Aleksandr Golovin was integral to Russia win in their opening game of the World Cup. Photo: Reuters
Football’s World Cup is about legacy. When the hype and razzmatazz are over, when the players and officials have packed up, what do you remember? What was special about the event?

For example, in 2006 we were left with German precision, in 2010 with a confirmation of Africa’s humanity and accomplishment, and in 2014 a celebration of the vibrant and colourful Brazilians.

Now, just two days into the 2018 tournament in Russia, we are left to ponder whether this will be the World Cup of the “middle finger”. There was a sense of relevance to it all when recalcitrant singer Robbie Williams flipped the bird during his performance at the opening ceremony because, amid all the controversy with Russia hosting the World Cup, it’s likely this general defiance and contempt will come to symbolise the event in a month’s time.

As much as people want to believe the notion that sport and politics don’t mix, it is, in fact, the opposite that is true (and, here in South Africa, both now and in the past, we are acutely aware of how closely aligned the two are).

Russia’s hosting of football’s greatest show is certainly an example of how sport is being used to further political agendas. With the World Cup hosts battling doping scandals, allegations of election meddling, the quelling of dissenting voices within the country, accusations of corruption in the 2018 bid and so much more, it certainly seems as if they aren’t too concerned.

Above all, for their president Vladimir Putin, this World Cup is his middle finger to the rest of the world. And, just to return to that opening ceremony, because it’s not something that I pay too much attention to: Can it just be over and we get on with the football, please?

Russia President, Vladimir Putin is hoping the World Cup goes off with no problems. Photo: AP

But Robbie Williams’ presence may just turn out to be a master-stroke  and I’m saying so from a purely personal point of view, looking at my own household. My wife’s not an avid football follower, but she’s a big, big fan of the English singer. As usual, when my son and I settled in to watch, she wasn’t all that interested, but when Robbie entered with Let Me Entertain You and Angel, my living room was turned into an impromptu Karaoke bar.

Who knows, it may just interest her to watch a bit more of the football. Every World Cup throws up a new hero and this one, I’m sure, will be no different. Over the years there’s been Mario Kempes, Paolo Rossi, Diego Forlan and James Rodriguez, to name a few.

Now, early on in the 2018 event, already there’s a name to pencil in and monitor over the next few weeks: Russia’s midfield schemer Aleksandr Golovin, who was brilliant in his team’s 5-0 annihilation of Saudi Arabia on the opening day, including a simply sublime free-kick.

With modern football exploding with improvisation and innovation, Golovin’s effort is surely a good sign of things to come.


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