From Kolo Touré’s insistence on being the last player onto the pitch (even when this means waiting for a teammate until after the referee’s whistle) to John Terry’s urinal preferences, footballers remain a notoriously superstitious bunch, and their love of matchday routines so devoid of obvious logic has naturally influenced and been imitated by many a Sunday League wannabe or fan who contends himself with dressing like his heroes on the terraces. My personal record of dabbling into these murky waters extends only to a briefly-owned pair of lucky pants in 2007 – with which I discovered that I would enjoy a guaranteed winning probability of 75%, as long as the team I happened to support generally won three out of every four games anyway – but since then, I have reached the reasonably watertight conclusion that we’ve all been looking at this subject the wrong way around.
Baselessly idiosyncratic pre-game preparations are, as we all know, by their very nature unlikely to influence the outcome of any game of football, but once we have accumulated a certain amount of statistical data about past outcomes (another guilty pleasure of a certain type of football observer), there’s nothing to stop us employing trend analysis tools (better known as ‘hindsight’) to determine whose pair of pants were cursed and whose, as it were, contained the Midas touch. For example, all known and related formulae will tell you quite clearly that, if Gamba Osaka are playing more than 100 miles away from their own home stadium, then I should never, ever be there watching.
In my last ten trips to see Gamba games outside this safe zone – I’m generally OK within Kansai or as far as Nagoya – my record reads just one win, just one draw, and fully eight defeats. This hasn’t even been a lean few years for my team. I was there for the Nabisco Cup final defeat on penalties in 2005 and subsequent collapse in the run-in, but missed the final day miracle when we beat Kawasaki Frontale 4-2 and clinched the championship in the last minute of the season. I did see the 2006 title decider go the way of Urawa Reds, who’d also denied me a trophy celebration in that year’s Super Cup, but when I decided to give the following season’s curtain-raiser a miss, we only went and hammered the same opposition 4-0. Once I finally broke my duck in the 2007 Nabisco Cup final, I decided to lay low for a while, until reverting to type with a couple more defeats in 2008, and a devastating 5-1 mauling in Kashima that put paid to our league title hopes last November. Needless to say, I was safely home in the UK for Gamba’s back-to-back Emperor’s Cup wins, and only watching on TV for the second leg of the AFC Champions League final in Adelaide 14 months ago.
However, I’m not panicking too much about my desperate plight as I realise that, as with all such matters of sophisticated mathematics, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Take, for example, the recent signing of Brazilian youngster Dodô, who joins Gamba on a ‘C’ contract that allows overseas players yet to celebrate their 20th birthdays to circumvent the usual ‘foreigner’ allocation. I witnessed this explosive forward in the flesh twice during his brief spell with Ehime FC in J2 last year, and each time was thoroughly impressed with a level of raw skill, speed, and invention that set him apart from his teammates. Crucially – and this is my point here – the 19-year-old capped his displays with fine goals in both matches, and while these were ultimately the only two occasions he found the net in eight matches played in orange, he does therefore have a 100% strike rate whenever I am cheering him on. You can say what you like about sample sizes; if picked to play, I fully expect Dodô to guarantee us 17 goals in the league at home this year, and at least have a jolly good go at banishing my curse should I ever venture to see him play on the road.
Superstition’s whimsy aside, the signings of Dodô and former Portuguesa striker Zé Carlos last week represent an intelligent evolution of Akira Nishino’s policy of bringing in Brazilian forwards with J. League experience. This tactic has seen a succession of relative big shots in and out of the doors at Banpaku – generally bringing with them plenty of goals before leaving turmoil behind when they up sticks without notice – but Dodô is a fresh diamond who will surely benefit from a good polishing by the youth-friendly Gamba coaching staff. A more immediate impact will be expected of the 26-year-old Zé Carlos, who is new to Japan but scored 34 goals in 73 K-League appearances with Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors between 2004 and 2008. His spell with the latter saw him play against Gamba on the way to ACL glory in 2006, and one hopes that having just spent 18 months recharging his batteries back in Brazil, he will arrive suitably motivated for his next Asian challenge.