“The icing, not the cake”: Gazing Gayly at the World Cup

The World Cup was decided weeks ago – and as my previous post should attest to, it was decided to my definitive satisfaction – but I’m not quite done with it yet. When the tournament started, Amanda Hess wrote a piece in Slate on the pleasures and potential pitfalls on objectifying the male physique at display. I’ve been doing rankings and listicle on sexiness on this blog for years, and have occasionally tried to discuss whether through that I might be contributing to a sinister sexualization of our popular culture, so I read her piece with interest. Fortunately for me, I also mostly agree her. She wrote that while there’s every reasons to remain conscious of the implicit objectification that the focus on the “hottest” World Cup players represents, the important distinctions between that and the regular and more objectionable objectification of female athletes are two-fold: First, male soccer players are not judged solely based on their attractiveness, at least most of the time. For every shallow listicle there are dozens of quite serious investigations of their merits as professional soccer players. And secondly, and perhaps even more important in this instance: While the female and gay gaze at the male physique wouldn’t, as Hess puts it “level the playing field” between of the different types of appropriating physical beauty, at least it offers a kind of “counter-objectification”, proving that the straight male is not the only one allowed to turn a lustful eye to sports.

With Amanda Hess as my character witness, I therefore feel perfectly fine proceeding to the real point of this post, which is to point out some of the players at which I lay my abovementioned lustful eyes during the World Cup. To prove that I actually know a thing or two about soccer – not that I’m exactly sure why it should matter – I again refer you to the post from earlier this month about how my soccer philosphy has changed over the course of a live of fandom.

Soccer is fundamentally a team effort, so let’s start with the hottest squad. A few teams stood out out here, but in the end it came down to England versus Belgium. Although I’ve had a somewhat tenuous but sentimental attachment to England throughout my life as a soccer fan, I’m gonna give this honor to Belgium, at least partially because their match against the United States was the best of the entire Cup (also, here’s a picture of DeAndre Yedlin). Sure, England had Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Chris Smalling and Jack Wilshere, but a few of them were peripheral to a team that itself became at most a parenthesis. Among the Belgians, have a look at Axel Witsel, Kevin Mirallas, Eden Hazard, Toby Alderweireld and the classically handsome Jan Vertonghen . Given it to Belgium at least partially for soccer-aesthetic reasons, I have to mention that I briefly considered the Netherlands (Memphis Depay, Jasper Cillessen, and – still – Klaas-Jan Huntelar and Robin van Persie), but decided against because their attitude is simply insufferable.

Breaking the team down to its individual parts, however, we recognize that it sometimes takes moments of wonder and beauty to make a decisive difference in this game. Flowery language aside, though, several players are graced with such natural beauty that I wouldn’t necessary have cared if they could do anything interesting the ball. Thankfully, Colombia’s James Rodriguez, France’s Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, and the lusciously lipped Brazilian defender Tiago Silva are gifted in both ways. Rodriguez’s performance made him the tournament’s top goalscorer, Pogba was named the Best Young Player, Griezman scored against Nigeria, and Silva… well at least he was suspended when the home team took a historic beating from Germany. I could have included a lot of player I enjoyed watching both for their soccer prowess and for less intellectual reasons, but let me single out Costa Rica’s Yeltsin Tejeda, a relentless fighter in midfield; Germany’s Jerome Boateng, one of the best defenders out there; and Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos, whom I highlighted back in 2008, and whose tournament would have been much more glorious had he not been (wrongly) denied two goals in Mexico’s opener against Cameroon.

Speaking of veterans of both the field and these pages, a few stars who shone less brightly, soccer-wise, this year: the grumpy artiste Cristiano Ronaldo, whom I  can’t help but root against; Spaniard Fernando Torres, once mighty, but fading into irrelevance; Lukas Podolski, now reduced to a squad player in the title-winning German side; and my Liverpool hero, Steven Gerrard, again held tragically responsible for the demise of England.

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