Mystery, Bobble-On The Great at Manchester United
Mystery, Bobble-On The Great at Manchester United
In Sudan, and other parts of Africa, the home team pisses on the goal posts in a ritual to prevent opponents from scoring. Although it’s common practice, it’s widely ignored, but the prevalence of Juju and/or Voodoo as a means to success in sporting occasions isn’t ordinarily acceptable in Europe. Consequently, the widespread appearance and use of the bobble-on amongst players with Afro-Caribbean ancestry is important for soccer analysts mystified by the apparent inability of black players to be more direct in their approach with the ball. Such players look to be asking the ball: ‘Where do you want to go?” Rather than addressing a less difficult task, which is to look to see where the ball can be directed to positively influence the play, black players seem to consult with an additional bobble-on the pitch before engaging the feet.
Juju has been described as ‘a positive vibration of the spirit, which can express itself in a variety of ways’,1 whereas Voodoo is a syncretism of African tradition and Catholicism, for example, the loa or gods of Voodoo, a term that translates as ‘servants of the spirits’, are conflated with saints. The objective of Voodoo is to be possessed by a loa, which then communicates to a group of Voodoo worshipers, that is, the ‘saint’ takes the role that the Holy Spirit has in Christianity. However, in Judaism the ‘spirit of God’ is specifically feminine, whereas in Voodoo the spirit is transgender, that is, male or female, which sits well with simple Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’. Despite Judaism’s explicit descriptions to the contrary in Exodus, for example, where ‘the Shekinah’ (Ex: 29. 43) is described as dwelling within the tabernacle en route to the land God promised after the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt, during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III, Christianity still labors under the handicap of believing that the Holy Spirit is male, while the Jews’ asseverate that the ‘spirit of God’ is female.
South American teams, and especially the Brazilians, are renowned for their rhythm, which is strengthened by fans who play musical instruments at soccer games to emphasize the Samba beat, a type of music that became prominent in Brazil’s coastal city of Rio de Janeiro during the 1920s, with roots in West African culture, and Brazilian folk tradition, during the colonial period of Portuguese Empire, that is, Samba is a form of Voodoo. In Brazil, the fusion of traditional African religion with Catholic Christianity is known as Candomblé, and Candomblé Jejé is Voodoo.
As Jejé means ‘stranger’, and Brazilian Vodom (Voodoo) was developed by Fon slaves, in modern terms, because the objective is to be a ‘servant of the spirits’, Candomblé Jejé approximates to Vodafon, that is, beseeching the powerful by means of ‘phone technologies, which in Samba soccer means tuning your skills to the beat of an iPod. Afro-European players are culturally receptive to a unique rhythm, that is, they move to the beat of a different drum, which can be both exhilarating and frustrating by turns, because there are elements of Juju/Voodoo in the mix.
Not all Juju and Voodoo is positive, which the home team’s pissing on the goal posts in Sudan, to prevent the opposition from scoring, suggests. As South African soccer expert, Mark Gleeson observed, ‘In the ‘70s and ‘80s they were slaughtering goats in hotel room baths.’2 A South African player reportedly said, in response to allegations of ‘magic dust’ being rubbed into the bloodstream before a game, ‘I use to get cut so much I was just like a ventilator. They used to cut us everywhere. They would use the same razor blade on everyone.’3 As Brazilian Samba rhythms can negatively influence opposition, US’ soccer teams/players espousing Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans, or Mississippi, Voodoo, that is, rhythmic music, conflict with Brazilian Samba, Cuban Vodú, Dominican Vudú, and Haitian Vodou, in the international club competitions of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football. In the CONCACAF Champions League, for example, won on two occasions by teams from the United States of America, that is, D. C. United (1998) and L. A. Galaxy (2000), traditional African rhythm plays a major part in a team’s success or failure. Afro-American players’ participation within this cultural spirit produces effects, although US’ Voodoo is largely attributable to the influence of the Christian French Empire, with Louisiana being named for Louis XIV in 1682.
Manchester United’s manager, José Mourinho, was Portuguese, and it was the Portuguese Empire that was essentially responsible for Voodoo arising in Brazil, that is, the Portuguese taught the Brazilians Voodoo. Consequently, the Brazilian skills of players like Eusébio, ‘the Black Panther’, who scored 473 goals in 430 competitive matches for Portugal’s Benfica (1961-75), and Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, who played for Sporting CP ‘Lisbon’, before then United manager, Alex Ferguson, took him to Old Trafford to be their right winger, is explicable in Voodoo terms. Moreover, although Cuban Vodú, and the Vudú of the Dominican Republic and Haiti are practiced on adjacent Caribbean islands, that doesn’t make their religious approach towards Christianity and spirituality negligible, because effectively the people there were taught by the Spanish Empire, and Spain recently emerged as having a World Cup winning formula; beating the Dutch national team, 1-0, in 2010, while their clubs Real Madrid (13) and Barcelona (5) remain unmatched in terms of their capacity for winning the major European trophy; the Champions League.
