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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Ultimate Act of Soccer Selfishness

The surprise defeats of Blackburn Rovers, Juventus and other theoretically unsinkable sides in this week's European competitions were a timely reminder that stars do not always perform to order.


Just because someone is prepared to pay many millions of dollars for your services doesn't mean that you are not going to have an off day. But there is often more to it than that. Exceptional talents at anything -- sport, music, writing -- are not subject to the same laws as the rest of us more mundane creatures. No one, least of all the participants, can explain their special abilities, and the sometimes crazy behavior that accompanies them.


A spectacular case in point is Edmundo of the Brazilian side Palmeiras. Here is one overseas star who is unlikely to attract any eager bidding from European coaches. The lack of interest is not because he cannot kick a ball. He can, and with often deadly effect. It is because he has a rather disturbing influence on the sides he plays for.


He was sent off five times last year and dropped twice for indiscipline. To some clubs such a record would come as a positive recommendation, until they realized that in Edmundo's case this aggression is not directed at the opposition, but at his own side.


His difficulty is that he seems to have a problem relating to his teammates. The first time he was dropped it was for a dressing-room punch-up with Palmeiras defender Carlos and then the manager had to call him and colleague Evair together for a peace meeting after they refused to pass the ball to each other during matches.


This season he is up to his old tricks again. In his latest outing he may have scored the vital equalizer but in the second half of the game he refused to pass to his teammates, had a furious row with Evair on the field and was finally jeered off it by his side's supporters. In one of the understatements of the new season, midfielder Cesas Sampaio said, "He's very individualistic -- he should just learn to pass more."


To my mind, the ultimate act of soccer selfishness took place not on the field but in a hotel. It was perpetrated way back at the beginning of the century by "Fatty" Foulke, then goalkeeper of London side Chelsea.


Foulke was the epitome of the old-style goalkeeper, a security guard rather than an acrobat. He stopped a lot of goals not by leaping around but by filling more of the space between the posts than other men. He drank and ate prodigiously and by the time he was at Chelsea he was tipping the scales at 280 pounds, a bulk which eventually grew to 365 pounds. Training, which in those days consisted of kicking a ball about and long walks, was not for him.


This was why, one day when Chelsea was staying at a hotel for an away game, Fatty opted out of early morning exercises. When the players returned, they were naturally hungry and proceeded to the breakfast room. Here, laid out on hot plates was to have been a large meal of fish, bacon, kidneys, eggs and sausages.


When they opened the door an extraordinary sight greeted them. One end of the table looked as if a bomb had hit it and nearly all the food was gone. Next, they heard a loud snoring from beneath the table. There was Fatty, asleep after having consumed all 11 breakfasts.


The team began shaking him awake and calling him every kind of so-and-so. "Boys," he said, coming to, "You can call me anything you like -- as long as you don't call me late for lunch."