I promise you, there’s not only a reason this question was asked, there’s a reason it’s a story, if only a whimsical one. As each World Cup approaches, the debate always begins anew: Should players be allowed to have sex during the tournament?
Yes, that’s what we’re talking about. As absurd as the question sounds, it’s become part of the ritual pre-World Cup ritual. Maybe some coach in the past was able to insert the notion into conventional wisdom. Maybe us media types just have an immature streak that comes out once every four years. For some reason, once the World Cup approaches, some head coaches get to go on record about whether their players will be ordered to abstain during the summer tournament.
Today in Brazil, Luiz Felipe Scolari — a former World Cup winning coach and the man who will lead the home country into this summer’s tournament — was asked for his policy. Would the likes of Neymar, Hulk, Thiago Silva and Júlio César be allowed to take part in their worldly activities, or would they be asked to make the ultimate quadrennial sacrifice?
“Sex before matches? If it is normal, yes,” said Scolari in a press conference in Portugal. “If done ‘normally’. (But) there are certain ways to do it that are acrobatic and that will tire you.”
The most interesting part of that: “in a press conference.” Imagine a dais, a world champions coach at your disposal, and a room of your peers. You raise your hand, probably following a question on Brazil’s chances this summer, and add your name to the long list of souls that have kept this debate alive. “Mr. Scolari, do you plan to ask your players to abstain during the World Cup?”
Within reason, no. While some people are looking into the “acrobatic” part of his comments, that only feeds into the juvenile nature of this whole discussion. This isn’t Elmore City, Okla., nor is it your kid’s sex education class. As long as players aren’t being ridiculous about it, sexual activity will be allowed.
So go ahead and add ‘sex’ to the list of normal human activity Brazil’s players won’t be barred from doing. What else comprises that list? We don’t know. Presumably, Scolari was only asked about sex, an extension of the absurd debate that seems to get new life before every World Cup.
For more on this ritual, you can check out Mary Carmichael’s Newsweek piece, published before the last World Cup – one which highlights why a sex ban may be more about control than any physicality deleterious side effects.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.