Con el número 1, Albert Camus

Al cumplirse el pasado jueves 7 el centenario del nacimiento del filósofo francés Albert Camus, no es inoportuno reproducir íntegramente el primer capítulo del libro de Mark Perryman Philosophy Football, publicado por Penguin Books en 1997 (análisis-parodia en términos futbolísticos de los puntos fuertes y los puntos débiles de un equipo de fútbol compuesto por filósofos). Este capítulo número uno está dedicado, no por casualidad, al premio Nobel de literatura francés... que jugó en el Racing Universitaire Algérois en el puesto de... portero.

The amazing tale of a make-believe team, PHILOSOPHY FOOTBALL is the story of what might have happened to the world's greatest thinkers if their brains had been in their boots instead of their heads. Albert Camus gets all existential about the outside chance of keeping a clean sheeet, Midlands play-maker William Shakespeare's long balls are much ado about nothing, while centre-half Friedrich Nietzsche is shown the red card for doubting the ref's appreciation of good and evil. With Bob Marley sticking to the grass, Ludwig Wittgenstein getting all positivist in the six-yard box and Umberto Eco signing up to play front, this is a squad that's more than a match for anyone. And this is the line-up:

  1. Albert Camus, goalkeeper.
  2. Simone de Beauvoir, right-back.
  3. Jean Baudrillard, left-back.
  4. William Shakespeare, play-maker.
  5. Friedrich Nietzsche, central defender.
  6. Ludwig Wittgenstein, central defender.
  7. Oscar Wilde, outside-right
  8. Sun Tzu, midfield general.
  9. Umberto Eco, centre-forward.
  10. Antonio Gramsci, inside-left
  11. Bob Marley, outside-left.
'After many years in which the world has afforded me many experiences,
what I know most surely in the long run about morality and obligations,
I owe to football.'

Wearing the goalkeeper's number one shirt, Albert Camus was both the first man and the last, the final line of defence. Standing alone, he was charged with the momentous responsibility of keeping the ball out of his net when all around hiim had failed. With the ball swerving, catching the odd rebound, bobbling across a furrowed end-of-season pitch, it would rarely come to Albert directly, often catching him unawares. This unpredictability was to teach him much about the sad vagaries of life.

Pushing hard to reach the summit of his particular position, Albert tussled with the necessities of keeping a clean sheet, an ambition that was at one and the same time devoid of content yet full of the promise of victory. Such was his lonesome life on the goal-line. He met the problem head-on, knowing that to concede was not a legitimate option. He had to progress beyond the fate ot the dodgy 'keepers who could undermine the achievements of his ten outfield team-mates. Such was his absurd reasoning, carrying the weight of the collective will within his lone self.

With the play all happening far away in the opposition penalty area, Albert often found time to reflect and to indulge in a touch of generous banter with those witty souls in the stand who would wail, 'You're meeeeeeeeerde!' each time his mighty goal-kick failed to reach its destiny and instead rolled uselessly off for a throw-in. Or he might amuse himself doing those endless stretching exercises which the modern 'keeper likes to impress which but which leave the rest of us unconvinced he'd be better employed as a part-time contortionist.

Occupied at the back, Albert knew all about resistance, punching the ball or plucking it out of the air. Using every part of the body as he fearlessly threw himself at the feet of some marauding giant of a centre-forward bearing down on his goal. His artistry and determination were an inspired antidote to the dull conformity of his defenders, who appeared incapable of keeping up with the play, leaving Albert to clear up the near-certain ignominy they were creating for themselves. Out of this turmoil Albert was to find his reason for existing. Back and forthe his line, arms reaching for the ball, this was a life of immediacy and action and split-second decisions.

It is no accident that the 'keeper wears the number one, for the best of them are extreme individualists. These are the players who with one deft move or careless error can make or break a team's season. Once they wore green woolly sweaters and flat caps to distinguish them from the pack; now they're lumbered with the dubious pleasures of fluorescent synthetic fibres, dressed up like a tube of smarties with outrageoustly padded shoulders and the odd pair of tights. But still they celebrate their differencce, self-righteous in the knowledge that it is only they who have the right to handle the ball. Of course some of them like to think they can play a bit too. Rushing from their precious space between the posts, they put in a tackle or dribble the ball forward as if they were a spare man at the back. And for those that really want to get above their station, they can always try the Peter Schmeichel option: careering forward for the last-minute corner in the forlorn hope that the ball might might its way to them and heroically they'll put away an unstoppable header. Instead, they invariably have to rush back like the clappers only to watch helplessly as the ball sails over their own goal-line.

Albert knew that hs role was stark in its simplicity: to keep out that which desires to go past him No Pasarán, 'they shall not pass', was the motto he adopted from the memories he carried with him of the civil war that wreaked such havoc in Spain's defence. What he aspired to was a negation, his success or failure depending on how good a stopper he was. At times Albert would revolt against the absurdity of his position. Who could possibly blame him if his full-backs lacked the pace to contain those long-limbed wingers who would streak past them before  putting in a cross that rocketed off a centre-forward's forehead, with Albert just grabbing handfuls of air as the ball billowed out the netting? Or what could he do if in one of those goalmouth scrambles some poor, sad team-mate lashed out at the loose ball and promptly prodded it over his own goal-line? Albert tried not to feel the guild, to remain unperturbed, but as the goals-against column mounted up, he would turn against himself.

