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HomeSPORTSGet it right or get eaten: the fate of football ‘experts’ 

Get it right or get eaten: the fate of football ‘experts’ 

In this July 9, 2010, photo, an octopus named Paul opens a box with decorated with a Spanish flag and a shell inside at the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, western Germany. Paul’s task was to decide in favour of one of the shells hidden in boxes with the flags of the Netherlands (L) and Spain to act thus as oracle for the upcoming final match of the FIFA Football World Cup between the two countries on July 11, 2010, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
| Photo Credit: AFP

Here’s a secret I can share with you as we await the final in Qatar. The Netherlands will win the football World Cup. How do I know this? I know because my cat is psychic, and indicated this. I laid a bunch of books before her to represent the countries – Diego Maradona’s biography (Argentina), Johann Cryuff’s memoir (Netherlands), Pele’s coaching manual (Brazil), David Beckham’s story (England), Tim Parks’s book on Verona (I know Italy is not in the World Cup, but this is a trick question), and waited to see which one the cat settled on.

This, I believe, is the scientific way of exploiting the psychic abilities of innocent animals. You will remember Paul the Psychic Octopus who was right eleven out of 13 times at the 2010 World Cup, even getting right the Spain-Netherlands final. There was Nelly the Elephant who got 30 of 33 right across two World Cups, and in Qatar, Taiyo the Otter who predicted Japan’s win over Germany.

Paul was offered a transfer fee of 32,000 dollars by a zoo, although there is no record of what he was offered by betting syndicates.

Then there was Flopsy the Kangaroo, Yunona the tiger, Big Head the sea turtle, Dirty Harry the crocodile and Pele the piranha. Doubtless, I have upset some members of the animal kingdom by leaving out their contributions. Ah yes! Leon the porcupine.

My favourite story concerns Rabio the Octopus who predicted every result involving Japan in 2018, and might have won the Predictor of the World Cup Award if he hadn’t been chopped up and served for dinner before the round of 16. Cassandras, like the original in Greek mythology, are sometimes fated to be killed.

Each animal had a different way of predicting. Some dashed towards one football or the other painted in the colours of the countries playing. Others chewed up one or the other of the flags. I am not sure what the octopi did, but I suspect they had two of their eight tentacles painted in the appropriate colours and someone kicked a football towards them to decide the winners.

Luckily the animals got it wrong enough number of times to keep experts on television and sportswriters in business. They got trolled on social media too, like the rest of us professionals. 

An alpaca (which is not a llama, but a similar animal) which was much respected in Oxfordshire predicted that England would beat France in Qatar.  She has not been heard from (or of) again. Those who prophesy live a risky life, rather like football managers who are sacked if their team loses. 

My cat, however, need fear no such end to any of her nine lives. She will not be eaten or become part of a tennis racket. In fact, nothing will change in her life, as she continues to sit on my books. She has already predicted that Roger Federer will win Wimbledon this year by sitting on his biography. You read it here first.

(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu)

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