In a simple game, like soccer, “Perfection is impossible, striving for perfection is not.” Coaches forget this at times; I had a coach who wanted training to move smoothly with no complications, and his players to obey his every command. Consequently, we young players spent our time doing everything we could to avoid mistakes. When we spent every second mimicking a certain star’s goal and or dribbling style, we fell in love with the players and the game as a whole. However, we were missing the fundamental part of life: loving ourselves for who we are, despite the mistakes we might make. And now, it’s even more difficult, in this social universe where we get caught up in how others view us, to view ourselves clearly. It’s truly revolutionary to love ourselves, but so often we let the world color what we see.
On this path to a long-overdue revolution, sometimes the biggest mistake is being afraid to make one. Most of us are taught from a very young age not to make mistakes: we should score 100% on every exam, speak a certain way depending on the situation, present ourselves in a way that pleases others, and behave perfectly at all times, all while existing in a toxic environment. The pursuit of perfection, in and of itself, is not the issue; it indicates strength and perseverance. Ajax are an excellent example, a team carrying a rich history in their DNA, instilling in them the coaching principles of Johan Cruyff and Rinus Micheals. The football they play is almost fairytale-like, a balance of young talent and leadership on and off the pitch. The 2018–19 Champions League run showed the world that their vision is to strive for perfection, yet that such perfection couldn’t quite take them all the way.
Another example is one so many of us complain about every week: video assistant referees. The technology has been blamed for creating more confusion than clarity and the scandals that VAR was created to prevent still seem to happen. It feels as though the spectacle and pure beauty of the game is being sullied by VAR. As we fight over the way it is implemented, we often forget altogether that imperfections should be welcomed in football, as they are often what make life interesting.
While the raw numbers and the statistical analyses reveal certain aspects of a player’s ability, they never tell the whole story. Some players don’t want to be remembered as the captain of a winning side or the top goalscorer, but as a person. Pepe—certainly no angel on the pitch, often a little wild, often a little dirty—helped pay the wages of the chefs and gardeners when Beşiktaş ran into economic trouble, and willingly agreed to leave as his salary was one of the club’s highest. When such stories aren’t talked about more, people tend to forget these players were human before they became professionals. And away from the flashing lights and microphones, they’re still human; they eat, sleep, breathe, and even have social lives.
Those who play soccer are often taught that appearances don’t matter, but they certainly do when the camera is rolling or the Instagram post is garnering likes. In addition, when we watch a game we see the camera zooming in on a beautiful woman, discuss a player’s new cleats or new ‘do, and listen to commentators describe players of color as more physical and athletic, while white players are said to be intelligent and dedicated. Our perceptions of players, managers, and even fans’ looks are instilled in us by the loud commentary.
I play striker, which means I do my best to peel off defenders to get myself into a good scoring position, so I can get a shot at goal. Just like any of my teammates, every pass and dribble is for the team as we strive for victory. But since the striker’s role to be in scoring position, at the top of the pitch, we get the most attention. For me, that attention is intertwined with the crowd’s judgment; they focus on my appearance rather than my stunning header that is nearly Van Persie-esque, or the way I encourage my teammates, or the passion I bring to the pitch. They see only what’s on my head. Being the only Muslim woman on my team raises a lot of eyebrows. Then there are the scars few rarely see, yet they roam by body head to toe. Add to that my size and it can sometimes be hard to reconcile being a woman, a Muslim, and an athlete. But my scars are my trophies; they paint a picture of the life of a Muslim woman determined to play soccer even when the odds are against me.
Behind every scar is a story; behind every story are lessons to be learned. Recall Carlos Tevez, who played for seven clubs throughout his career. Tevez was Tevez, and while he captured others’ attention with his intensity, I was drawn to him for the rippled scarf of scars he wears. He always seemed to push himself to work harder than anyone, and to chase every dying hope no matter the circumstance. Prior to the 2015 Champions League final Tevez, then at Juventus, stated, “The scars I have on my face, neck and chest happened when I accidentally pulled a kettle of boiling water onto myself when I was 10 months old. . . . although I was a baby it was a defining experience it marked me for my life.”
This is exactly why the Argentine star refuses to change his looks; they serve as a reminder of what shaped his character and ferocious will to excel. In a world driven by social media, where people follow trends, change their looks to fit societal norms, and filter themselves to ensure they receive positive attention from others, Tevez’s scar is the type of imperfection we should all strive to achieve, because it is his attitude toward it that makes the scar perfect. Tevez’s bravery and courage inspired me to use my social media accounts to communicate my uniqueness, to let the world know I am a Muslim girl who plays soccer. It’s made me realize that being myself is more gratifying than pretending to be something else.
Being yourself is the best way to take on the world. Setbacks, accidents, and illnesses may knock us over at the time, but in the long term, they can be the spark that drives a person to succeed. Franck Ribéry, who suffered horrific facial injuries in a car crash when he was a toddler, said in an emotional interview with Canal+ Sport that his experiences developed him as person and gave him character: “I do my best to ignore the remarks on the scar but I work my absolute hardest to be the athlete I am today to prove that I’m more than a kid who has horrific childhood.” Ribéry shows how a scar can shape our character and personality, but it cannot define you as a person. As strange as it sounds, the failures and hardships are a constant reminder that guides us, and with strength of character, they can make us into better human beings.
Everyone has scars, be they physical, mental, emotional, or a mix of all three; they might be outward gashes, life-altering experiences, or the insecurities we harbor. As Rose Kennedy said, “It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don’t agree. The wounds remain. Time — the mind, protecting its sanity — covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone.” The world views scars as something ugly, and social media has caused so many to internalize the idea that they are grotesque. Yet soccer shows that no one can be judged solely on a single trait; the physical scars of Tevez and Ribéry, and the invisible scars borne by so many more, show that such “imperfections” don’t hold back pure talent.
Some may view a certain weakness, a poor attitude, or even physical scars as mere battle wounds that should be overcome quickly, but they can represent an entire war — a lifetime of striving for perfection. They can also represent setting aside that need to survive to instead build a revolutionary world in which what we love about ourselves matters more than what others think about us. Embracing our scars can be a model for those around us. We can glory in our “imperfections” in a way that helps others take pride in what makes them unique. As for me, I want every girl who sees me play to see the scars, see that my head is covered, and see that whatever her passions are, she can and she will chase them.