1. VIRUS: Charisteas’ Greece

Not all viruses and bacteria are bad. Many are essential for the balance of our organisms and our ecosystems. However, some viruses and bacteria are pathogenic and they want to beat you. They know how to play well and, if you are not careful, they will thrash you. They’ve competed in derbies against human beings since we existed as a species. So long have they been our rivals, we already know most of their tactics. Humans, thanks to our immune system, operate in a 4-4-2 system that is efficient in almost every match against these evil microscopic and submicroscopic rivals.

In 1929, Alexander Fleming revolutionized the strategy to counter bad bacteria through the pioneering employment of penicillin, which resembled the 3-4-3 that Johan Cruyff implemented against ugly football. Fleming observed that penicillin killed bacteria, and Cruyff found that 3-4-3 allowed for a better attack, with wingers and midfielders reaching the penalty area.

Fleming and Cruyff made their discoveries in the way that the most interesting things are discovered: by chance. Fleming left forgotten bacteria on a plate and, after a while, observed that fungi had grown on that plate, producing something that killed bacteria: penicillin. Penicillium notatum was labelled as a mould (mould is categorized as a fungus).

In any given game, Cruyff strode into the penalty area and found that no one was waiting for him there. When the defenders began to confront him, they left plenty of room in the flanks. So Johan increased these forays, often with the ball stuck to his foot, so that he or his teammates could have greater chances to score. Pep Guardiola would later perfect Cruyff’s 3-4-3, as the use of antibiotics was improved and expanded.

The problem is that penicillin has no effect on viruses. Antibiotics do not harm viruses because they are nothing like bacteria. A bacterium is a cell, with a cell wall, that has its own machinery to pass its genes to proteins. Penicillin prevents the bacteria’s cell wall from forming. Other antibiotics, such as doxycycline, attack the bacterial protein-making machinery. But a virus is not a cell, and it lacks that kind of cell wall and such machinery. A virus is a chunk of genetic material (DNA or RNA) covered with a few proteins forming an envelope. Viruses cannot survive on their own. They need to enter other cells and borrow their tools to reproduce. A virus is so basic that it has almost no weak points. It’s very difficult to attack it. Treating a viral infection with antibiotics is like utilizing a 3-4-3 against a team that defends itself with five Uruguayan defenders and three defensive midfielders from Ghana, who do not overcomplicate things, launching the ball towards their centre-forward every time they win possession.

So what can work against bacteria may not work to kill a virus. Remember Cruyff in the 1992 Wembley European Cup final. Barcelona defeated Sampdoria using Cruyff’s antibiotic reinforced by his famous phrase before hitting the field.

«Go out and enjoy yourselves,» he said.

In Athens, two years later, before Barcelona played the European Cup final against Milan, Cruyff told his players: «You’re better than them, you’re going to win.» However, Fabio Capello’s Milan brought to mind a virus that did not allow F. C. Barcelona to breathe, with such suffocating pressure that they ended up winning 4-0. 1992’s Sampdoria were bacterial whilst 1994’s Milan were viral.

Sampdoria y milan

In short, the bacteria is more complex and we can put more spokes in their wheels. A defender that does not track back, risky clearances, a goalkeeper who does not command his area… bacteria have many vulnerabilities. However, a virus, being simpler, is more difficult to attack tactically. A virus is Charisteas’ Greece, unlikely European Championships victors in 2004. That Greece won their quarter-final 1-0, the semi-final 1-0, and the final 1-0 against hosts Portugal, with a goal from Charisteas heading in a corner, after almost an hour of game in which Greece defended in the spirit of Sparta defending the passage of Thermopylae against the Persian Empire.



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