For better and worse, soccer is the sport that most closely resembles life. The clock never stops, it counts up from zero and when the long campaign is over you're either promoted to a higher place or relegated to a lower one. There is, of course, a third alternative. Depending on your religious beliefs and transfer budget, you might be forced to repeat your past life, in the very same division.
Those of us who think soccer surpasses life -- though just by a shade, on goal differential -- might reverse the analogy, and extend it, and wish that life more closely resembled soccer.
If life were more like soccer, you'd get all the minutes you wasted returned to you at the very end. For most of us, those wasted moments would add up to a decade or more of "added time" appended to our Earthly existence. Who wouldn't want to see -- on his or her deathbed -- a fourth official raise an electronic signboard, lit up with a red "10" to indicate another 10 years' time tacked on, our Golden Years extended indefinitely by that greatest gift of all: Fergie Time.
In life as in soccer, we'd spend that bonus decade playing with greater urgency than we had in all the previous ones, desperately hoping to make it all come good before the final whistle.
If life were more like soccer, we'd still get nothing for a loss and three points for a win, as we do under the current system of earthly reward. But we'd also get one point for a draw, which is what most of life consists of, doesn't it -- a series of standoffs? There should be some small compensation for just making ends meet, for scrabbling along, for the silent triumph of failing to lose ground in the daily struggle.
Life, after all, isn't an everything-or-nothing, zero-sum game. Most of us fall short when grasping for the brass ring, or the sterling cup, or that golden bauble -- like a dictator's bath tap -- that is the FIFA World Cup Trophy. Which is why it's short-sighted to keep your eyes on just one prize rather than several. If you don't win the League, there's still the Champions League, and failing that, the domestic cup competition, and failing that, the other domestic cup competition, and failing that -- well -- there's always the Europa League. Five words to live by: There's always the Europa League.
If life were more like soccer, each of us would be endowed by our creator with a red card, which we'd remove from our shirt pocket and hold in the face of anyone who speaks ill of us or otherwise behaves badly. That person would -- after laying eyes on the scarlet square of shame -- instantly withdraw from public view.
We would then write that person's name down in a little notebook, a notebook filled with the names of all those who have similarly offended us. (When someone says, "You're going on my s--- list," this would be the list to which they're referring.)
Because life is already like soccer, in which players routinely get away with diving, humans are sometimes rewarded for their own laziness and duplicity. But if life were more like soccer, we'd almost always be caught in the act, if not by the referee then by the television eye in the sky, whose unblinking gaze ensures public scorn.
It's folly, of course, to think that the grass would be greener if life were more like soccer, though the grass undoubtedly would be greener -- significantly so, a brilliant green, striped and perfectly mown and sloped for drainage, and spotlit beneath heat lamps when not in use.
But yes, the metaphorical grass would not always be greener on this brave new size-5 planet, paneled in white hexagons and black pentagons. After all, the single greatest existential quandary that humans face in life also bedevils soccer: Once you leave the game, you are not allowed to return.
If life were more like soccer, the world would still be money-driven, and rife with racial tension and -- even more than it is now -- governed by corrupt buffoons. Russian oligarchs and United Arab Emirati billionaires and American sports tycoons would be even more powerful than they already are. Our planet would feature even more advertising than it does now, and worse haircuts, and our most popular songs would be written for the vuvuzela.
From time to time, each of us would be obliged to wince pre-emptively and cover our nether regions with both hands while someone kicked a large projectile directly at them from a point-blank distance of 10 yards.
But it's a small price to pay, and not really so different, broadly speaking, from what you endured at the office this morning.