a penalty shoot out in which sometimes the keeper wins the mental fencing match.

There was no penalty in the match last Saturday. The Liverpool keeper just gave the match away by incompetence and lack of concentration. So the source of my angst about the goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty lay elsewhere. It came to the fore owing to the carelessness of the hapless Loris Karius but it was not caused by his antics.

The source of my angst must have come from an exhibition I attended earlier that day which opened at the Lefkara Museum on 26 May 2018 and will last until 9 September. For my sins I left early in order to watch the the European Champions final – from the sublime to the ridiculous perhaps but last Saturday was a day in my life for which it is difficult to apologise even if I felt a little guilty.

The exhibition was by the Cypriot painter Lefteris Olympios featuring the life of Neophytos the Recluse, who escaped an arranged marriage after he found God and then became a monk and a hermit and delighted in the written word. As St John tells it in the New Testament, in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.

Neophytos lived in the 12th Century beginning of 13th Century; after his death he was recognised as a Saint.  Would that there was someone like him in the Church today!

Neophytos wrote extensively, his best known work being the historical tract De Calamitatibus Cypri – the misfortunes of the land of Cyprus – written after the Catholic French took over and subjugated the locals and sought to latinise the island.

He rose to Abbot of the community of hermits that grew around him at the monastery that now bears his name where he lived and died in his cave-cell. Olympios’ work was inspired by Neophytos life and the frescoes adorning his caves.

It is an impressive array of pictures but I was drawn to the cluster marked De Calamitatibus Cypri  that is in shades of black and brown and rust red with a ubiquitous falcon as a kind of hallmark of the cluster.

The pictures represent contemporary angst in the context of past calamities caused by war. The first is an ominous looking black bird against a rust red background that forms part of a continuum that is next shown looking very ugly and aggressive lurking over a community that seems blissfully unaware of the impending doom it brings.

In his De Calamitatibus Cypri Neophytos laments that ‘strange and un-heard of evils have befallen this land, that all its rich men forgot their wealth and secretly sailed away to foreign lands’ adding that ‘all our strength has come to naught, and we became few in number, and an alien people has multiplied on our land.’ For anyone who cares to look up, the writing is on the wall. It was written by Neophytos and would repay attention.

A lawyer friend who is more sensitive about art than I am told me many years ago that great art is like great music, it provokes an emotional response rather than aesthetic pleasure although it can do both. I did not stay long at the exhibition but it left its mark even if it was one of angst.

Alper Ali Riza is a queens counsel and a part time judge

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