The Killer Instinct!

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” These are the expressions of Scot Peck in his classic book, The Road Less Traveled.

Indeed Life is full of ups and downs—uncertainties that we cannot unravel. And why certain things happen defies logic. That was my feeling when the news of the death of Bernard Malanda-Adje, nicknamed Junior Malanda—the Belgian under 21 international who also played his football with German outfit, Wolfsburg, went out. He was only twenty years of age. Malanda on the 10th of January 2015, by 3:35 pm local time, was trying to catch up with his teammates for a flight to a training camp in South Africa when the ill-fated SUV (Volkswagen Touareg) he was in tumbled on top speed and crashed into a tree. Malanda wasn’t putting on his seat belt and so was catapulted from the back seat right into the collision. He was the only one killed in the tragedy. This naturally left his teammates devastated upon hearing the news. The coach of Wolfsburg was visibly in tears when he was announcing this at the press conference days later when Wolfsburg decided to continue the trip to South Africa, having canceled their flight when they first got the news.

Germany’s female national team midfielder, and Wolfsburg player, Nadine Kessler , who was named the best women’s player in 2014, and her coach, a German man, Ralf Kellerman, who led Wolfsburg female team to back-to-back- UEFA Champions League titles, paid tribute to Junior Malanda when both of them received their awards last Monday in Zurich. Friends of the youngster and football stars like Thibaut Courtois, Nicklas Bendtner, Benedikt Höwedes, Kevin De Bruyne, Mario Götze paid tribute to the deceased on Twitter. Romelu Lukaku, the Everton striker and former teammate of Junior, dedicated his goal against West Ham in the FA Cup replay to his late friend.

As tragic as the unceremoniuos climax of this rising prospect who has not even shown enough of his talent is, he joins an array of footballers who had died in their prime, whether on the field of play or off it like Malanda. Only Last year, somewhere in the Indian league, a 25 years old player Peter Biaksangzuala, scored a goal and while attempting to celebrate with a somersault, he awkwardly twisted his neck—he died days later, and the marvel for me was that how could something that was supposed to bring joy ordinarily become a source of pain—death….?

This tragic incidence brings to the fore one of the often discussed trait that sports—and indeed, life possess—the concept of Eros and Thanatos which was propounded by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. In his essay titled Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud theorized that the duality of the human nature surfaced from two basic instincts: Eros and Thanatos. In Eros, according to Freud, we find the instinct for life, love and sexuality in its broadest sense. Thanatos (Death in Greek Mythology), is the instinct of death, aggression and evil. So what do all these psychoanalytical jargon has to do with football, or even more specifically, the death of Junior Malanda? For one, some sports scholars have identified the tendencies of Eros and Thanatos in sport—a domain where soccer reigns as king. Eros, you can say, is the feeling expressed when you refer to football as a beautiful game— Jogo bonito, like the Brazilians would call it—the mesmerizing dribbles that leaves opponents to dust, the boisterous noise that explodes from the stadium when a goal is scored, the joy that fills your heart when your favorite team wins a game, not to talk about clinching that trophy that has been eluding them since the human race face first invented fire. Thanatos on the other hand is the killer instinct which represents the cruelty of the game—the nasty injuries meted out by a combatant rival, the fights by players that make media partners swear their frustration, the hooliganism, rioting, the fortuitous collapse—and, the deaths….


Romelu Lukaku touchingly dedicating his goal to his late friend, Junior Malanda

Not convinced about Eros and Thanatos—I don’t really care much about psychoanalysis myself so I’ll leave Sigmund Freud arguments to psychologists and such minds. But then we can still call these two sides to life as I have expressed as Ecstasyand Agony. The ecstasy of triumph—and— the agony of defeat, nay, death. Why would Junior Malanda be involved in that accident? Why didn’t he just fall sick and not be able to attempt to make that ill-fated trip to join the rest of the teammates for the training camp? Why would this youngster who has hardly started his career fizzle out in nanoseconds in a fatal wreck all before we all could scream J-u-n-i-o-r!? But that is life— a space filled with so many unanswered queries—ecstasy—and—agony.

Every once in a short while, things like this unfold and reminds us of our mortality and how vulnerable we can be as we rub shoulders with the forces in the universe…. My thoughts go out to the family of Bernard Malanda-Adje and all those who grief as a consequence of his fortuitous departure.

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

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