Interestingly, Spain’s 2010 World Cup triumph coincided with UCL success; the club defeating Ferguson’s Manchester United in the Finals of 2008-9, 0-2, and 2010-11, 1-3, which suggested that the club’s Voodoo was stronger, although United had won the title in 2007-08 against Chelsea, 6-5, on penalties, a.e.t., with Ronaldo opening the scoring with a header on 26 minutes, and England’s midfielder, Frank Lampard, replying on the stroke of halftime, 1-1, leaving Chelsea’s England center half, John Terry, to slip and fall on his ass in the rain, and give Wales’ winger, Ryan Giggs, an opportunity to take the ‘sudden death’ spot kick that won it for the reds.
José Mourinho became manager at Manchester United for the 2016-17 season, after successful spells with Portugal’s FC Porto, where the club won the UCL in 2004 and at Italy’s Internazionale of Milan, where the UCL was secured in 2010. Whether a Mourinho knowledge of Voodoo contributed to the team’s success or no, he inherited a squad containing talented Afro-European players, who perhaps required a manager capable of synchronizing rhythm with appetite. After the 2014 World Cup Final, Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal had been enticed to Manchester United to replace David Moyes, who’d been Ferguson’s replacement when he retired after his 13th championship triumph in 2012-13. Former Everton manager, Moyes, had steered the club only to defeat against Sunderland at home, 1-2, on penalties, a.e.t., in the two-legged League Cup semi-final of 2014, which had finished, 3-3 on aggregate, that is, 1-2 away in ‘The Stadium of Light’, and 2-1 at Old Trafford’s ‘theater of dreams’.
Van Gaal’s experimental approach towards reintroducing an old fashioned defensive formation of three half backs (center backs), with the full backs playing as wing backs, eventually caused his dismissal, despite his emulating Matt Busby's winning the FA Cup in 1948 with a similar formation, as Van Gaal’s squad qualified for the FA Cup Final in 2016, which he won against Crystal Palace, 2-1, a.e.t., with substitute England winger, Jessie Lingard, volleying in an opportunist strike on 110 minutes, and another young black forward, Marcus Rashford, starting the game. United’s directors clearly felt that the Dutchman wasn’t forward looking enough, and appointed Mourinho for the commencement of the 2016-17 season’s campaigning. His first signing was Vilarreal of Spain’s center back, Eric Bailly, from Ivory Coast, West Africa, while negotiating with Juventus for the purchase of France’s midfield captain, Paul Pogba, who Alex Ferguson had let go, and Pogba had taken his chance with the Italian team; winning four consecutive Serie A titles; 2012-13; 2013-14; 2014-15 and 2015-16.
The arrival of 34 year old prolific Swedish striker, Zlatan Ibrahimović , from Paris Saint-Germain, and Armenia’s captain and right winger, Henrik Mkhitaryan, completed the playing staff Mourinho’d inherited, a squad which included several English black players, for example; Chris Smalling, Jessie Lingard, Ashley Young, and Marcus Rashford. Spanish and Spanish Americans at the club were; ‘keepers David De Gea (Spain) and Sergio Romero (Argentina), defenders Antonio Valencia (Ecuador) and Marcos Rojo (Argentina), midfielder Ander Herrera (Spain) and left sided midfielder/winger Juan Mata (Spain). France’s Anthony Martial completed the perhaps Voodoo tainted ensemble, along with Ivory Coast, West African, Eric Bailly.
Although that region’s Voodoo is practiced mainly by peoples in the coastal nations of Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Ghana, to which Côte d'Ivoire is also adjacent, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), in all seriousness, made this statement confirming the endemic nature of the prevalence of black magic among African competitors, before the February 7th, 2002, African Cup of Nations semi-final in the capital, Bamako, between Cameroon and host nation, Mali, at the Stade du Mars 26, when Cameroon coach, Winfried Schafer, and his assistant, Thomas Nkono, were arrested by police for allegedly attempting to place a magic charm on the pitch before the game, ‘We are no more willing to see witch doctors on the pitch than cannibals at the concession stands.’4 Cameroon won, 3-0, and went on to defeat ‘the Lions of Senegal’ on penalties, 3-2, in the Final, a.e.t., 0-0, with Liverpool defender, Rigobert Song, scoring the decisive goal from the spot kick, while Mali lost to Nigeria, 0-1, in the play off for 3rd and 4th place.
