mario götze: the chosen one!
It’s an unbelievable feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. You just shoot that ball in, you don’t really know what’s happening.’ That’s Mario Götze on the winning goal he scored for Germany in the World Cup final. I saw that goal unfold on TV. And then I saw replays of the goal on the Net. Yes, the finesse, aplomb and spontaneity with which he did it is quite unbelievable. It was like a bolt of lightning, except that Götze’s electric current-like movements could not be random and uncontrolled like lightning. They had to be, and were, completely precise. It was like creating and then controlling lightning to have it strike a specified area within a defined time. That sure is asking for too much — asking not just for the moon, but the sky, the earth and everything in between that creates lightning.
That’s like controlling God, if there is one, and having him play for Mario Götze. Like commandeering destiny, if at all everything is destined. I remember the commentator say in the middle of the game, when the camera focused on Christ looming over the stadium, ‘Only He knows. What has He decided?’ The match was then in the throes of what was to be a 112-minute-long gruelling goalless duel, before Götze struck in the 113th minute.
I am not sure if Christ decides soccer games, even if it is a World Cup final, but spirituality, which Christ is essentially all about, just like all other religion founders, does decide who wins and who loses not just soccer, but all kinds of games, and that includes the grand game of life. And death, which for many is a synonym, perhaps wrongly, of defeat, just like life means victory.
Did Götze’s goal happen in the magical sporting experience of the zone? When a sportsperson hits the zone, his game begins to flow almost perfectly. In Hindu spiritual terms, it is close to being in the transcendental state of samadhi, a state that can only be experienced and not described. But one way of pointing in its direction would be say that when the zone, samadhi, the zen of meditative activity happens, you do without doing, act without acting. I know that’s not quite easy to get your finger on. But then if you could get your finger on it easily, every footballer would be shooting at will goals like the one Götze shot in the final, and the game of football would collapse because it is a rocking leaking boat of perfection in a sea of imperfections that creates the need to play games.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, even if he did not know it in terms of its specific terminology and features, seemed to be in the zone in his match winning innings in the last 50-over cricket World Cup final. I could see the zone on his face — a face completely alive to the game yet detached from it. It showed in his response after he hit the winning runs and Yuvraj Singh rushed from the other end to hug him. Dhoni seemed like a mountain then, so full of energy and yet so unmoving. Yuvraj was reacting normally, Dhoni supernormally. It seemed he was not feeling anything, he was unemotional, insensitive.
That’s the thing with the zone — it brings perfection in your game because you are detached from it, just playing for the sake of playing, your game flowing freely, unhindered by the fear of losing and the greed for winning. The same dispassionate look was on Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s face when he was on the victory podium kissing his Olympic silver medal. His eyes were detached, looking very, very far off, almost at infinity, his face calm, placid. These states are rather mysterious and instead of saying that Rathore appeared to be eyeing infinity, it would be perhaps better to say infinity was eyeing him. For you can’t choose to be in the zone, it is the zone that chooses you and prepares you accordingly. There were no boiling emotions of ecstasy, thrill, pride in Rathore’s eyes —something you would expect after such a feat. People talked about it then, just as Dhoni’s reaction was noticed. Suresh Kalmadi, who was with Rathore’s contingent at the Olympics, said the day he won his medal that he does not realise what he has done right now, he would when he wakes up next morning.
Kalmadi was partly right, partly wrong, because a zone, if it happens for a player even once, makes a lifelong impact on his bearing to everything in life — the dispassion and detachment that make it happen last. So his achievement will not be a big deal for Rathore not just while he is on the podium but also the morning after. It will look, just as Kalmadi said, that he doesn’t realise what he has done. That’s because when a person does something in the zone, he knows at his innermost core that he didn’t do it; the zone did it.
It can be a bewildering experience, especially in its initial episodes for a person. As it is for Götze, it can be an ‘unbelievable feeling’. So Rathore will be surprisingly cool about his achievement. They call him Chilly, and I wonder if that’s because he is actually very chilled out. Dhoni has been labelled unemotional not just for his World Cup victory reaction but for the very way he carries himself on and off the field. Once the halo of the zone descends on someone, it stays.
Let’s get back to Götze and his goal. His coach challenged him before sending him to the field to show who the better player was between him and Lionel Messi. For a footballer who doesn’t have a reputation as a great player for his country at the highest levels of the game, the words of his coach can prove decisive while playing a supremely important match. Many factors can create a zone for a player, so many that you will think the zone can only happen as a gift, maybe, from God or other higher powers. Training, attitude, fitness, talent, discipline are all obvious factors. But diet, mood, personal life, habits, weather also come in the picture. Things like what you had for breakfast on the big day and what your girlfriend told you before the big game.
Noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneering authority on flow, another term for the zone, says the level of skills of a person and the challenges of his task are crucial elements in making flow possible. He says both the skill and challenge levels should be high to set the scene for the zone. A World Cup final going into extra time for a footballer whose nation thrives on the game is a big enough challenge and Götze’s game showed the level of his skill. But then these enabling conditions for the zone were seemingly present for some others playing the final too. So why did Götze have to be the chosen one?
If Christ decided the game, He must have decided the way it would be decided. If He chose the zone as the decider and Götze for the zone, it was a heavenly choice.
The author is a senior journalist