Exiled to the bench after one particularly poor performance, Albert came to think of home games with a kind of despair. All he could do was trot up and down the touchline with the secret ambition that he might be called upon once more when his replacement proved to be even more helpless in goal than himself. Hero and villain: the two sentiments coexist for the goalie with a dreadful complicity. The resignation of picking the ball out of the back of the net goes hand in hand with the glory of prevention, the tiniest dividing line destined to decide his fate.

With injuries ravaging the gaffer's squad, Albert was once more given his chance to prove himself between the posts. And in that first game back he was forced to face the apparent certainty of the penalty-kick. If he could stop the ball, surely destined for goal (Gareth Southgate, after all, was just a flicker in his mum's eye back then) this would put him up there with the goalkeeping greatsBanks, Yashin and Zoff. As he stood, motionless, everything would reel before his eyes. Concentration as all as he focused in on the ball and the man, his whole body nervously coiled like a steel spring. In a flash he had moved, and in that moment the entire balance of the game would be decided. The ball was safe in his hands, and each successive shot was to be the undoing of others, not Albert. The intensely individualized glory of the penalty-save made up in the most magnificent of ways for all those games when he had been forced to shoulder the blame for the hapless failings of others. Men like Martin Heidegger, who would rush down the right letting loose balls whose direcetion you could never be sure of, or Dostoevsky, who was possessed of great talent but was destined never to fulfil his potential, or Ernest Hemingway, who had seen better days and for whom now the bell was surely tolling. At the moment of defeat Albert had always felt a terrible sense of loss, and in the eyes of others he was often the one at fault. It was this humiliation that created in him a detachment, an ability to see himself from the outside, and in that solitude he lost the goalkeeper's fear of the penalty. He had found his belonging and at least he had a clean sheet.

But to keep his place Albert knew he couldn't afford to bask in old glories. Justice was an honourable abstraction that few fans or managers shared; one mistake and once more he'd be found lacking. But if he found himself in that sorry position he also knew that he couldn't afford the luxury of emotion
  he'd have to bottle up all that disappointment inside as the insults rained in on him from every direction. He knew that to promise a clean sheet week in, week out, was unreal. For every gravity-defying leap that saved the day there was a time when he would be rooted to his spot as the ball trickled over the line. Unable to drift in and out of the game, Albert had to have a deep-seated passion for the absolute, to find the truth of the clean sheet's nothingness without which no victory will ever be possible.

'Fromage!' Cloth-capped Albert tries vainly to raise a smile,
but existentialism got to him early in life
and a right moody so-and-so it made him
Albert tried to come to terms with the defeats, but it was only when he came to see the futility of his own situation that everything fell into place. His happiness was not in his own hands. It wasn't right for the rest of the team to judge Albert, for every player had more than enough to do themselves. The saving of the game was a collective responsibility, he came to believe, not one to be carried by the individual alone. Liberated, Albert could at last begin to enjoy his football. He tried, that was all he could do, and if that wasn't enough, then so be it.

Sadly, things didn't quite work out like this after all. Albert was still being left to carry the Perrier bottle for the team's defeats and after one particularly poor performance he found himself transfer-listed. This was the moment of truth. His career had turned into a struggle to survive in first-team football. And it was in these extremes of circumstance that Albert knew he would find his final happiness. Unable to depend on his team-mates for support, he decided that it was the individual who would henceforth be the point of departure in measuring the contribution he could make to the game. It was his own happiness that would always be his goal. No strange to misfortune, he was determined to arrest his fall. Plaguing ghe boss with his requests for another chance, Albert was in danger of becoming an outsider in his own dressing-room until finally an opportunity came his way. With the injury-list mounting, the coaching-staff had no alternative but to give the out-of-favour Albert back his place. Determined to succeed, Albert wasn't one to further the misery of the team, and so he committed himself to pacifying the home support with a performance that would restore their faith in his prodigiously gifted ability.

Sure in himself, Albert threw himself across the goal just like the old days and no ball was destined to get past him on this most special of returns. But there was one rubicon he wasn't going to cross for any man. The dull cynicism of the professional foul wasn't for him; to pull the legs away from a forward destined to score was to mix up your ends and means. Never red-carded, Albert had a disciplinary record second to none, and whatever it cost, he wasn't going to sacrifice this most proud of all his achievements. Sure enough, his morality was put to the test as, in the dying moments of the game, from the far horizon of the pitch, a slow, persistent build-up was coming Albert's way. Two against two, the defensive odds were just about level but once his opponent was clean through it was now just Albert on his own who could save the day. Spreading himself wide Albert tried to narrow the angle but he knew that this wasn't enough, the target was just too huge for anyone to miss. Yet still Albert couldn't countenance anything illegitimate. He had to make the judgement, was this a save he could pull off? He couldn't afford the time to think, he just had to do it. He recognized the profundity of the situation: succeed, and he'd be carried off the pitch on his team-mates' shoulders, the hero of the hour; fail, and he'd be sent straight back to the bench in disgrace. As he looked up to the ball as it soared past his palms, his universe was in that moment divested of the illusion of human capacity. He curved his back beyond endurance and changed direction in mid-air. Agonizingly, he edged closer and closer to the ball in milliseconds that seemed to the thoughtful Albert as if they would last an eternity.

And then, the ball was tipped over the crossbar by hands that it had seemed would never reach it. At the heart of a great save like this is something inhuman. Albert shared the beauty of this inhuman performance with the task of keeping out that which is destined to go in. It is a feeling that only those who are called upon to wear the number one shirt will ever experience.

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