If Mourinho had been a Voodoo practitioner in the Portuguese style, as taught to 1920s Brazilians in the city of Rio de Janeiro, culturally he’d the material at Manchester United to work upon. The team contrived to win the League Cup in 2016-17, 3-2, against Southampton, with a striker’s free kick from Ibrahimović, bent around the S’ton wall to the right, and into the bottom left corner of the net on 19 minutes, 1-0, a low right foot shot to the right corner of the net by Jessie Lingard after receiving a pass from Argentine left back, Marcos Rojo on the left, placing him just inside the penalty area on 38 minutes, 2-0, and after a two minute hiatus before and after the halftime break, in which S’ton first leveled the score, with a goal from forward, Manolo Gabbiadini, a close-in strike on 45+1 minutes, and another opportunist goal from the Italian after the break on 48 minutes, a further late headed goal from Zlatan on 87 minutes, from a cross on the right by Spain’s Herrera, proved enough for the fans to see United captain and center back, Chris Smalling, lifting the trophy in triumph, 3-2.
Only Nordic Zlatan could be considered outside the possible influence of a Voodoo zone encircling the United players, although he was born of a Moslem father and a Catholic mother, so in his background there were saints and what is Jejé (stranger) to Christianity; Rojo and Valencia were South American; Mata, Herrera, and De Gea were Spanish; Martial and Pogba were French; Bailly was West African, and Lingard and Smalling were the descendants of black culture.
United won the Europa Cup that season against Dutch side, Ajax of Amsterdam, 2-0, with a Pogba shot from outside the box on 18 minutes that, deflected, sailed over the ‘keeper’s head and into the net, and an overhead kick on 48 minutes from Mkhitaryan after a knock down from center back, Chris Smalling. It only remained for team captain, and right back, Antonio Valencia, United’s former right winger, to lift the trophy and show it to fans.
Unfortunately, Zlatan couldn’t play through injury, which caused him to leave the club, and attributed more significance to this comment by Jay Babcock in Arthur Magazine, ‘The juju men won’t be offering tips on game strategy. Their job will be to facilitate a win by discreetly scattering charms on the field, putting hexes on opponents and smearing their teams’ goalposts with magic potions to keep the ball out.’5 Marcus Rashford had to take over the center forward role for the Final. Despite Holland’s Daley Blind at center back, Italy’s Matteo Darmian at left back, Belgian, Marouane Fellaini, in midfield, and Henrik Mkhitaryan on the wing, the team was packed with the usual products of post-colonial Voodoo; Romero and Valencia from South America; Herrera and Mata from Spain; Pogba from France, and Chris Smalling.
Finishing 2nd in the English championship, and reaching the FA Cup Final of 2018, where the team lost to Chelsea, and Belgian center forward Eden Hazard’s 22nd minute penalty goal, 0-1, the magic of Mourinho had worn off. Romelu Lukaku, a black Belgian center forward, had arrived from Everton, who top scored with 16 goals that season, but was omitted mysteriously from the Final, along with French winger, Anthony Martial, who statistically deserved to be in the team on 9 goals for the season, instead of Rashford, who only scored 7 times in the league. However, Mourinho decided to pin all of his hopes on Marcus, and the result was failure. Dismissed on December 18, 2018, while his team was still in the FA Cup and UCL, Mourinho’s replacement arrived from Norway’s Molde. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, former Norwegian striker, had scored the winning goal for Manchester United, 2-1, in the 1999 UCL Final against Germany’s Bayern Munich. The club had seemingly turned away from colonial Voodoo to embrace a Viking.
Solskjaer’s United lost to Wolves in the quarter finals of the FA Cup, 1-2, away at Molineux, and at the quarter final stage of the UCL to Barcelona, 0-1 at Old Trafford, and 0-3 at the Nou Camp, that is, 0-4 on aggregate. 2019-20 wasn’t any better. United reached the semi final of the League Cup, and lost to Manchester City on aggregate, 2-3, after losing at home, 1-3, and the club reached the semi final of the FA Cup, which they lost to Chelsea, 1-3. Consequently, it was almost expected that they lose the semi final of the Europa Cup to Sevilla of Spain, which they duly did, 1-2. Mourinho’s Voodoo chillen hadn’t learned how to be the assassins of ‘baby face’.
1 Lightfoot, Najah ‘Build a Solid Foundation’ in Good Juju: Mojo, Rites and Practices for the Magical Soul, Llewellyn Worldwide, 2019.
2 Baxter, Kevin ‘For African soccer, days of juju men have mostly passed’, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2010, 12.00 am, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-jun-26-la-sp-juju-men-world-cup-20100626-story.html .
3 Anonymous, ‘Soccer and the Juju Men’ by Jay Babcock, Arthur Magazine, May 31, 2002, https://arthurmag.com/2002/05/31/soccerand-the-juju-men/ .
4 ‘Magic of the Cup’, The Guardian, February 10, 2002, 19.23 GMT, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2002/feb/10/sport.africannationscup2002 .
5 Babcock, Jay ‘Soccer and the Juju Men’, Arthur Magazine, May 31, 2002, https://arthurmag.com/2002/05/31/soccerand-the-juju-men/ .