2011 was another year to remember for Barcelona. Stars such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Gerard Pique shone brightly for the umpteenth time. However, 2011 was a year to remember for a number of the game’s other more minor characters too – footballers who did not hit the headlines for their talent or being key players in their team’s success.
Inside Futbol look at the top ten most unusual football characters of 2011:
1. Big head
Japanese centre back Ryujiro Ueda set a new world record in 2011, scoring with an incredible 58.6 metre header in a game between his Fagiano Okayama side and FC Yokohama in the country’s second division. Ueda’s amazing goal at the Mitsuzawa Stadium curiously came just one month after Odd Grenland midfielder Jone Samuelsen headed home from 57 metres in the Norwegian top flight – it was a record that was not supposed to be beaten, let alone so quickly.
2. Grandpa is a bomber
Jozef Mannaerts played for Racing Mechelen in the Belgian first division in the 1951/52 season. The striker scored more than anyone else in that campaign, but no one found out until 2011, when Brian Nackaerts, a local supporter, uncovered a 59-year-old mistake. It was Mannaerts, with 25 goals and not Beerschot forward Rik Coppens – who scored 23 – who was the Belgian league’s top scorer that season. Thanks to Nackaerts’ research, at the ripe old age of 88, Mannaerts has finally lifted a Golden Shoe. “I knew I scored a lot that season”, said the granddad. “But at the time nobody took care of these sorts of things. I am the first to be surprised.”
3. A double surprise in the Pacific
With 30 consecutive defeats and 299 goals conceded, minnows do not get any smaller than American Samoa. However, last November the country grabbed a historic victory against Tonga in qualification for the 2014 World Cup. But this was not the only reason why the game entered the record books. In the centre of American Samoa’s defence was Johnny Saelua – a player who became the first transgender footballer in World Cup history. The 23-year-old belongs to the fa’afafine people, a group recognised in Samoan culture as “third-gendered” – born biologically male, but embodying both male and female traits.
4. A star is porn
From professional footballer to gay porn star: This is the path taken by Belgian defender Jonathan De Falco. At the age of 27, the player left his club side Racing Mechelen (a Belgian third-tier outfit) to join the world of hardcore pornography. “Too many injuries”, bemoaned De Falco. “My career was on the road to nowhere”, he added. De Falco changed his name to Stanley Falcone – “it all started as a joke, but now with this name I’m even famous in the USA” – and swapped boots for gay porn shoots.
5. Never on Saturday
In the summer of 2011, Swiss striker Johan Vonlanthen, widely remembered for his goal at Euro 2004 that beat Wayne Rooney’s record as the youngest ever scorer at a European Championships, signed a deal with Colombian side Itagui. Strongly devoted to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by their observance of Saturday), Vonlanthen joined a club that never play on his new holy day. “I put God above money”, said the forward. And that indeed is true, as at Red Bull Salzburg, Vonlanthen earned €800,000 per year, while in Colombia he is pocketing just €35,000.
6. Pay me my money down
Kevin van Diermen is the first professional football to have taken his former agent, Aleksandar Bursac, to the Court of Arbitration. The Dutch defender asked Bursac for €100,000 for “mistakes” made during negotiations with Vitesse over his new contract. Bursac did win a higher salary for Van Diermen, boosting his pay from €2,000 to €15,000. However, the defender needed to play at least 20 games in a season. After an injury ruled Van Dierman out for several months, the Vitesse man wanted Bursac to pay the money he had missed out on. The Dutch Football Federation did not rule in Van Dierman’s favour.
7. Danger zone
Australian amateur player Aaron Eccleston easily won 2011’s race for the most bizarre sending off, being shown a red card for a genital piercing. The referee became aware of Eccleston’s piercing only after he was struck by the ball in his mid-section and had to leave the pitch. And, according to the rule that orders players not to wear jewellery for safety reasons, the official showed the Melbourne Old Hill Wanderers’ player a second yellow card and sent him off.
8. Not once but twice
When thinking about goalscorers, the name of Aleksandrs Cekulajevs is not exactly one that springs instantly to mind. However, the Latvian player knows how to put the ball in the back of the net, as 46 goals in 35 games shows. The Trans Narva striker set a new record for the Estonian first division, beating Tarmo Neemelo’s 41 goals in 2005. Such feats are nothing new for the 25-year-old however, as he managed 51 goals in 30 games with Latvian second division outfit Auda Riga – the best ever goal-getting performance in the Baltics.
9. Iron Lion Sion
How does a football club become famous without even lifting a trophy? Swiss architect Christian Constantin knows the answer: start a legal war with UEFA that may revolutionise football as the Bosman ruling before it. The Sion owner’s war with Europe’s footballing body has moved from the Court of Arbitration for Sport to the Swiss Civil Courts. FIFA threatened to ban Switzerland from world football – but that has not stopped Constantin. The Sion supremo is actually UEFA, FIFA and SFL (Swiss Football Federation) public enemy number one. Hero or zero?
10. Losing game
In 2010, coach Sean Connor managed to keep Galway United in the Irish Premier Division. If he had possessed a crystal ball however, Connor may have quit while he was on top. 2011 started with a record run of 22 consecutive defeats, meaning the coach was quickly out of a job. From 15th April until 9th September, Galway United could not pick up a single point, being relegated after the worst season for a club ever in the Irish league. The team ended the campaign with six points, 20 goals scored and 115 conceded. Connor left with 41 defeats out of 66 games on the Tribesmen’s bench.
Fonte: Inside Futbol