An ode to Alex Song & the stupidest red card in football history
One of football’s greatest pleasures, apart from seeing your mates and last-minute winners, is seeing grown men completely lose their heads.
In the testosterone-laced environment of the football field, with limbs flying and tempers flaring, it’s no surprise to see even the most placid of individuals misplace their marbles and commit a felony on an opponent.
Which leads us nicely to Alex Song, the former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder who chose the World Cup finals to rake his elbow down the back of Mario Mandzukic. Off the ball. For reasons even Sigmund Freund wouldn’t have been able to decipher.
Song has revealed how he didn’t give a flying one about sitting on the bench at Camp Nou because his 2012 move from Arsenal had made him a millionaire.
“When Barcelona offered me a contract, and I saw how much I would earn, I didn’t think twice,” he admitted on Instagram Live. “I felt my wife and children should have comfortable lives once my career is over.
“I met Barca’s sporting director, and he told me I would not get to play many games, but I didn’t give a fuck – I knew that now I would become a millionaire.
“I wanted to rub shoulders with the big boys. I could shop wherever I wanted and have crazy nights out.”
His career at the Camp Nou was forgettable, but we’d be surprised if that keeps Song awake at night. But surely the midfielder is sometimes shaken from his slumber to cringe over his actions in Manaus in 2014.
Having lost their opening match to Mexico, Cameroon were losing 1-0 to Croatia and on the verge of exiting the World Cup after just two matches.
Song was one of the more experienced members of Cameroon’s team alongside Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Joel Matip and a benched Samuel Eto’o who’d taken to coaching the side from the touchline.
Which somehow makes his dismissal even more baffling. As Croatia launched an attack, Song became engaged in some PG-tussling with Mandzukic as both players raced towards the ball.
While the Croatia striker left the scene without a second though, the most crimson of mists had descended over Song. Locking eyes with his target, he performed the impressively flexible task of jutting his elbow into Mandzukic’s spine.
His opponent collapsed on the floor like a stack of cards in a hurricane. Even rugby enthusiasts would’ve struggled to label Mandzukic’s response as indicative of football’s inherent softness.
Referee Pedro Proenca of Portugal was standing right next to Song at the time of his mindless assault. The red card was both immediate and fitting for what had just happened.
Alex Song had what he would later describe as "a stupid moment" against Croatia #OnThisDay at the 2014 World Cup, and was sent off.
Cameroon coach Volker Finke could hardly believe his eyes. “It's unimaginable! I need to find out exactly what happened, why (he) exploded.” pic.twitter.com/edGTiONrWt
— Solace Chukwu (@TheOddSolace) June 18, 2020
Cameroon would lose 4-0 and suffered another odd lashing out near the end of the match when defender Assou-Ekotto angrily head-nudged his own teammate, Benjamin Moukandjo.
It was supremely strange, but not entirely out of character for the temperamental defender. The incident went unnoticed by the referee, but required intervention from the other Cameroon players, including Eto’o.
Seasoned World Cup watchers knowingly ticked off their Cameron bingo cards, which included rows over money before a ball is kicked, infighting, catastrophic under-performance, shambolic defending and the obligatory red cards.
Since Italia ’90, the African giants haven’t made it out of the group stages in six attempts.
Song later apologised for his part in the off-the-ball scuffle with Mandzukic which resulted in the Barca man heading back to the changing rooms ahead of schedule.
In a statement, he said: “I’m very sad at the moment as I feel I have let my country and myself down.
“It was a stupid moment and I’m truly sorry. If I could do anything to take it back I would. Please forgive me.”
Up for sale at the time, there weren’t many managers who’d have wanted to sign a man seen chasing elbow-first after Mario Mandzukic on live TV. But, perhaps, unsurprisingly, Sam Allardyce wasn’t put off and bought him on loan to West Ham.
For half a season in east London, Song was back at something close to his best. Sure, it might have looked better because we were viewing him in comparison to a group of players who had recorded the third-fewest shots and second-fewest passes in the entire Premier League the season prior.
But the midfielder was the classy base of the Hammers midfield that rose to fourth by Christmas 2014. Let’s forget that Song dropped off alarmingly afterwards, West Ham came down with the festive decorations and finished 12th and Allardyce left his job at the end of the season.
Perhaps Song had used up all his rage, fighting spirit and competitiveness in leaving Mandzukic crumbled on the Amazonian turf. Whatever the explanation, we were truly privileged to witness one of football’s greatest head losses.
By Michael Lee