“You have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper”.
This popular saying in football has often been associated with the fate of many goalies. After all, it is not easy to play in a position that requires one to handle much more pressure than the other players, since a small mistake or a moment of distraction can scupper an entire game.
However, at the World Cup in Brazil, a common feature for the goalkeepers seems to be religion rather than madness. The goalies of teams such as Croatia, Nigeria and Costa Rica have revealed several times that they have found in the Christian faith an exceptional spiritual resource, which is useful not only in everyday life but also on the pitch.
It may not be a coincidence that religion plays a crucial role for so many goalkeepers: probably the power of prayer helps them to release the tension and to obtain the necessary concentration.
For instance Vincent Enyeama, the Nigerian goalkeeper, lives his faith in such an intense way that he has been nicknamed “the Pastor” by his teammates. Enyama, in fact, often encourages the whole team to carry out collective prayers before meals, training sessions and matches. The Nigerian coach admitted in an interview that if Enyama “had not become a goalkeeper, he could have easily opened a church”.
After a game in the AFCON (Africa Cup of Nations), in which Enyeama avoided his team’s defeat with a decisive save, Enyama was asked by journalists how he managed to fulfilll such an athletic gesture, and he replied: “The Angels of God helped me and they made sure that my hands were in the right place to stop the ball”. Enyama’s career risked ending prematurely in 2004 with a car accident that could have been fatal, but the goalkeeper was able to get away with a few scratches and once again he thanked God for saving him.
Another devotee is Stipe Pletikosa. Every time he is on the pitch the Croatian goalkeeper always wears a t-shirt depicting the Madonna of Medjugorje and before the kick-off he focuses on praying until the last second remaining. Just in Medjugorje, in May last year, the Croatian team trained for a week before playing some key qualification matches for the World Cup.
The Croatian goalkeeper also said in an interview that his faith has helped him to maintain a sober behaviour and to avoid what he calls “false happiness”, in other words the excesses that often characterise the lives of famous footballers. Pletikosa added that, instead of finding its strength in money or popularity, he has become stronger through his relationship with God. “Praying is the heart of the contact with God. Praying brings me to peace,” he said.
For his part, the Costa Rican Keylor Navas confessed in an interview that before each game he prays to God asking him to put two angels in protection of his posts. Navas said that the power of prayer helps him to concentrate and ignore the jeers and insults that come from the fans.
In addition the Costa Rican goalkeeper collaborates with the association ‘Vida Nova’ Valencia that provides support to people less fortunate. The same organisation has a football team called ‘Evangelical FC’ that, through sport, is able to make charitable gestures.
Navas has described in an interview the way he lives his religion: “God – he said – for me comes first. Before every game I kneel, I open my arms and pray … My favourite passage of the Bible is Galatians 1-10 which says: “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” So I do not lose my composure. God gave me health and a wonderful job. So I do not stand still and wait for things to happen. I work constantly and do my best to improve myself, as my whole national team. Out attitude is made of faith and hope: without those you cannot go anywhere.”
That of goalkeepers “on a mission from God”, however, is not a new story. The Argentinian goalkeeper Carlos Roa, a year after France ’98, took a break for a year from sport competitions after retiring at the service of the Seventh day Adventist Church. For sure the Christian goalies participating in the Brazilian World Cup have found the right place to pray, since Brazil is a country that more than any other attempts to combine sport with evangelism.
Just in Brazil was founded the movement of the ‘athletes of Christ’, an association with the aim of bringing together all the sportsmen of evangelical inspiration. In addition, Brazilian football itself has Christian roots. According to the Brazilian magazine ‘Passos’, the Jesuits where the first ones to introduce football in schools because of ‘the moral lessons deriving from the spirit of sport’.